Sport-Specific Exercises for Mountain Athletes

Whatever your sport or passion pursuit, doing “the thing” is the most-specific activity you can do. But in many situations we don’t get to do said “thing” quite as much as we’d like. That’s when doing exercises that have a high degree of transfer becomes exceptionally useful.

Try these movements for better transfer of your gym workouts to the mountains!

Mountain athletes such as hunters, hikers, backpackers, skiers (when boot-packing), and others need to be able to negotiate steep terrain. And the more that’s off-trail…the harder it is. Most everybody thinks about the need to go up, and consequently does Zone 2 aerobic endurance conditioning, high-intensity intervals, and resistance training like step-ups. 

But where mountain athletes often get sore, and sometimes shut down, is on the downhills and sidehills. Going downhill on steep terrain, especially under heavy loads such as with a full pack, requires extreme eccentric control of knee flexion. This is very quad-intensive and exposes the patellofemoral joint to potentially high shear forces. The ability to maintain good lower extremity alignment, and to be fatigue resistant in all those lowering motions that descending requires, is the key. I like to use a variation of the Bulgarian Split Squat (rear foot elevated) that places a wedge or ramp under the front foot to better simulate downhill locomotion.

Sidehilling presents another unique demand. While both feet and legs have to work hard, it’s that outside, or downhill foot that does the lion’s share of force management most of the time. The ability to pressurize the boot sole and hold an edge asks a lot of our foot intrinsic muscles and especially the peroneal, or lateral tendons of the foot and ankle. One of the best ways I’ve found to build strength in this area is to do a single leg partial squat using the ramp in a sideways, or sidehill, fashion.

Neither of these exercises replace getting out there and progressively increasing workload (and enjoyment) on natural terrain. But they can be very helpful in making your gym training sessions carry over a bit more. I use athlete and sport analyses in all of my coaching and programming. It’s one of the secrets to getting those Lifetime results we are all seeking. I hope you found these suggestions valuable and let me know if I can help you with your coaching and training needs.

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