When it comes to balance, the biggest question that adventure travelers ask is: How can I minimize my chances of stumbling on the trail? The answer is to perform both balance and strength training exercises in your weekly routine.
Additionally, preventing a fall while hiking a steep downhill or stepping down or even jumping down from a high object like a boulder or ledge requires a different kind of training compared to single-leg balance work. You need to develop the ability to decelerate and ‘put on the breaks’ with each step of a downhill or while cushioning a jump or step-down from a high object. Developing what is called eccentric strength is the key.
Continual balance improvement between the start of your program and departure date can be achieved by balancing on one leg while adding progressively more difficult single-leg variations over a 12 week period.
Here are three single-leg balance exercises from easier to challenging:
Single Let T-Pose
Single Leg Mummy Pose - Hip Flexion
Single Leg Lean-over
There are tricks of the fitness trade you can apply to your resistance training workout in the gym to give you the confidence to endure not-so-steady terrain.
Hiking terrain that slants laterally requires a little creativity to target that challenge. Walking lunge with single arm hold for example can help improve stability.
Rocky terrain does not allow the entire surface area of your foot to always be in contact with the trail. Often times just the balls of your feet will help you navigate. Greater ankle strength and stability is required or you are more susceptible to rolling your ankle. Squat on balls of feet will help.
For muddy terrain, valslides are helpful when one leg slips out from underneath you and you're relying on the other to save the day. Here is a demonstration of reverse lunges with slides.
If you are going to use them then, yes, learn how to use them.
Hiking poles provide two additional points of contact with the trail, essentially converting two-footed hikers into four-legged hiking animals. With more points of contact, hikers are less likely to slip from loose footing or lost balance, and those moments are less likely to turn into falls.
Hiking poles reduce stress on your joints in the knees, ankles, and hips. This is particularly noticeable when going down steep terrain and take much of the load off the knees. Several highly recognized studies (including the Journal of Sports Medicine) have shown that hiking poles can reduce stress on the knees by at least 25 percent and up to 40 percent.
Think about places that often cause one to slip on the trail: wet leaves, mud, wet rocks, tree roots, and loose rock/gravel. As you transfer weight to your foot and it starts to slip, the other two points of contact with the ground—the hiking poles—can brace you despite the slip, and prevent you from falling.
Enhancing your mental self-assurance and physical sure-footedness going downhill can be improved with targeted training techniques. Developing eccentric strength and enhancing balance are the keys to downhill competency. Muscles contract differently descending than they do ascending. While ascending, the muscles contract as they lift you up and away from the pull of gravity. While descending, you are headed toward the pull of gravity. In other words gravity would pull you downhill like a tumbling boulder if you were unable to resist with your muscles; you are putting on the brakes with every step.
Here are a set of plyometric exercises for downhill and step-down strength from easier to challenging. Note: These are beneficial but have higher inherent risks. Be really competent with lunges before you perform plyometrics.
The millisecond it takes to transition from the landing to exploding back up in the air is what creates the muscular changes necessary to control downhill hiking.
Note: Walking stairs, specifically the descending portion will help significantly for downhill competency. Steppers and step-mills are not the same.
Being self-assured is how you respond to obstacles planned and unplanned. You don’t want to think about overcoming as much as you should just ‘respond.’ Apply the tips in this post and you will feel ready on day one. Just knowing MT Sobek guides are the best in the industry means they can help you adjust at any moment in time so you can enjoy the experience to the fullest.
Since most travelers do not have access to exact terrain, you will break up the totality of the expected physical tasks throughout the week.
Check out more artcicles in the Fit for Trips series including Building Strength for Your Next Adventure.
About Marcus Shapiro & Fit For Trips
Marcus Shapiro has been crafting adventure travel fitness programs since 2009. His #1 goal: ensure you arrive at your destination physically fit and mentally ready to enjoy every activity—both planned and unexpected—in your itinerary. With over 20 years in the fitness industry, Marcus combines a deep understanding of exercise science and real-world experience with a whole lot of empathy to ensure every traveler is successful and every adventure is awesome. Check out Fit for Trips online at fitfortrips.com!
Legal Disclaimer: The tips and suggestions made by Marcus Shapiro are his alone and are not made by Mountain Travel Sobek. Please consult with your physician before undertaking any new fitness regime.