Muscle fatigue & decending steep inclines

8:07 a.m. on May 10, 2005 (EDT)
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After decending very short (1/8 mile) but very steep incline, I find my upper thigh muscles sore for several days. I can hike down a 2 mile somewhat less steep incline with almost no effect. Can someone explain what's going on here and are there some exercices I can do (other than going down those inclines), that could prepare me for a quicker recovery.

Thanks, Bill

11:28 a.m. on May 10, 2005 (EDT)
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Sore muscles, eh? Well, the only real answer is to get out there and hike the inclines. Then again, there is the expensive answer - get a Stairmaster or a gym membership that has stair climbers and work out every day.

Even though that sounds a bit sarcastic, that really is the answer. You can get some relief from NSAIDS, but you don't really want to depend on pills. Ibuprofen and naproxin are supposed to be most effective of the over the counter NSAIDS for muscle soreness.

What is happening (no, I'm not an MD or physical trainer, just read a lot, and as an Old Greybeard, suffer more and more as I age) is that during exercise, you build up lactic acid in the muscles. You probably are building up most of it during the uphill part of your hike, then start feeling it during the downhill return trip. I personally find that if I go more than a few days without hiking the local hills, I get sore quads, with the soreness peaking the second day, and lasting into the third day. When I was much younger, I could go a week between hill hikes and climbs without getting the soreness, but the exercise requirement has increased with age. If I hike the hills on a daily basis, even a couple miles round trip, I have found I can let my fast-hiker buddy drag me along on one of his 30-mile, 5000 vertical feet in a day treks and get no soreness (just a lot of fatigue).

So you have to really work the quads on a regular, frequent basis (current recommendation seems to be half hour of exercise per day, 5 days a week). Climb the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator. I find bicycling helps with the hiking. Before retiring, I used to commute to work on bike (hey, it was faster than the car most of the places I worked). Even a daily walk around the block.

Another thing that seems to help is a good electrolyte replacement drink (I prefer Bill Gookin's Hydrolyte), and maybe eating some high-potassium food before, during, right after the hike (bananas are a good example).

Also, a good massage of the legs by someone knowledgable helps get the lactic acid out. There are some books available for runners that tell you how to massage your own legs, if you don't have a spouse who is a trained sports masseuse or masseur and, like me, are too cheap to pay a professional. Besides, when you are on a multi-day backpack or climb, you will have to do it yourself.

But in the end, there really is no substitute for regular exercise of those muscles.

3:52 p.m. on May 10, 2005 (EDT)
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Hi guys... (;->)

Bill S is such an expert that sometimes he forgets that others do not know the things that he takes for granted... (:->)I'm quite sure that Bill meant to tell you about walking differently on steep stuff. Since Bill and I are climbers we have a different concept of steep than most, but still...

Anyway it is critical to move smoothly when decending steep stuff. If you stop your motion and restart it with each step the total energy consumed is huge. If you bend at the knees, loosen up your whole body, pay attention your feet, breath with your footsteps, and try to "flow" down the mountain in one graceful gesture, the total energy consumed will be less and the muscles will be less trashed. Stop often and rest then resume your smooth motion. As climbers say "never thrash" - if you are getting tired stop and rest and proceed with style.

I have backpacked with marathon runners in Tuolomne Meadows and after a steep trail they can barely walk whereas I just flow slowly and pass everyone else going down. You can move very fast using my method.
Jim S (:->)

8:38 p.m. on May 10, 2005 (EDT)
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Ummm, yeah ...

Jim is right, I should have said something about how you walk down slopes and adjust to roughness, steepness, looseness, slippy-ness, etc. As Jim said, use the flexibility of your knees, ankles, hips, use the shock absorption of your muscles, watch how you place your feet on the slope (digging the heels in is ok for snow that is soft enough, but not for loose rock/gravel/sand/scree - rocks might roll; some slopes should be done with feet flat on the slope; some slopes and surfaces with side-stepping; etc.). I see a lot of people coming down slopes with stiff knees - they usually get sore legs (knees, ankles, quads, calf muscles) and often need knee surgery sooner rather than later. The people I know who have the least problem with downhills and irregular surfaces in general look like they are dancing lightly over the surface, rather than stomping heavily with each step.

