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The seasons are changing. When the snow finally melts and we transition to summer sports, how do we best prepare our bodies for the changes? I start by thinking about movements over muscles: what movements can prepare me for biking, hiking, climbing, running, or boating? I also think about the movements I’ve been repeating all winter, and how these might help or hinder me as I move into new activities.
Assuming you’ve been skiing, you probably overused your quads. If so, the underused hamstrings and glutes may be tight and unresponsive. Tight hamstrings and glutes often lead to lower and mid-back tightness and pain, leading to a lack of mobility. You move more like a zombie than like the supple leopard we all hope to be.
So, for a fun, injury-free summer, it’s important to work on functional mobility. Mobility is more than just stretching and being flexible. In fact, over-stretching can hinder your mobility. I define mobility as the ability to use the full range of motion of a particular joint with stability and strength – this second part is where injury prevention occurs. Fifteen years ago, we preached a heavy regimen of pre-activity stretching, but recent research suggests this to be the wrong approach. We now prefer a series of progressive movements, taking a joint through its full range of motion and focusing on the parts of the movement where we are weak, tight or unable to maintain.
Lucky for us, our friends in India figured out a solution sometime around the 5th or 6th century BC and named it yoga. Year-round yoga is one of the most functional ways to stay strong and mobile. Any time I switch from one activity to another, I ramp up my yoga game significantly. In addition to mobility, I find yoga to be the best way to develop functional core strength, increase balance, and improve recovery breathing – all things that assist in sports performance.
The first step of any quality fitness program design is a needs assessment – what are the requirements of the sport, activity or event for my desired outcomes? Are you just a casual weekend hiker/biker or are you focused on winning the regional race series?
In the second step, test yourself and find out: where you are in relation to the objective. If the goal is to run an 18 minute 5k, you need to run a 5k today. This will help determine the intensity and frequency of training. You can reasonably expect to increase intensity or volume of endurance/cardio work about 10% to 20% per week without diminishing returns. Maybe the goal is unreasonable, or maybe it’s too easily attainable and you should raise your expectations.
The third step is program design and I look at a number of factors here. How many days are you able to dedicate an hour or two to training? How much time can you dedicate to recovery? If I were looking at a mountain biker for instance, a simple program might look like this:
Once you’ve designed your program, implement! Keep a training log. It’s tough to track performance or identify patterns without a written record. I track everything, from how I feel when I wake up each day, to what I eat, to how many reps and with what weights. I even document how I felt post-workout and how much life-stress is going on.
Step four is the fun part. Time to go, race day, go climb the mountain, run the river. Whatever you decided the goal was in step one, it’s time to see if your program worked and if the hard work was effective. If the goal is achieved, congrats to you, time to set the next one. If the target was missed, it’s time to assess why. What worked, what didn’t, and why? Did the program lack proper intensity? Was it too intense and you were unable to go on race day?
The last step is to change the things that didn’t work, redesign the program, and re-implement.
A few thoughts for serious hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers: Nothing preps you for carrying a pack like carrying a pack. I keep an old day pack around with five 10-pound sand bags inside. This allows me to easily control and change weights. I often wear it during my regular workouts, or do stair climbs and hikes. It not only accustoms the body to the weight, it also adjusts your balance. For climbers, do as much finger, elbow, and shoulder-injury preventive work as possible. The forces on the connective tissues of these joints are brutal, and you can’t do enough to prep them.
Whether you plan to ski well into summer, transition to your bike soon, or put on your running shoes this weekend, proper mobility and assessment is key. Determining your desired outcomes comes next with a proper program to follow. Here’s to launching into summer strong, healthy and ready to go!
Article by Jake Hutchinson
Jake has spent more than 25 years working as an avalanche professional. He is currently a lead instructor for the American Avalanche Institute, an avalanche dog handler and trainer and an avalanche safety consultant to the resort and rescue communities. Off the snow, Hutchinson is a Certified Instructor and former Head of Instructor and Seminar Development for Gym Jones in Salt Lake City. He is currently involved in private personal training with an emphasis on high level functional fitness for mountain and military athletes.