Being in the mountains is great year-round. From hiking and biking in the summer to snow-shoeing, skiing, boarding, and alpinism in the winter. The thrill of being in the mountains takes your breath away, until the next morning when the pain in your thighs and knees is what takes your breath away.

It will help if you understand a little anatomy regarding muscle contractions.

Muscle Anatomy 101

We have 3 types of muscle contractions: concentric, isometric, and eccentric. Concentric contractions are when the muscle shortens against a load. Think of flexing your biceps. The muscle bulges up as you flex/bend your elbow. Isometric contractions are when the muscle doesn’t move even though there is force. Think of pushing against a building. The building isn’t moving, and neither are your muscles getting shorter or longer, but there’s still force being applied. The last type of contraction is called eccentric contractions. This is where the muscle is being stretched against a load. We are strongest in this type of contraction, but it also creates the most muscle damage. Without boring you more about the anatomy and physiology, just think of eccentric training like ripping velcro apart. Very strong, but that ripping is essentially what is happening at a cellular level.

Why should I care about eccentric contractions?

What does this have to do with my mountain sports and being an uphill masters athlete? Most people train for their sport by only doing their sport. This is HUGELY misinformed, and wrong, and I explain why you must cross-train as you age already. For those that know they need to do something besides their sport, they usually pick a generic online program or just more of the same aerobic conditioning. The big miss here is training for specificity.

You will get better at exactly what and how you train. So if you do a bunch of squats and lunges in hopes that you’ll be ready for a monster hike, or tons of skiing, it will help…to a point. Most people only think about getting strong to get UP the mountain, but neglect that they need to be strong coming DOWN the mountain. Training for coming down requires different types of training to train that aspect, and if you neglect this part of your training, you will still be really sore after descending the mountain.

How to train for descending

You have a couple options for training this particular aspect of your sport.

  1. Time Under Tension. Most people mistakenly call this ‘negatives’ or lowering down slowly. If you’re doing squats, to emphasize the eccentric portion more, go down into that sitting position much slower than coming up. For example, try taking 5-6 seconds to go down to the bottom, and then come up as fast as possible.
  2. True eccentric/over-strength. Since we are strongest in this type of contraction, we have to train stronger than we normally are. To help you understand this, if you can squat 100 lbs, this means that you can only lift 100lbs coming up, out of the sitting position. To lower the weight all you need to exert is 99 lbs and the bar/you will lower. This is problematic since you are stronger eccentrically than concentrically. So if you can squat (coming up) 100 lbs, you should theoretically be able to lower more than 100lbs. The problem lies in being able to lift a heavier load than you actually can.

Over-strength training (true eccentric training)

You have a couple options for accomplishing this. You can use a special device/equipment. No this isn’t something you can do from home. This is a big reason (that and most online trainers and programs don’t have a solid understanding of anatomy/physiology) that most online and other programs don’t do it. They can’t figure out how to do this with a little band or dumbbell.

  1. You can use a fly-wheel (kbox, or versaclimber) where more load is being applied eccentrically than concentrically. The benefits of these types of equipment are that just about anyone, with any fitness level can try.
  2. The other way you can get the most benefits from eccentric training is using weight releasers. These are special attachments you can add to a barbell and when you get to the bottom-the pop off the bar letting you come up with less weight. The draw back is you need someone or yourself to reset the releasers after each rep. That might sound tedious, but you must also know that since training eccentrically induces TONS of muscle damage, your rep range should be between 2-5 reps is all.
  3. So what if you don’t have access to this cool equipment? You could find a reputable trainer/facility with the equipment (sorry for the shameless plug) or you can employ the third option, called the BANA protocol. BANA is an acroymn that stands for Bilateral Assisted, Negative Accentuated. It sounds really hard, but basically you are using one limb to help the other.

1 down, 2 ups (BANA) for eccentric training

Some simple ways to add this type of training from home-without much equipment are:

  • 1 down, 2 up (BANA) box squats
  • 1 down, 2 up (BANA) RDLs
  • 1 down, 2 up (BANA) hip thrusts
  • 1 down, 2 up (BANA) calf raises

I picked these exercises because these are the main muscles you are going to need as an uphill masters athlete (hiking, skiing, alpinism).

Remember a little goes a LONG way. Just a few reps here 2-3 times a week for a couple weeks is all you’ll need at one time before you’ll need and want to switch things up.

Need some help preparing for your mountain sport? Let us show you what you should include into your program to play harder and stay injury-free.