Monday, March 10

How to walk uphill?

I spotted a whimsical thread recently on the uk.rec.walking newsgroup referring to a Daily Telegraph piece "Science of the bleedin' obvious - It's easier to climb in zigzags"

Taking a quick look, I nodded sagely at the astounding conclusion that "people can use less energy by moving up and down steep slopes in a complicated motion known as zigzagging", smiled at the futility. And then moved on.

A little later I realised something about the new report was niggling away in a corner of my mind. Whilst the root source was unavailable, a précis of the piece provided further detail (and left me thankful that the full report wasn't something I felt obliged to work my way through)

Undoubtedly the conclusion is valid, but more importantly its one that any trainee hill walker quickly learns through painful experiment.

But still that niggle remained, until it dawned on me that I can't recall any of the outdoor books fully explaining the real trick to walking uphill. Well at least to do it with least effort and maximum effect. Lots of examples, but no clear explanation.

So gather closer O Initiate to be introduced to the wonderful principle of Cadence.

Now if you've just followed that last link, you may be mystified as to what on earth I'm talking about. And quite right too. After all, as any Initiate understands the truth is not easily revealed, but needs to be revealed often via a path of self-awareness.

So try this definition of Cadence to see if the mists of confusion clear. What still none the wiser?

Simply put Cadence is the method of keeping an even pace as you walk. You could measure it by paces per minute. Or energy exertion i.e. how fast/sweaty you feel as you move. Some like to use a heartbeat monitor to regulate the activity. But the trick is all in pace length.

Walking downhill, on good ground, you will naturally extend the length of your stride. And uphill the reverse is true. So to gain maximum benefit the key is to keep the walking pace the same (i.e. the number of paces per minute) but to change your stride pattern to match the ground you are covering. By doing this the majority of physical effort actually expended remains largely constant dependant on your physical fitness. And that last point is the problem.

Walking uphill try to keep your pace rate stable, shortening each step to keep that pace regular. But unless you are supremely mountain fit you'll soon find that the effect of your maintaining your pace count usually results in increasingly short steps and eventually very limited progress forward.

It's usually at that point that pace counting gets dropped and a switch over to an increased use of thigh muscles and arm swinging comes into play. And with it an increase in energy expenditure. And that ends up with an outbreak of sweating, something we all have experienced.

Personally my first few days newly out on the hills seem to require a couple of hours sweating profusely until my body works out what is being expected of it, and then starts to kick in with the extra muscle growth as compensation. Which is why the level of fitness I enjoy at the end of a trip is one of many benefits. But unfortunately one difficult to maintain without a regular exposure to the same sort of physical challenge.

But assuming you have the right level of physical fitness, remember the principle of Cadence for an easier ascent.

After all why do you think that the slow but steady Nepalese porter on an expedition will always arrive at camp ahead of the rushing trekker, once the latter has expended their energy excess?

And that observation you will find spread throughout much outdoor literature.

Well done O ex-Initiate (don't forget to pick up a pass certificate on your way out of the cave)

Homework for next time - practise the the 'Use of Will Power' to 'Get Up That Bloody Big Hill'. Swearing optional.

Another one for the FAQ I think.

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Comments:
To see this in action watch Lance Armstrong ride up the Alpe D'Huez
 
John,
I was sold on the zig zag method years ago in Switzerland. When a local teenage girl just raced past our party on this steep road, and disappeared off into the distance.
She was zig zagging, whilst we were plodding the direct route.

Anyway another great piece from you.
 
Glad it helps. And hopefully challenges people's preconceptions possibly?
 
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