Pain Free Backpacking

exercises pain free pain free athlete posture exercises the pain free athlete Apr 30, 2014

It has been over a decade since I've been backpacking due to injury and fear of pain. I am happy to say that my husband and I went out for a successful night last weekend to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Backpacking can be added to my list of can do activities, Yeah!

Although my body held up well there was still soreness from the new movement. On the hike back I came up with the following routine of posture exercises to relieve the strain of carrying a heavy load. These could be done before, during or after your adventure.


Counter Stretch

Using a picnic table, tree, car, restroom wall or your partners shoulders place your hands in front of you and align your hips and ankles vertically. Tighten your thighs and roll your pelvis forward to place an arch in your lower back. Allow your upper body to drop between your arms while your shoulder blades slide down and together with your head neutral. Hold for 1-3 minutes. This exercise helps with the tightness in the back of the legs and tension in the shoulders. I particularly noticed soreness in my calves from climbing nearly 3000' with a large pack.


Elbow Curls

Stand with your feet hip width apart and pointing straight ahead. Using the golfers grip, shown in the picture to the right place your pinkies at your temples. While keeping your thumbs pointing straight down bring your elbows towards each other. Your upper arm should remain parallel to the ground and you should feel a good stretch across your back. I found this exercise particularly helpful in relieving my neck stain.


Groin Stretch

Using a split stance contract your back quad (front of your leg) so your knee is straight. Rotate your hips under like you are tucking your tail down and forward to stretch the front of your hip. Make sure not to hinge at your back and compress your spine. You should not feel discomfort in your lower back. Hold for 1 minute on each side. The load of your pack sits on your hips and they are working hard against the resistance especially going uphill. Keeping the front of your hips loose will help your stride and balance.



Cats and Dogs

A massage for your spine! With your feet hip width apart bend your knees slightly and rest your hands just above your knees. Starting from the pelvis rotate your butt down and under, push your shoulder blades apart, drop your head and round your spine as much as possible, like an angry cat.  Reverse the movement by pushing your butt up and back to create an arch while your head lifts and your shoulder blades pinch, the dog position. Move fluidly between the postures. Coordinate with your breath by inhaling while you go into the cat and exhaling on the transition to dog.


Posture While Backpacking

In addition to preparing your body for your hike with the above exercises you want to be aware of your posture while in motion. The weight of the pack can create uneven stress and strain throughout the body. I found that keeping a natural curve in my back, pinching my shoulder blades and keeping my joints aligned best distributed the load. When I would catch myself leaning forward my neck would ache. I also noticed myself overarching my lower back leading to back tension and hip tightness. 


Of course after my last blog, How Fit Are You?, where the merits of carrying large loads on the head were discussed I have to wonder why we don't use a headpack instead...

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