But I still say the basic thing is get out there on the hills and hike frequently - it builds the skills as well as the strength. If you can, go hiking with a very experienced long-distance hiker or even adventure racer and get them to critique your style.

2:48 a.m. on May 11, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Ummm, yeah ...

You might consider getting a pair of trekking poles. They come in all prices and are really just glorified ski poles that telescope in 2 or 3 sections. They should make descending easier on your leg muscles and knees, especially if you are wearing a pack. I was skeptical, but had bought a pair for snowshoeing and noticed the difference right away on my first hike with them. I just used them for the downhill part of the hike, but I've seen people using them going up and down.

6:46 a.m. on May 11, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Ummm, yeah ...

ever since I got into marathon running, I have become like a little energizer bunny, I just keep going and going.

I now never get sore legs when hiking.

Sure, sore shoulders and hips from a heavy pack, but not sore legs.


Exercise is the cure. I recommend an eliptical machine over a stair stepper.

Hmmm, if I get me some of those hiking poles for my next marathon, I can pretend I'm Tanya Harding and beat people that are running in front of me.

7:32 a.m. on May 11, 2005 (EDT)
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Squats

Surprised nobody's mentioned it yet, but doing squats or lunges will work wonders on your thighs.

7:36 a.m. on May 11, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Squats

squats and lunges are very bad for your knees.

We love you Dave. Stop squatting.

Another antiquated exercise that will screw up knees in a hurry is bending at the knee and rotating the knees in circles.

11:59 a.m. on May 11, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Squats

Full squats, aka deep knee bends, are indeed bad for the knees, especially done with heavy weights (like the Olympic weight lifters do, except you notice they use heavy knee wraps). But I think what Dave is suggesting are the half-knee bends. These are indeed beneficial without the knee damage (got that from both a sports medicine orthopod and a PT when Barbara was recovering from her artheroscopy after her ski accident). The difference is how far you bend the knee and whether you are stressing it. You can work the amount of bend up with proper stretching exercises, but the vast majority of people who do stretching (not just knees, but all stretches) do it wrong. You can't do the full extensions the first time - that is guaranteed to tear muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Also, lunges are a more advanced exercise that requires slow build-up over probably months if you haven't done it before. But if you build up to it gradually, they are also beneficial. But again, most people start right off trying to do full range, which can cause serious and permanent injury.

6:40 a.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Thanks to everyone for their suggestions. I've got alot more to think about when I hike down the trails now.

Bill (the one with the sore thighs).

7:53 a.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Squats

Thanks for caring, Ed. Now when can we talk about your little running habit?

Running is just torture for my knees, which were destroyed long ago by a combination of ski racing, soccer, and mostly from playing catcher in Little League through high school baseball. But I've found that the stronger I keep my legs, the better my joints feel.

As for squats, yeah, skip the gym-rat version. But don't write them off altogether. As Bill pointed out, there are variations that are quite beneficial, and proper stretching is important. The biggest potential problem are is deep squats, which can overextend the ligaments in your knees. But if you bend your knees no more than 90 degrees and don't use much or any weight, the additional strength you build will actually protect those ligaments against overextension. Start out doing very shallow squats with just your body weight and you can add weight (bar or dumbells) and depth as your strength increases.

What would you suggest in lieu of squats for building upper leg strength?

8:41 a.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Squats

elliptical machine

11:57 a.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: Squats

Used one once and didn't care for it...I guess it takes a while to get used to the motion? I'd rather be outside anyway.

12:07 p.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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catcher

Oh, my, Dave! When Barb had her knee injury skiing, the orthopod she had at Palo Alto Sports Medicine was the primary joint fixer for several of the professional sports teams in the SFBay Area. His comment on various activities and their effect on joints was that the hardest position in all of sports on the joints was catcher. He said that virtually all catchers on the pro teams had to have major knee surgery or knee replacements after just a few years. Pitchers came a close second with shoulder and elbow injuries. The problem with catchers wasn't just the squat, but also the continual springing hard out of the squat to go after balls and runners.

