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Performance Hiking

Performance Hiking is the implementation of simple techniques to travel faster and farther, conserve energy and reduce fatigue. Additionally, Performance Hiking is the reduction and elimination of resistance to motion. Techniques presented will increase your stride to increase speed and endurance, improve your breathing for increased speed and alertness, reduce and eliminate energy wasting motion, etc. You can further improve your performance by reducing and eliminating resistance to efficient fluid motion in your clothing, footwear, pack and gear that resist efficient fluid motion or generates discomfort.

Our legs, feet and footwear are our essential hiking tools. The foot follows an 'S' curve path during ground contact motion. Along with ankle rotation, 30% of the energy transferred to the feet is lost as heat – waste energy. Each pound carried on your feet is equivalent to adding approximately 6.4 pounds to your pack - a known hiking fact, so try and reduce clothing, pack and gear weight.

Snap Knee Technique: Straighten-out your rearward placed leg at the knee during the thrust-off phase of motion and your speed will dramatically increase.

Increased Stride Technique: People with longer legs have a longer stride, taking fewer steps versus someone with shorter legs. By raising the heel of your feet you can increase your stride with resultant speed and energy conservation.

Let's perform an experiment: Put on a pair of non-heeled footwear such as slippers, or moccasins and count the number of strides it takes to walk from one location to another. Next, place a folded sock or other material approximately 1/4" thick at the heel location of your footwear and repeat the experiment. Did you notice that it took fewer strides to cover the same distance in less time?

Hiking footwear that is 3/8" to 1/2" higher in the heel than the forefoot provides increased leg length. Trail shoes are optimized for trail conditions. They reduce restrictive front to rear ankle motion and their weight is less than hiking boots. However, they are not recommended for people who need the ankle support provided by hiking boots. Pack weight is also a factor in footwear selection as related to the amount of support required. A shoe insert made of 20 lbs/cuft high density polyurethane, approximately 1/4 inch thick, tapered and terminated just behind the forefoot pad of the foot will further increase your leg length to increase your stride, speed, and conserve energy. You can increase your speed roughly seven percent.

Lean Forward Technique: During forward motion lean your upper body forward to cover more ground quicker and conserve energy. Repeat the above experiment and lean forward. Three benefits: Your stride increases, you maintain forward momentum and your legs rotate from a position further forward of their normal ankle position. By placing your body weight forward (a forward center of gravity), you can continue step after step with less expenditure of energy. You will reduce the time, energy and stress necessary for your ankles to rotate. When ascending, the heel contacts the slope quicker. Less stress is applied to the shin and calf muscles.

Swinging Elbows Technique: This is a modified running technique. Swinging your elbows forward and back in opposite unison with your legs increases speed. Speed-up your elbow swings to move faster. Place your hands at breast height level and elbows down. Vary the position of your fingers from a fist to full extension about every ten seconds. Your elbows act as a pendulum stabilizing your motion. Varying the position of your fingers maintains the higher speed. Energy is expended for increased speed.

Exhale Technique: Swifter motion as well as increased alertness results if you forcefully exhale. Your lungs will automatically take in oxygen and purge deep-seated carbon dioxide. On flat to moderate slopes exhale swiftly, move eight steps and repeat the process. Perform the technique for about 10 minutes and your memory will virtually takeover the process for you. For a burst of speed quickly exhale and in about five to eight seconds you can move faster with greater alertness for about ten seconds. When ascending a steep slope exhale at each step taken. Let your breathing mechanism provide feedback to determine the needed exhale frequency.

Full lung expansion: Roughly 25% of your breathing capacity is not available if you are not a diaphragmatic breather. Furthermore, wearing a belt, packs with load transfer hip-belts, hip-packs, tight pants at the waist or other breathing restriction limits your performance. Place the restriction two to three inches below your bellybutton if practical to improve breathing. You can reduce restriction to comfortable breathing by lifting/loosening your shirt/blouse vertically.

Side-Skip Technique: Your thighs, knees and shins take a punishment descending slopes. This technique permits a swift descent on non-obstructed slopes versus the side-step technique. Place your body facing either side of a slope. Thrust-off the slope with the higher located leg and repeat the process. For a long slope periodically switch which leg is to be the thrust-off leg for further stress and fatigue reduction. Use the technique with caution and control as degree of slope and trail conditions could cause injury. I used this technique descending a mountain with a thirty-five pound pack.

