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Conditioning for Rock Climbing and Hiking

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series

Exercise Range

Contrary to popular misunderstanding, properly performed strength exercise actually enhances joint flexibility. However, improved joint flexibility is clearly related to full-range exercise movements. In other words, make every effort to train the target muscles through as full a movement range as possible on every repetition.

Exercise Frequency

The general recommendation for strength training frequency is three workouts per week, and recent research reveals that this approach does produce best results in new exercisers. However, these same studies have shown about 82 percent as much strength gain from two training sessions per week, and about 69 percent as much strength gain from one weekly workout. Based on your personal preference, you may therefore increase muscle strength by training one, two or three days per week. Just be sure to allow at least 48 hours between successive exercise sessions, as muscle development occurs during the recovery and building periods between workouts.

Of course, rock climbers do not desire any extra body weight to pull up the side of a cliff. Strength training will add a few pounds of muscle, but it is similar to going from a six-cylinder engine to an eight-cylinder engine. In addition to increasing muscle power, strength training typically leads to an equivalent loss of fat weight. Studies with hundreds of participants have shown two to four pounds more muscle and four to eight pounds less fat after eight weeks of strength training. In other words, strength exercise can improve your body compositiore muscle and less fat) without increasing your body weight, which definitely improves athletic ability.

Hiking Application

While strength training is clearly advantageous for rock climbing activity, its benefits for hiking performance may be less obvious. Generally speaking, hikers should have a strong and balanced muscular system for all kinds of ambulatory actions up and down trails and mountainsides. The basic strength training program is therefore similar to that for rock climbing, and should include exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, hip abductors, pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, biceps, triceps, low back, abdominals and neck muscles. With this on mind, both the single-joint strength exercise program presented in Table 1 and the multiple-joint strength exercise program presented in Table 2 are highly appropriate for hikers.

Due to the nature of most hiking outings, strength training technique is extremely important. For example, hiking up the mountain is hard work that places considerable stress on the thigh muscles. However, hiking down the mountain is also hard work that places even more stress on the thigh muscles. This is because downhill hiking emphasizes negative muscle contractions that attenuate the force of gravity and prevent you from tumbling head over heels down the mountain. Negative muscle contractions cause much more microtrauma to the tissues and often lead to muscle soreness the day following the activity.

With this understanding, it would appear useful for hikers to emphasize negative muscle contractions in their strength training programs. We are not in favor of performing negative only exercise routines with heavier than normal weightloads, because excessive muscle overload can cause serious tissue damage. However, we do recommend performing slow lowering movements to accentuate the negative phase of every repetition. For example, if you take two full seconds to lift the weightload and four full seconds to lower the weightload, the negative muscle contraction receives ample attention. This should enhance the overall training effect, and translate into better muscle response to both uphill and downhill hiking.

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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth......more
 
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