Ah holidays. Time to throw away a schedule and do whatever it is you love. Sometimes this may involve a deck chair, a cocktail and a talented masseuse. However, often (and especially when holidaying with my husband) our time is spent doing something a little more adventurous, and let’s face it – exhausting.
I’m referring to the holidays that are centred around activities such as trekking, surfing, skiing, mountain biking etc. While theses activities are considered by some to be ‘leisure’ pursuits, when performed all day, everyday for weeks/ months on end, they certainly require some level of physical fitness and often start to resemble some sort of bootcamp situation.
Now I in no way want to discourage people from planning active holidays. I do however want to encourage people to ensure that they are physically prepared for such an event. Because nothing puts a dampener on a holiday like an injury.
The importance of this preparation has never been more evident to me than during our recent holiday adventure trekking in the Himalaya of Nepal. Never have I seen so many people sporting some sort of knee support whilst walking in my entire life. People residing in aged care facilities have less rates of required joint supports!
Now don’t get me wrong, I knew this trek was going to be tough. 7 days of uphill slogging to altitude of 55oo metres is no walk in the park. However I consider myself to be reasonably fit and thought I’d be up to the challenge. What I failed to account for was the steepness of both the incline and decline of the track. I quickly came to realise why so many fellow trekkers were sporting knee braces. While most people know that walking up HUGE size boulder stairs requires quite a bit of lower limb strength (quads, glutes, calves) and cardiovascular endurance, most fail to realise the strength and control required for the downhill part of the trek. Especially when that downhill lasts for days. When muscles start to fatigue, they often tighten, which can lead to mal-tracking of the patella (knee cap). Hence the high ratio of fellow trekkers suffering from knee pain after day 3. Another important point to make here is that if some of your muscles are fatigued, it usually means that other muscles in the complex need to work harder to take over the load of the fatigued muscles. This muscular imbalance can significantly affect the optimal biomechanics needed for the task at hand and again lead to pain. Now while the use of trekking poles can help to absorb some of the load (approximately 20-30%) – quite a high level of lower body strength is required to ensure optimal biomechanics on a walk of this nature.
In the end my husband and I actually managed reasonably well with some creative use of sports tape and ‘end of the day management’ of any niggles. However in hindsight, we both should have made an effort to improve the strength of our quadriceps, gluteals and calves just a little in the lead up to our trip. Exercises that resembled our desired activity such as step-ups, single leg squats and calf raises on an unstable surface would have done nicely.
Example exercises that you might like to add to your current program if you are planning a trekking holiday include; Squats (varying styles), lunges, step-ups, calf raises, calf stretches and crab walking. It may even be a good idea to do some of your more functional exercises such as step-ups in the shoes you intend to walk in to get your body use to their structure. Of course the specific exercises that each person requires to prepare adequately are individual to their current fitness and there is no ‘recipe’.
So if you’re planning your next holiday and it’s going to involve something a little more strenuous than a deck chair and cocktails – come and see us at The Physio Shack for a specifically designed lead-up exercise program to ensure you enjoy that precious holiday time injury free!