Crouch Technique: By placing your body in a crouching position (out-stretched legs with reduced body height), you achieve a lower center of gravity permitting you to lean forward for an increased stride. Ascending is easier and safety is improved over rough terrain as you are closer to the ground. The technique should not be used for a great length of time as it places stress on less frequently used muscles. Adjust the height of your crouch to trade-off comfort, speed and safety. When fatigued and/or ascending steeply, spread your legs apart a bit. As you press forward with your leading leg your rearward placed leg will provide better than normal stability and strength for an easier ascent. The degree of slope will determine if crouching can be applied. Spreading your legs apart a bit can be used independent of crouching.

Snow, Mud and Soft Ground Technique: To prevent slipping along and not covering much territory versus moving along, dig your heels in to compact the snow or ground. On ascents, roll your feet downward and outward, (like a duck) to dig-in and lock each foot in the ground or snow. Relative to snow, the technique applies to a few inches or so.

Developing Balance and Agility Technique: Practice concentrating on foot placement while hiking on rough and rocky trails, stone stepped streams and atop the length of dead trees to develop balance and dexterity for moving swiftly and confidently. Your footwear should be supple to obtain tactile feedback from the terrain. You need to sense and quickly respond to changes in your balance over arduous terrain.

Motion Control and Freedom of Motion Technique: Periodically check the motion of your upper body, hips, and limbs. If you are able to reduce unnecessary motion at any location while maintaining the same speed, you will conserve energy. Any piece of clothing or carried object limiting forward motion should be temporarily removed and test against not wearing/carrying it – an excellent opportunity to reconsider what you are wearing/carrying and consideration for relocating it. Lighter clothing, packs and where objects are placed in and out of packs will improve freedom of motion and thus increase speed and reduce fatigue.

Speed, Endurance and Terrain Technique: Trails vary in ground cover. You can move faster over rock and hard impacted soil than over debris, snow, sand and grass/weed covered trails. Seek harder surfaces for increased speed and reduced expenditure of energy. Where embedded rocks are located close to each other hike over them versus between them for improved speed and safety. When ascending or descending, place your feet on embedded rock (if available) for safety and speed. Hike as straight a path as terrain and trail conditions permit. The shortest path between two points is a straight line. Travel a straight path from one inside path curve to the next, trusting that it’s visible. Try not to hike higher or lower than the mean intended path/trail level. Avoiding troughs and rises will reduce waste energy, time and distance.

Energy Technique: To perform efficiently your muscles require glucose. Complex carbohydrates such as rolled oats breakdown into glucose more quickly than protein and fat. Protein is necessary for muscle repair. It is advisable to consume complex carbohydrates to provide glucose for your muscles to perform efficiently. Taken prior to hiking, at lunch break and when fatigue sets in. Consume protein and fat after hiking as they digest longer tying-up your blood, reducing access to your energy store and resulting performance. The oils of corn, olive, peanut and safflower contain the highest energy concentration of calories per weight of all foods except lard. Water is needed for digestion, but should be taken a half hour to an hour after eating so as not to dilute stomach acids that would increase digestion time. Fatigue requires rest and/or water, food or supplement energy intake. Learn which foods and supplements are beneficial for improving your performance.

Performance Testing: If you have access to a heart rate monitor, blood glucose meter or treadmill you can verify the effectiveness of a number of the techniques. Select a maximum walking speed that you can tolerate for an extended period of time with and without the techniques. The lower speed divided by the higher speed multiplied by 100 is the percent improvement utilizing a technique.

I agree that a lot can be done to improve performance, some people just aren't going to, and some people are going to become obsessive about it. Most people are going to be some where in the middle.

You should write a book Performance, oh wait, you just did. Haha.

what do u suggest for people who have had a knee or ancle injury?

I found wearing Hawaiian shirts and trendy eyewear make me look like I’m going faster, while suckering others into carrying more community gear and food is the best way to improve my performance. I thought about adding spoilers to my hat and pack, but decided the nerd factor outweighed any potential benefit.

