Body Armor: Four Ways I Won’t Let an Injury Ruin My NOBO JMT Thru-Hike
It began two years ago on a cold November night at jiujitsu practice. A buddy asked me to spar a final round and I obliged. Minutes into the five-minute round my knee suddenly exploded. The MRI confirmed a grade two sprain of my posterior crucial ligament (PCL) and lateral crucial ligament (LCL). I was in a straight brace for Christmas, off the mats for two months and wasn’t back to 100% for another nine months after that.
I was lucky.
The Importance of Injury Prevention
So began my obsession with making my body as armored as possible. I vowed to do everything I could to lessen the chances of any injury occurring again, especially with my plans of thru-hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT) this summer. Injuries are one of the top reasons folks get off trail; I want to make sure I’m as physically prepared as possible to deal with what the trail will throw at me.
Think of all the people you know who have been injured on a hike and didn’t complete their goal. It happens time and time again, year after year.
Maybe it was yourself.
Injuries are far more preventable than I originally thought. Plenty of things can go wrong on a thru-hike; I’m making sure an injury isn’t one of them!
1) Range of Motion
Range of motion (ROM) is critical to healthy joints. Think about it: we spend most of our time sitting! Whether that’s in a car, at a desk, or at your children’s basketball games, we’re definitely not helping our ROM! In the same vein, hiking can also have negative effects. Prolonged use of joints in one plane of motion is bound to create imbalances and overuse injuries.
Enter Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS). This video does an exceptional job explaining each movement. I’ve found that working your shoulders, spine, neck, hips, ankles, and knees will provide the most benefits for backpackers.
In real life, I do CARS every morning for a total of three repetitions. Anecdotally, I can attest to the decrease in the tiny nagging injuries I previously got while running, hiking and training jiujitsu. It’s been a game-changer. They’re also useful as a warm up for regular workouts.
The best thing about CARS is that you can do them on the trail, with no equipment necessary.
Last summer while training for a marathon, I accidentally stepped off the sidewalk and rolled my ankle. I kept running because I just had to finish my workout (idiot!). This ankle continued to get tweaked all summer and give me problems. During my first long-distance hike of 100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, my ankle was stiff as a board in the morning and had me contemplating if I could go on. Thankfully, a daily routine of CARS helped me through.
During my two section hikes in 2019, I completed my CARS routine after finishing lunch. This worked best for me because I like getting an early start to the day; also, doing CARS at lunch helped break up the lethargic feelings I had after eating.
2) Resistance Training
I’ve always wondered why I repeatedly see the same people getting injured year after year. One day it hit me that the vast majority of them weren’t involved in a weight training program.
Trust me, I don’t want to become Arnold Schwarzenegger! Simply put, graduated stress through resistance training strengthens your bones, ligaments, and tissues. For example, having strong quads and hamstrings may be what keep your ACL from tearing when you trip over the root that popped up out of nowhere and grabbed you by the ankle (you know, at least three times a day).
Here are five of my favorite exercises designed to bulletproof the body against injuries!
1. Cossack Squat – Besides looking like a freaking ninja, this movement works quads, hamstrings, and hip/ankle mobility all in one package.
2. Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift – Just what it sounds like. Great movement to work the tiny muscles in your feet and calves, not to mention hamstrings and lower back.
3. Banded Crab Walks – Deter anyone from asking for your number at the gym by walking like a sea creature! This exercise is designed to target the outer glutes, which in turn will provide more stability to the knee.
4. Banded Monster Walks – If they’re still asking for your number, hit them with some monster walks! This exercise is akin to the crab walks but also works your front hip flexor for more knee stability.
5. Bosu Ball Single Leg Balance – I like to make it more challenging by bending over and using the opposite hand to touch the foot that’s on the ball. This is an excellent exercise to increase balance along with foot/ankle strength.
3) Training Barefoot
I do all the above exercises barefoot. This allows you to strengthen the weak muscles and tendons that are rarely worked due to being in shoes. A minute on the bosu ball is a nightmare!
4) Trail Running
Obstacles = opportunity. Utilize trail running while cabin fever is in full swing and the weather (winter/early spring) is preventing you from hiking your favorite trails.
Trail running is a useful tool for conditioning your body against injury before a large hike. In my opinion, nothing replicates the pounding your joints, ligaments, and muscles endure on an actual hike. I found a fantastic ten-week training program and signed up for a 14-mile trail run in the spring.
I think of these exercises as a multivitamin supplement for my joints, ligaments, and tendons. Injury prevention is a long-term game!
I’ll be uploading a sample workout video on The Trek’s YouTube before leaving for the JMT. Stay tuned!
How do you prepare your body for a thru-hike? Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below or DM on Instagram @the_west.way
Disclaimer: I do not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and am not a medical professional or fitness expert. This blog is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only. Any information published on this blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Consult a medical professional before taking action. Actions resulting from this blog are at your own risk.
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