As we increase our years on this Earth the natural evolution of our wisdom is to make smarter choices for our health and conditioning. That means better nutrition, frequent workouts, stress reduction and, at least in this valley, outdoor adventures including backcountry exploration.
My personal experience in the backcountry and a workshop I attended this spring triggered thoughts of what I used to do, currently do and foresee myself doing in the years to come to be physically prepared for backcountry adventure.
The workshop I attended was offered through Backcountry Zero, a program to reduce injuries and fatalities in the Tetons. The Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation leads the program to heighten awareness of safe practices in the backcountry.
I have spent many years in the backcountry, and after attending this workshop I felt good that I was not a complete dope of unpreparedness. The speakers provided lots of information about getting ready for backcountry biking, boating, hiking and backpacking. A common theme was “What’s in your pack?” That’s an excellent concept for everyone who often “thinks” he or she knows about backcountry preparedness.
When you’re getting ready to travel deep into the backcountry, it’s easy to forget physical conditioning. It never becomes a concern until a person cannot physically perform an activity. Few people, in my opinion, consider whether they can handle a 22-mile Paintbrush Canyon-to-Cascade hike on which they will reach heights of 10,000-plus feet and usually encounter snow — all with a 10- to 15-pound pack on their back. To piggyback on the Backcountry Zero’s motto of preparedness, I say physical preparedness is just as important.
One of the best ways to increase your endurance for hiking, for example, is to hike. But how many of us are just hiking on weekends or doing the traditional Snow King climb? If you cannot get out until the weekends there are ways to use other workouts to get yourself in backcountry shape.
At my business, Training to Be Balanced, we encourage increasing your power, endurance and strength. One of the routines we use is called 24s (24 repetition of each: squats in place, lunges in place, squat jumps, split lunge jumps).
If you look at the mechanics of hiking it is the same movement over and over again, especially on a gradual singletrack, flat surface. But at times there are steep steps, sharp elevation changes, rocks and boulders, snow and ice. All of those change your normal hiking pattern and require you to use different muscles and energy systems. The 24s help prepare for those types of movements.
In addition to 24s you would do well to perform five exercises three times a week nonstop for 30 minutes at 10 repetitions or 45 seconds each.
Choose a pillar core strength exercise, such as a side plank. First you hold your body sideways on one hand and foot, with the hand and foot stacked. Then you raise your top hand and foot to create the letter “X” and hold.
Always pick some balance or balance strength exercise because hiking is single-leg movement. With single-leg dead lifts you hold weights in both hands, then hinge at the waist as though you’re picking up a golf ball. As you bend you bring the swing leg up so it’s in a straight line with your body.
Don’t forget some form of coordination and agility exercise. Try shuffling side to side for about 20 feet, then change directions after a burpee. The best preparation exercises are hip and chest openers. Or stretching. If the word “stretch” has no effect on you, try “lengthen.” Lengthen your hip flexors by holding a half-kneeling position. Lengthen your chest muscles by interlocking your fingers behind your head and pressing your elbows backward. Lengthen the entire front of your body by lying on your back longways on a foam roller and reaching out like the letter “X.”
I encourage you to always get ready for the backcountry by packing the right items and doing the right kinds of exercises.
About the Author
Augie Hernandez owns Training to Be Balanced LLC. He has a BS in Exercise Science from Michigan State University. Augie is also a Licensed Physical Therapist Asst., NSCA – Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, a 5th degree Black Belt, Functional Movement Screen Certified and a continuing education junkie. You can learn more about his training facility at http://trainingtobebalanced.com/ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.