Actually much of this advice is taught to track and cross county athletes. You can add proper weight distribution in your pack kit, diligent hydration, and snacking on glucose or dextrose candies while under way as additional easy ways to get ‘er done.

yooperman: Recover to the point of minimum acceptable pain during normal street walking exercise. Apply a cold compress after each session if necessary. Build strength in the damaged knee verifying level of pain reduction and hopefully arrive at the point where both knees function equally. When you have your confidence back, go for it. I had to relearn how to walk after a hiking accident. I tore three ligaments in my left knee. Good luck with your recovery.

whomeworry ed: Cute but flippant. Did you assume that I copied this info? I personally developed all these techniques with the exception of the Snap Knee Technique, taught to me in 1969 by an Austrian doctor who shared the technique with few others. It has not been publicly presented prior this submission. The swinging arm technique used by runners does not employ use of swinging the elbows nor the described manipulation of the hands to maintain speed. I developed the side skip technique in 1970 and the lean forward technique in 1989. A year ago I learned through Runners World or other running periodical that leaning forward is recommended. I clearly predate that info. I'm not aware of the exhale technique being taught to athletes. If so, then they've benefited from research of others.

Performance, I hate to tell you this, but virtually everything you mention was taught to us as cross-country runners when I was an undergrad in the late 1950s. And it is well-known to orienteers, especially the Scandinavians, who invented orienteering as a sport in the 1920s and 1930s. Interestingly, many elite orienteers find their speed improves after taking ballroom dancing lessons. But one thing you left out is the tradeoff between straight line and contouring. By contouring, you can maximize your speed, compared to climbing up the hills (you do not gain it back on the downhills), while increasing your distance. When orienteering, you have to make that judgment while simultaneously running (in rough terrain in the advanced classes), reading the map, and taking care of your hydration and nutrition.

By the way, your "crouch technique" is commonly referred to a "Groucho Marx Stride". It tends to be easier on the knees than landing with the leading knee straightened and stiff.

Performance Guy:
I meant no disrespect. I apologize if my remarks were offending. My intent was just injecting humor. I actually do wear Hawaiian shirts while hiking; it may look silly, but these synthetic shirts have all the wicking and cooling properties of the high tech shirts, yet cost less than $10. Nothing wrong with feeling faster:) As for the spoilers, I have gadget freak friend who is always tinkering with stuff to improve his back country experience, and, well, this remark is self explanatory.

I cannot comment on the wrist flexing movements, but the arm swing, the forward lean, ankle extension, and most of the other techniques were taught to me by my high school track coach in 1970, so I imagine much of this information was already disseminated, at least in the track and field world. That does not discount its value however. You did leave off a few other techniques: such as efficiently advancing the trailing leg into the next stride is facilitated by focusing on lifting the knee as that foot passes by the other foot; that sideways movements of arms or body, and bobbing gaits should be avoided since these expend energy in non-forward directions; that you should be looking forward rather than down at your feet, both to open up the air way and for better balance; and most significantly, avoid dragging your feet!

Bill S, whomeworry and trouthunter: Thanks for the comments. I had no idea that much of what I had developed was conceived of in or prior to the 1950's. Bill, please explain what you mean by tradeoff between straight line and contouring. The shortest path between two points is a straight line when practical. Your explanation isn't sufficiently clear. Sorry whomeworry ed, for my assuming that you were trying to be a wise guy. It was a colorful description. Regarding the additional techniques that you mention, they didn't occur to me. I would think that lifting the knees would reduce speed as it takes time to do so as well as the waste of energy doing the lift. Terrain conditions dictate how high you need to lift your legs. I try to minimize it. Trouthunter: In early 2000 I posted most of the info described along with the pros and cons of clothing, packs, shoes, etc. on the Trailwinds website. I didn't check if they are still on the internet. I've thought about publishing my techniques and other matters of efficient hiking for many years. Just as well that I didn't although I tried. After Bill S and whomeworry clarified that much of it isn't new info, I'm sorry that I posted it.

Don't be so hard on yourself. Your publishing effort probably benefits someone; not everyone participated in track, and I am sure many never heard of these tips. Regardless your research may have covered old ground, it is still pretty insightful to come up withal that stuff on your own.

well mabe these 2 gents have known about these techniques but there are many people younger than them that need this know this info.if you have taught something to even one person cudos to you.its much easer to ridicule someone than to teach them.

by da way i did learn from your post and im sure others will to.

