Are there ways to make walk­ing up hills eas­ier on my back?

The mus­cles in your back are heav­ily re­lied upon for hill­walk­ing, so it is im­por­tant to em­ploy the cor­rect tech­niques to look after them, ex­plains guest ex­pert Neville Shortt.

Trail (UK) - - KNOW HOW -

QI of­ten re­turn from a day out on the hills with a stiff and aching back. Are there any steps I can take to stop this from hap­pen­ing? Chris Duffy, Manch­ester

Cyn­ics will tell you there are two kinds of peo­ple in this world – those who have back pain and those who are go­ing to get back pain. Thank­fully, re­al­ity is much kin­der, as back pain can both be avoided and elim­i­nated. But it is very much a ques­tion of what you do – or even of what you don’t do – and this is es­pe­cially im­por­tant on the hill. Moun­tain-go­ers nearly al­ways carry weight on their back in the form of a ruck­sack. And dur­ing the win­ter par­tic­u­larly, when more gear is re­quired, these packs may prove an un­nat­u­ral bur­den. Pack weight may not be the sole cause of back pain though, as how you load the weight and poor pos­ture can also have ill-ef­fects on your back health. It might come as no sur­prise then that back pain and back in­juries are one of the most com­mon ail­ments suf­fered by hill­walk­ers.

With that in mind, here are six tips from Neville Shortt, an Alexan­der Tech­nique coach and ex­pert, for avoid­ing or elim­i­nat­ing back pain while out in the hills.

Carry less weight

First, let’s deal with the ob­vi­ous – the less weight you carry on your back the eas­ier life will be for your back. So if this is an area that is al­ready giv­ing you trou­ble, then light­weight kit or sim­ply less kit may be just the thing for you. How­ever, there is an al­ter­na­tive…

Trans­fer the weight onto your hips

Most day­packs are too small to have a waist­belt. This means all the weight hangs off the shoul­ders, and in many cases presses into the lower back, which fur­ther com­pro­mises your pos­ture. Un­likely as it sounds, us­ing a big­ger ruck­sack that can trans­fer the weight onto your hips can make the load eas­ier to carry. Per­son­ally, I find my­self in­creas­ingly us­ing a slim climber’s pack on day walks. Although its 40-litre ca­pac­ity fre­quently tempts me into car­ry­ing more than I need, the added ben­e­fit of a waist­belt means I’m car­ry­ing less on the shoul­ders than I

would oth­er­wise.

Two legs good, but four bet­ter!

An­other way of tak­ing some weight off your back is by sup­port­ing your­self a lit­tle on your arms. Us­ing walk­ing poles could be just what you need to re­lieve any aches and pains you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, as any weight that goes through the poles (po­ten­tially 10% of your body weight) would oth­er­wise be taken by your back.

Hold your head with care

Walk­ing, when done well, is an ac­tiv­ity that sub­tly uses the whole body and not just the legs. Given the head weights about 10lb (or 4.5kg to you met­ri­cally-minded folk), walk­ing with it too far for­ward means the back has to do a lot of work merely to sup­port it. Sim­ply look­ing at the ground, as many are prone to do, can have this un­wanted ef­fect. In­stead keep your eyes on the prize at all time with your head up­right. Look to the hori­zon and scan for ob­sta­cles ahead with just your eyes.

Take it ly­ing down!

Most walk­ers will spend an en­tire day of hill­walk­ing ei­ther sit­ting, stand­ing or walk­ing. All those ac­tiv­i­ties re­quire the back to, as a min­i­mum, sup­port the torso. Lunchtime is the ideal oc­ca­sion to give your back a proper break by ly­ing down. Ly­ing for 20 min­utes al­lows the spinal discs to fully re­hy­drate, which re­lieves the as­so­ci­ated mus­cles and ten­dons. If your day is back-break­ing, give your back a break!

It’s bet­ter by coach

They say you can’t run be­fore you can walk. You also can’t walk be­fore you can stand. Most of us have a sense of how com­pe­tent we are at this, and we of­ten re­fer to it as ‘pos­ture’. In re­al­ity it’s a more dy­namic ac­tiv­ity than that word im­plies. My ad­vice, as it worked for me, is to get some coach­ing from a pro­fes­sional. Be­cause, pretty much any­one can help you to talk the talk, but a teacher of Alexan­der Tech­nique can help you walk the walk.


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