Strength for walking activities

Strength for walking activities

The basic principles of strength for walking and general mountaineering. Included is a selection of fundamental strength exercises for use at home or in a gym.

The mountains are a demanding environment. You need both physical and mental strengths and skills to achieve your goals. These goals may range from hill-walking in summer, to scrambling, extended treks abroad, or even mountaineering in winter. It is important that you are in appropriate physical condition for your chosen goal.

Many of the aches and pains of walking and mountaineering can be alleviated by some simple but diligent strength training

When in the mountains, several aspects of strength come into play:
  • Sustaining upward progress on varying mountainous terrain
  • Traversing different surfaces such as rock, bog, moorland and scree
  • Walking and climbing in winter conditions
  • Coping with different weather conditions
  • Keeping your body physically stable in poor conditions
  • Carrying a load
  • Protecting your knees and body from injury (especially downhill!)
To choose appropriate strength training, reflect on how you feel when walking:
  • Do your thighs (quads) feeling fatigued?
  • Do your calves (gastrocnemius) complaining?
  • Does your back ache at any stage?
  • Do you walk with a hunch as the day or days passed?
  • Do your knees ache during a long descent?
Training will make carrying heavy loads more enjoyable
Training for walkingIf somewhere in your outdoor activities you have experienced any of these problems, then you can begin to appreciate how often strength is used. Many of the aches and pains of walking and mountaineering can be alleviated by some simple but diligent strength training.

The area to train first is your body core. That is, the torso: comprising stomach (abdominals), lower back (erector spinae), and shoulders and neck (trapezius). These are the muscles you use to help carry a rucksack and stabilise your body when you are walking or physically working.

Next, work on your legs; thighs (quadriceps), backside (gluteals), hamstrings and calves (gatrocnemius). Working the main leg muscles, especially the quads, will not only make you more efficient on varying terrain, but more importantly, it will help stabilise your knee joints and should reduce the wear and tear on them.

Let's look at some basic strength exercises for the above:
 
The area to train first is your core
Stomach

Basic crunch. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor, hands by your side palms down. Curl up and forward, raising your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor. Hold for two seconds and lower slowly back down. Repeat.

Lower back

Back extension. Lie face down on floor. Stretch your arms above your head. Raise your right arm and left leg about one inch off the floor. Hold for five seconds, lower and repeat for opposite arm and leg. Repeat.

Shoulder/neck

Shoulder shrug. Stand comfortably, holding a weight (dumbbells, plastic drinking bottles filled with water, cans of baked beans, etc) in each hand down by your side. Shrug your shoulders up and down in a controlled manner. Repeat.
 
Sit-ups © Maridav
Sit upsQuads

Squat. Stand comfortably with your feet hip width apart, put your arms on your hips and 'stand tall'. Lower yourself as if sitting into a chair. Lower as far as you can without tilting your upper body forward more than a couple of inches. Lower your backside until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Do not allow your knees to shoot out in front of your toes. Stand up by pressing through your heels. Repeat but make sure you remain in control.

Calves

Standing calf raise. Stand on the edge of a step with your heels overhanging the edge. Plant the ball of your foot firmly on the step. Raise your heels until you are standing on tip toe. Hold for two seconds then lower in control.

These are basic strength exercises that can be done at home without any specialist equipment. They work the primary muscles concerned with the strength issues outlined above. See Training Plans for more details on the amount of work required and the time and frequency of these exercises.

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