In Barb's case, the knee injury came from following our then 8 or 9 year old son on skis through the trees - an adult should never follow a young kid through the trees while skiing. She caught the ski up against a buried log, so of course the binding did not release, which produced a torn ACL and other damage. When the ortho was getting set to do the surgery, we suggested that she might be back to skiing before the end of the season. After all, Doc Campbell was famous for getting the athletes back on the field in 3 or 4 weeks. His response was 2 questions - do you want to be skiing into your 70s? And are you getting paid a multimillion dollar salary to get out on the slopes? Ummmm, yes to the first, no to the second. His response was then take the recovery gradually and do all the exercises the PT is going to give you. We now have a video of the inside of her knee with the little knife cutting and scraping (Barb has never been able to bring herself to watch it), and she is back to regularly skiing intermediate and the occasional advanced slope, plus tele.

Anyway, Dave, given you were a catcher, even though it was Little League, maybe you should talk to a sports medicine orthopedist. Not sure you would want to do the full replacement route, but maybe he can come up with something. One thing my current orthopod (the guy who worked on my elbow that was dislocated by the snowboarder) suggested was that there is experimental evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin do help the joints. He suggested that after a minor knee problem I had a couple years ago. It does indeed seem to help, and it has helped Barb with keeping her knees from getting sore on the hills we have around here for the orienteering meets. He said there is no evidence for MSM, though, which is another supplement that is popular with runners.

Bicycling and swimming are two activities that seem to help strengthen the legs and are easier on the joints, where running is pretty hard on the joints, especially hills. Interesting what you can pick up from the brochures the orthopods have in their waiting rooms.

Then again, some of it is just old age.

12:36 p.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: catcher

They limit the number of pitches young kids can throw, but nobody ever thinks of the poor catcher. Oh well. My knees have never been quite bad enough to require surgery, although there is some cartilage floating in there that could stand to come out sometime. The biggest problem is if I run more than 5 or 10 miles in a week I develop pretty painful patellar tendinitis. Hiking has never been a problem, luckily.

1:42 p.m. on May 12, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: catcher

Bill S, I agree with you about cycling and swimming. I used to spend a fair amount of time doing both although I haven't been doing a serious amount of either for years. One caution about cycling-make sure your riding position on the bike is set up properly and don't ride in a big gear unless you are really fit. I see people slowly cranking along in big gears all the time and it's just another sure way to blow out a knee. Even when I used to ride over 100 miles a week I stayed away from big gears most of the time to avoid tearing up my knees. I could really tell when I'd overdone it, so I knew when to back off and work on aerobics rather than brute force musclepower.

6:43 a.m. on May 13, 2005 (EDT)
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catcher

Dave, if you drink canadian whiskey, you could call your life story: rye in the catcher.

6:55 p.m. on May 14, 2005 (EDT)
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Train, train, train.
Climb stairs, squats, lunges, 1-leg squats, step ups, and step downs, and run intervals. The idea is to increase strength and lactic acid tolerance. Work up to where to can do the above (except intervals) with your normal pack weight.

Use a recovery drink at the end of the day, such as Endurox.

Use trekking poles to alleviate some of the shock.
Steve

9:35 a.m. on May 15, 2005 (EDT)
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Have you tried any negative resistance training (think this is the term)? Seems that when most folks do any muscle training including squats, lunges, etc, they focus on the extension/power stroke while they give no attention to the return. When you do the squats, try squatting (the descent part) slowly and maintain control and balance. I use trekking poles to help balance. I like to do it to the point to just before my legs get to shaking.

Cheers
ag

8:34 p.m. on June 5, 2005 (EDT)
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Ahh, at last someone mentions compression training! That is the one exercise that will do the most good for downhill hiking (skiing as well). With a weight machine, or against a wall w/ a therapy ball, it doesn't matter- with the ball, place it in the small of your back against a wall, you feet shoulder width apart and out away from the wall far enough that your kneecaps never go out past your toes (this is very important for your knee's safety). Squat down, uing the ball to balance, as slowly as you can- start at 5 seconds and go up to 10- go until you knee is at a 90 deg angle. Extend at normal speed. Do sets of 10 until fatigued. Hold dumbells for added weight. For a weight machine, go slow as you let the weight down (legs bending). I've done a couple of years' therapy recovering from ACL tears in both knees (skiing and football), this is the standard excercise for getting your quads reaady for downhill. Lunges are also very, very good. They can hurt you knees if done incorrectly- the important part is to always keep you toes in front of you kneecaps when doing deep bends.

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