I find that friction inhibits my hiking speed. Therefore, to reduce air friction I wear minimal clothing and spray my body before each hike with a mixture of fragrant oils known to reduce friction and arouse large carnivores (knowledge of my possibility as some bear's entrée increases my speed).

Since friction with the earth also is a hindrance, I have developed a technique to overcome that as well. Always, I make sure that as my lead foot is about to touch the ground I perform a changement de pied - bring my trailing foot forward in a delicate, and graceful movement so fast as to defeat gravity while also performing a glissade. This is easier to describe than accomplish; however the result is that neither foot touches the ground... ever. With the occasional jeté to overcome obstacles in the trail, the miles just drift by. I would tell you more, but I have no italics left.

Contouring - Consider the situation where you have a hill or ravine between you and the destination. It always takes more energy to go uphill than to go on the level, but you can go faster traveling on the level than climbing. Traversing a hill or a ravine means you have both climb and descent. Often you travel faster going downhill than going on the level, though if the downhill is steep enough, you might travel no faster downhill or even slower than on the level. The straight line distance is shorter than going around the hill or around the end of the ravine. But the tradeoff is this - which way is faster: the longer distance following a level path (following the contour line on the map, in effect, hence the term "contouring") or the increased time and energy in the climb portion of going in a straight line over the hill or through the ravine with some decrease in time and energy during the downhill portion of the traverse of the hill or ravine.

It sounds complex to figure out this tradeoff. But a bit of experience will teach you your personal tradeoff, making it obvious in most cases at a quick glance at the map. Using the highly detailed maps used in orienteering makes the decision-making easier than using USGS maps. Obviously, a trail map with no topographic information is useless in deciding.

Some people can travel uphill on steep climbs very rapidly, and most people can climb uphill on gradual climbs almost as fast and with little added energy as on the level. Most people naturally increase their speed and use less energy on moderate downhills, and some people can go very rapidly on steep downhills, while others go much more slowly on really steep downhills.

Although a couple of posters seem to have interpreted my comments as "ridicule", they certainly were not meant that way. My point was that there is a wealth of information out there on efficient travel on foot, particularly in the hiking, cross-country running, adventure racing (which in the longer events is basically just very fast walking, with some running sections), and orienteering worlds. There are a couple of regular columns in Orienteering North America (the magazine of the US Orienteering Federation) on developing efficiency in advanced (off-trail) orienteering.

There is, of course, one other tradeoff - why are you out there in the woods and hills? If the purpose to to get from here to there as fast as possible with as little energy as possible, that is one thing. But if the purpose is to enjoy nature, taking lots of photos and observing the birds, animals, flowers, and other plants, then fast travel is of little or no interest. I do both, personally. Sometimes I want to cover ground - in an orienteering event or on approach to a technical climb. Sometimes I am hauling a load of camera gear, spending lots of time photographing things (sometimes spending a full day in a single location waiting for a particular animal or group of animals do their thing).

wish i had your time bill.

I love the humor on this forum!I guess the bottom line is we are all"hard core" in our own ways.There is nothing I would rather do than be out hiking,climbing or skiing but on the other hand iam just not interested in the micro details of how i walk,hike or climb.With skiing iam a little more dialed into what my body is doing but not annal about it.Iam not knocking anyones posting here nor am I saying my way is any better than theirs.I do know that we all must find the out doors partners that we are on the same level with or the murder rates would climb.ymmv

... nor am I saying my way is any better than theirs....

You are wrong, John. Your way is better for YOU than anyone else's way would be for YOU! Whatever works best for the individual is best for them (except for the perfect advice I give, which is better than anyone else's in the universe ;))

overmywaders: How much hydrogen do you consume? Beware of lightning and camp fires.

Bill S: Thanks for the clarity. My description covers this issue by suggesting that one avoid troughs and rises. It applies on the micro and macro level, short distances and greater distances between two points. My primary point is as before, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, simple physics. Travel it if practical. No, nature doesn't usually provide it. It's a principal that I adhere to when practical.

