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Mastering Uneven Terrain
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS June 2005
Do you find yourself struggling whenever you traverse boulder fields, steep talus, or scree slopes? Are you tired of repeatedly rolling or straining your ankles? Do you need some helpful exercises you can do in the gym to prepare you for the trials of rugged mountainous terrain? Below we introduce three new exercises to add to your arsenal: the balanced 1-leg calf raise, walking lunge, and stagger-stance dumbbell good morning.
Balanced 1-leg Calf Raise
Place a 2x4 on the floor in front of you with a heavy weight plate or dumbbell on the other end to ensure that the board stays in place. Place the ball of your working foot on the edge of the board and drop your heel until it comfortably touches the floor. Try using your own bodyweight as resistance until your balance improves; then add dumbbells in each hand or a loaded pack to your back. Exhale and lift up onto your toes as high as possible, then inhale as you lower. Your goal is to master this exercise without holding onto anything for balance. Initially, you may need to move your arms around to counterbalance or have them out wide as though you are on a tightrope. Begin with your non-dominant or weaker side first, and only complete on the strong side as many as you can successfully complete on the weak side maintaining proper form. Start with 1-2 sets of 6-8 repetitions, building to 2-3 sets of 12-15.
The walking lunges exercise involves linking 6-10 strides together at a time (picture shows the first stride). To perform the exercise, stand with feet parallel and shoulder width apart. Take a moderate stride forward with your right foot, keeping shoulder width distance to prevent toppling over sideways. Keep your torso vertical, shoulders directly over hips, and lower your body until your knee barely grazes the floor. As you stand up again, bring the left leg forward to meet the right but continue on past as you smoothly step forward with the left foot, repeat until you have completed the desired distance or number of steps. If you feel discomfort in the forward knee, check to be sure the knee stays behind the shoelaces; if you feel discomfort in the back quad, shorten the range of motion or take slightly smaller steps. Start with bodyweight only, then add a dumbbell in each hand or pack to your back once you master form and need added resistance. You can count strides, continue for a certain amount of time, or go until your quads ache for a break.
Stagger-Stance Dumbbell Good Morning
To perform this variation on a good morning, hold a dumbbell in each hand and place one foot forward of the other about two feet, with 90% of your weight on the front leg. Your back leg will be used primarily for balance, and to prevent cheating you should be up on your toes of the back leg. You should feel a dramatic stretch through the hamstrings and glutes of the forward leg. Inhale as you prepare to hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat and pressing your buttocks backward to keep your weight over the heels. Exhale as you raise the torso and weight back up fully to vertical. Emphasis should be on keeping the back flat so the glutes, hamstrings, and smaller stabilizing muscles in the forward leg get worked rather than the lower back. Start with a very light weight in order to master form before increasing the resistance. Be sure that you have no back issues when performing this exercise, and if you have any questions about form, have a qualified trainer go over it with you for proper execution.
One Final Pointer
Remember that these are supplemental and preparatory exercises for the “real deal.” Ultimately, in order to get more comfortable with varied terrain, you need to travel over as many surfaces as possible, as frequently as you can, to allow your body to gain the experience needed to quickly and safely cross any terrain. While you can isolate what muscles are in need of help and add exercises to your gym training to help target those weaker areas, there is no true substitute for the cross-country training you get simply from walking outdoors in the mountains.
More Helpful Web Pages
Additional articles on our website that will also be helpful include:
www.bodyresults.com/S2calves.asp for calf stretches and strengthening exercises, particularly the discussion of sand walking and hill traversing and a description of how to perform the 1-leg deadlift;
www.bodyresults.com/E2balanceexercises.asp for additional advanced balance exercises including variations on the 1-leg deadlift, 1-leg hover step up and 1-leg squat;
www.bodyresults.com/E2gluteusMedius.asp for exercises targeting the large buttock and hip muscles, the gluteus medius, including the hip hike, straight leg raise, bridges, and in-line dowel lunges;
www.bodyresults.com/E2BackwardsWalking.asp for tips on how to incorporate backwards walking into your conditioning routine.