As part of the launch of Ultra168’s Patreon page, we’re releasing a few articles this week that Ultra168 Insiders (a tier of support on Patreon) will be getting ever single week. We’ve lined up some awesome coaches to contribute (that you can view here) and today it’s the turn of Caine Warburton, who discusses power hiking, an essential part of any big ultra you take on. Caine has detailed some awesome tips, which I’m sure many of us will value.
Running in the mountains is a beautiful experience however it can be very difficult, especially when you want to move faster. The ability to move fast in the mountains is all about being able to adjust your technique and effort level to the terrain as it presents itself. Steep and or long uphill climbs are regular features in many mountain trails and races, so being able to move up them at the fastest possible speed with the lowest energy output is key. Power hiking is a great method of movement uphills that, when done correctly, allows you to move at a fast average speed while reducing overall energy output and minimising muscular fatigue.
Power hiking is much more than just walking with vigour, it has a specific technique and requires training. Power hiking still uses the major “running muscles” of glutes, hamstrings , quadriceps and calves but the technique of power hiking changes the firing sequence and activation of these muscles which in turn reduces their neurological fatigue and prolongs time to burn out.
Good power hikers will vary their technique slightly depending on factors such as slope gradient, surface grip and technicality of the trail underfoot. However there are 4 main aspects, each of which, work together to produce the most efficient technique, they are:
Forward bend: While power hiking bend forward at the hips to engage more hamstring and glute muscle fibres. This also allows better power transfer from hands on knees as well as providing a better centre of gravity for a longer stride length.
Hands on Knees: As you take a step place your hands on the mid thigh area of the leading leg pushing down with your body weight to assist your quadriceps to straighten the knee and create drive through the foot. This allows you to conserve the quadriceps by utilising power generated from the upper
Stride length: While power hiking try to extend the leading foot as far as possible out in front to obtain the longest stride length possible. As power hiking will have a much lower cadence than running, speed is therefore generated by stride length. The longer the stride the faster you will go. *Note this will be affected by technicality of trail and slope gradient*
Heel – Toe action: While power hiking and in order to take the above mentioned long stride you will need to lead with your heel and it is most efficient to (where possible) use a pronounced heel toe action to smoothly transfer power throughout the stride and transition to the next step.
Since power hiking uses your muscles in a slightly different way it is important to spend some time working on hiking specific strength training. The following exercises are a basic starting point to build strength and muscle firing patterns required for power hiking.
Calf raise off block
- Can be done on a step, pile of plate weights or block of wood.
- Keep knee straight
- Start in lower position and push down through toes until heel is raised as high as possible
- Lower back to starting positon under control.
- Starting session 3x 10 reps each leg
Deep Step ups
- Can be done on a chair or low bench.
- Start with one foot on bench and one on floor.
- Drive through the knee/foot on the bench to raise body into the standing positon on the bench.
- Lower back down under control.
- Start with a lower bench/seat and progress height as strength develops.
- Starting session 3x 5-10 reps each leg.
- Start with one leg in front and knees slightly bent.
- Lower back knee to the floor and then back up into starting position
- Ensure front knee does not extend over the top of the toes of front foot.
- Keep upper body upright.
- Start in the static position and progress to walking lunges as strength increases
- Starting session 3x 10 each leg.
While power hiking itself requires nothing more than is required for running some people may find benefit from equipment that will assist the hand with gripping on the legs. Grip on the legs can become an issue once sweat is formed on the upper thigh. Some assistance in this area can be sort from tights, compression shorts or gloves.
With all the above information in hand it is important to remember that practice makes perfect. Power hiking is not walking and you will need to practice it in training to become proficient and efficient before race day.
Caine Warburton – Running on the Edge