Skimanjohn: I'm not at all anal about the techniques I've developed. They've developed naturally and through experiment in an effort to be more efficient as a hiker. Most of the time I don't think about what I'm doing on the trail. I'm out there to enjoy myself. The simple physics and biomechanical techniques make for greater speed or comfort, lower fatigue, energy expenditure or endurance. Nothing anal or wrong with that.

Your way is better for YOU than anyone else's way would be for YOU! Whatever works best for the individual is best for them (except for the perfect advice I give, which is better than anyone else's in the universe ;))

These are just true words. Any form/technique discussion needs to begin with a caveat of this nature. While there are large similarities in everyone's biomechanics, we all have subtle differences and needs that create a need for individual attention to any change in stride/lean/form/whatever.

:D Well... aside from the incredibly wise and all-knowing efforts of Bill S. :D

And, this topic is really interesting! As a past and current distance runner, the fellows are completely correct that many of the concepts are already present in a lot of "form" and "technique" discussions in running. Some contemporary sources that discuss concepts such as these would be the "Chi Running/Walking" resources and some of the "Pose Method" materials. Gravity/forward-lean, breathing techniques, side-ascent/descent techniques are all covered in different ways in those two resources (as well as many and sundry "barefoot" and "natural" running discussions.

Interestingly, lengthening of stride is not normally recommended in running discussions of this nature, so that is a notable difference. Much of the natural running discussion focus on shortening of stride to as to increase the likelyhood of midfoot strike, as opposed to heel strike. Now, of course, this is where we will see the fundamental difference between hiking/walking and running/trail running. But, interesting, nonetheless.

Good grief. Just climb the mountain. I think if I was hiking with someone reciting all that during an ascent, they wouldn't make it to the top and it wouldn't have anything to do with the terrain... Is there a hiking technique to perform when your partner wants to throw you off the cliff? Ha ha. Just kidding. :)

Although I know your not asking for footnotes, I think a lot of this is common sense and exactly what a person finds after a little experience and establishing their own rythym.

Some 'techniques' I did find interesting though. Thanks for sharing.

Will: Yes, there is a technique to perform when your partner wants to throw you off the cliff. overmywaders provided it. Either hydrogen ingestion or perhaps a lot of hot air will assist you as an escape mechanism. But as I warned overmywaders, beware of lightning and camp fires. They could turn you into a cinder if you decide on hydrogen. All in jest.

It is common sense. However, you have to have an interest/curiosity on how to improve your performance, be attuned to it, test and improve it. That's how I arrived at it with the exception of Dr. Martin Jungmann's technique, which I call the Snap Knee technique. My first technique, the Side Skip Technique, came naturally in 1970, while descending a mountain in Colorado. I said to myself, "there has to be an easier way to descend a slope other than the side step technique." Experimenting, I arrived at the bottom of the mountain an hour ahead of others. I then went fishing, caught a trout, cooked it and shared it with my fellow hikers. The techniques cover a forty year period as well as gear and clothing design and weight reduction.

Cleric: My sole knowledge of running techniques is limited to swinging one's arms while reviewing my passive biomenchanical invention with a professional runner/trainer in the early 1990's. For a hiker, the swinging elbow technique provides a faster speed, a pendulum balancing motion and the changing of open versus closed hand maintains the speed as opposed to using either of the two alone. I can't explain why, but it does. Stride lengthening is achieved by raising the heal and/or leaning forward, altering one's center of gravity. If I were aware of the running and walking techniques as mentioned by you and the others being historical, I would not have posted here at Trailspace, or elsewhere.

Again, interesting stuff... sincerely. And, I'm glad you posted it, because the discussion has been good.

I fail to understand why you are so self-deprecating. So, the idea isn't entirely new... not a big deal.

Cleric: I give credit where credit is due. I can't credit myself for arriving at ideas and solutions to problems solved by others. I killed my ego decades ago. I honor the truth. I can only hope that those wanting to improve their hiking performance can benefit from what I've learned through my experimenting in the area of biomechanics.

Hey even if you didn't "solve" the problems yourself, if you came up with all of that on your own that is still pretty cool. I never took track or cross country so I find some of the stuff interesting and hope to maybe use some of the info. I did figure a few things out on my own too while I was in my "running" phase of life. Thanks!


PS thanks for all of the humor on this one, made a long thread fun to go through!

October 31, 2020
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