June is National Get Outdoors Month. Here at MDA, we’re spending the next couple weeks teeing you up to have your best summer yet in the great outdoors with posts to inspire you to get into nature.
Today we’re talking about how to train for backpacking. Let’s start with the most obvious question: what IS backpacking? Backpacking is simply multi-day hiking where you carry all your gear on your back.
Say you’re going out for a day hike carrying water, food, and basic survival gear, but you return to your car the same day you set out. That’s not backpacking.
If you’re trekking across the country, but someone else is sherpaing your gear from one sleeping spot to the next, that’s not backpacking either.
In a nutshell, backpacking is essentially a long hike with more gear and more details to think about because you’ll be spending at least one night—but possibly many more—camping out. I think of backpacking as a kind of endurance sport. As with any endurance sport, you want to train for your event. You probably wouldn’t enter a half-marathon this coming weekend with minimal or no training. You could, but it would hurt a lot less, and your chance of success would be significantly greater, if you took the time to train. Same goes for backpacking.
The good news is, if you already have a solid fitness base, you are well on your way. Now you just need to tailor your training to get ready for your backpacking expedition.
Everyone needs to squat.
The squat is a foundational human movement pattern and resting position. Watch a young child study the ant trail on the ground, and they don’t bend over to gawk at it. They squat down and sit in that squat position comfortably for as long as it takes. Watch Hadza tribesmen cook and share meat around the fire. They aren’t sitting on camp chairs. They aren’t standing awkwardly. They’re sitting in a squat, comfortable as can be. Go to many Asian countries and you’ll see regular people, even elderly people, sitting in a full squat as they wait for the bus or visit with friends.
To squat is to be human. It is to explore and inhabit the full range of our body’s motion. It is to remain mobile, agile, and effectively young. If you can achieve and sit in a full squat at age 70, you’ll be in the 99th percentile and, hopefully, avoid most of aging’s physical ravages and functionality degenerations.
Squatting is also an incredible exercise that targets every muscle in the body, particularly when you do so with added weight. Glutes, hamstrings, quads. Core, lumbar, traps. For that reason, squatting is incredibly anabolic, meaning it provides a total-body hypertrophic stimulus. Anecdotally, people report growing muscle everywhere after picking up a regular squatting habit, even those muscles that aren’t directly involved.
But whether you’re squatting just to maintain the ability to move into that position or squatting to train, you need to do it with proper form.
There’s no question that the full squat exercise is an essential, Primal movement, and yet many folks in modern, industrialized society are unable to properly perform one. Kids have good squat form (just watch them at play), but their parents are stiff at the hips with rounded backs and tight knee joints. Many more have been taught – by health experts and personal trainers – that the full squat is dangerous, that it will destroy your knees with wear and tear and render you incapable of normal activity. They say a half-squat is perfectly adequate, or, better yet, get rid of the squat altogether and use the leg extension machine! (Actually, don’t.) Disregard these “experts.” Squatting is a natural movement that humans are built to do. You don’t need to use a ton of weight (or any!), but you do need to be mobile and flexible enough to reach a full squat below parallel. What Do Squats Do? Squats serve a variety of practical purposes: they can help you arrive into a resting position, they’re a proper starting form for lifting, and they work the muscles of the lower body. A proper squat engages and works a host of muscles, like quadriceps, abdominals, glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When done correctly, squatting can build bone density, a key element in aging well. How to Do a Squat Stand with a comfortable stance. Most will prefer their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle. Lower yourself by reaching back with your butt while maintaining a strong lower back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground. Chest up, upper back tight, eyes looking forward and slightly down, head in a neutral position. Maintain a nice cohesive line along your spine. Go just below parallel, so that your butt drops below your knees.Come back up by pushing through the heel. Proper Air Squat Form Air squats, also known as body weight squats, can take pressure off of knees and still provide a ton of benefits. Learn, modify, and perfect your air squat over time using three squat progressions. If you’re already familiar with the motion but finding your squats result in knees caving, lower back or hip joints pain, your form might need a further tune up. Follow along with the video or these three progressions to get your squat into shape. https://youtu.be/1A0msu0FDl8 Squat Progression 1: Use an Assist Find a supportive assist, such as a wall, bar, pole, or the back of a chair – anything that is sturdy and comes to about navel height. Come to a neutral position with feet shoulder width apart, bend your knees and explore your range of motion. Aim to achieve 20-30 of these assisted squats before moving on to Progression 2. Squat Progression 2: No Assist, with a Spot Use a box or a bench to act as a ‘spotter’ while working on your full squat form. When in the … Continue reading “How To Squat with Proper Technique (with Video)”
There is an epidemic of chronic lower back pain. It’s one of the leading causes of “Years Lived with Disability” (YLD), is responsible for over 7 million ER room visits each year, and costs us both time (hard to do much of anything when our lower back is hurting) and money (people with lower back pain end up spending thousands of dollars a year on average to treat it). I can’t think of anything that degrades overall quality of life more than persistent lower back pain.
And as is so often the case, our attempts to treat the condition often make it worse. What does the average person do when their back hurts?
Whenever I’m strapped for time and equipment and still need a solid workout, I turn to the burpee. Burpees are bodyweight exercises, and thus require no equipment or weights. They are full body movements that engage every muscle group, require only as much space as you need to do a pushup, and can be done anywhere. You can do them slowly and methodically, or quick for a sprint-like workout. If you’re ever outdoors and need to warm up fast, a quick set of 15-20 burpees will get your body temperature up faster than anything. The pros go on and on.
As great as back squats are for strength, general fitness, and body composition, sometimes they just don’t work for a person. Maybe they cause knee, shoulder, or wrist pain. Maybe someone’s body proportions aren’t conducive to proper back squatting. Maybe their legs are too long to achieve good depth without compromising position. While there are dozens of articles imploring you to mobilize this or that joint and work out the kinks in this or that muscle so that the back squat will work, and those can be very informative and helpful, some people just don’t want to back squat. For whatever reason, it doesn’t work for them.
Especially now, when gyms are closed and it’s difficult to get your hands on a barbell, you might be looking for alternatives to back squats that will keep your legs just as strong.