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Descent training?
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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Apr 28, 2013

I've noticed that I'm really slow on (hiking) descents when it gets steep (eg Wind Rivers, Red Rocks). It's not painful, just feel like I have to go really slow or I can't control my descent well. Uphill seems fine, I can carry a heavy pack uphill at a decent pace.

Other than the obvious (do more steep hiking, and try to go faster) is there other training that might help? Lunges or something?


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By Abram Herman
From Golden, CO
Apr 28, 2013
Viking helmet cover, yep.

Balance. One of my partners is like that, and she's been better since she started working on balance in her workouts. She uses one of those circular boards with a half-ball on the bottom that you balance on, and also does one-leg dips with weights.


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By kenr
Apr 28, 2013

Find a multi-story building in which you can get access to the stairwell. Start with going down the stairs slowly one step at a time carrying no weight. As you gain experience and fitness, increase your downward speed, change to two steps at a time, carry more and more weight in a pack on your back.

I find it helps to have a fingerless glove with a thick leather palm to wear on the hand which is on the outside of the "curves" on descent. I use this for braking / speed control. As the leather wears down, I cover it over with layers of duct tape.

When I'm in shape for descents from alpine routes, I'm going down two steps at a time (skipping every other step) and carrying a pack with 25kg. (Took months of careful incremental training to get to that).

Ken

P.S. Climbing up the stairs skipping every other step and carrying a 25kg backpack also has benefit for approaches to climbs.


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By Ryan Hill
From Oakland, CA
Apr 28, 2013

Squats in the gym and trekking poles.

The squats get your knees comfortable with large weight and will build up the muscles that stabilize your knees. The trekking poles help with balance and take some of the weight off of your knees/ankles.

You might want to look into better boots as well, having good grip and solid ankle support will help you pick better lines and move with more confidence. I know too many people who do approaches in Chacos or similar stuff. As comfortable as they might be they don't compare to a real boot.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Apr 28, 2013

Abram Herman wrote:
Balance. One of my partners is like that, and she's been better since she started working on balance in her workouts. She uses one of those circular boards with a half-ball on the bottom that you balance on, and also does one-leg dips with weights.

Interesting idea! My balance does in fact suck...


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By Jon H
From Boulder
Apr 28, 2013
At the matching crux

A lot of it has to do with how "sure" of your feet you are. Things like trail running on uneven terrain (don't wear a backpack) will be very helpful. Also those tire hop drills that high school football players do will be beneficial, but far more boring.


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By FrankPS
From Atascadero, CA
Apr 28, 2013

I think it's common for people to be slow on Class 2 and 3 descents. I was and am (slow). But it's gotten better over the years as I become more sure with my feet and balance, after years of descents.

I hate to say it, but more mileage on the descents is going to be your best training. And use poles whenever practical.


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By JeffL
From Salt Lake City
Apr 28, 2013

Are you already loosening the straps on your pack slightly to shift your center of gravity back slightly? This helps a lot, much more than you'd think


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By Larry S
Apr 28, 2013
The wife and I road-trippin on the Connie.

I agree it could be balance or weak control muscles. You could try to work these on a daily by just going really slow and trying to remain statically balanced when you walk down stairs. Move so that you can freeze your position at any second. You'll look kinda silly, but you'll feel all the different muscles engage as you do it.


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By Dustin Drake
Apr 29, 2013

Balance is very specific to the activity. Assuming there isn't some severe muscle deficiency (unlikely) steep descents are just something you have to practice and get used to doing.

I would say that most likely it just being unsure of yourself and not wanting to get out of control and fall down (which I can't blame you!). Just gotta get out there and keep doing it so you feel more comfortable. It's always wise to stay on the more conservative side of speed when you are doing a dangerous descent though imo.


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By kenr
Apr 29, 2013

Once upon a time, running down talus was one of the well-known "games" of outdoor climbing. An interesting (sometimes fun) challenge with obvious negative consequences.

If you get good at it, something to aspire to is running down granite talus in the Eastside Sierra high country (with a light pack after soloing some easy-ish route in the upward direction).

Running down is a bit like other climbing "games" -- seeing sequences is important, dynamic moves are critical, mental confidence is key.

Like with other climbing games, lotsa people will tell you that working on strength is not so important, that the key is technique and balance.

It occurs to me that training on stairs for down-running is a bit like campusing for upward climbing. Simple one-dimensional yet focused on some key dynamic strength moves as measurable. No shortage of people who will say (rightly) that the wider variety of 3-dimensional moves in high-level bouldering is more important than over-simplified campusing.

One big difference between down-running and up-climbing is that there are many situations (especially when hauling the weight of trad rock and ropes) where the aid of poles is really valuable.

Even one pole is useful. I think it's been worth purchasing the new super-light poles so that I feel no hesitation about hauling at least one if them up with me on a high-mountain route.

Ken


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Apr 29, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

Talus hopping is really fun, and really does require a lot of unique balance. My friend can outclimb the crap out of me but I can "outhop" him on downhill runs after climbing. The balance comes from skiing my whole life

Besides skiing and other balance exercises, just hiking a lot and maintaining your momentum will help.


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Apr 29, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

I agree about the stairway training...not really going to help that much. Too little variety of terrain to get a lot of actual practice in being able to handle the momentum fluidly.


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By Schalk
Apr 29, 2013

This might sound strange, but it could be more of a mental issue than a strength/fitness problem.

You said in your post that you have trouble controlling your descent unless you are going very slowly, but you have to remember you aren't rock climbing anymore. So to move faster you have to give up the feeling of static stability you have when climbing.

I move a lot faster on downhill terrain than many of the people that I climb with, even the ones that climb multiple number grades higher than me and do silly things like run marathons. But when hiking I am more willing to commit to footing that is unstable, so even if a foothold is sketchy I am already moving off it before it becomes a problem. The stability comes from keeping the movement going.


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Apr 29, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

"But when hiking I am more willing to commit to footing that is unstable, so even if a foothold is sketchy I am already moving off it before it becomes a problem. The stability comes from keeping the movement going."

Exactly.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Apr 29, 2013

Thanks for all the suggestions and thoughts! Ken, the Sierra Eastside talus hopping sounds awesome, but I think doing it regularly might be detrimental to domestic harmony, given that I live in New Paltz! Maybe some laps on the Stairmaster trail instead...


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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Apr 29, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on

Hike to Millbrook, up and over the Nears, running down every downhill section as much as you can safely do. You'll polish your balance up in no time!


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By MikeS
From Boulder, CO
Apr 29, 2013

Trail running. Improves core strength, balance, and proprioception.
Peter Croft always said that it worked for him....


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Apr 29, 2013

Ben Brotelho wrote:
Hike to Millbrook, up and over the Nears, running down every downhill section as much as you can safely do. You'll polish your balance up in no time!


And it's an incredibly beautiful trail, to boot!


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Apr 29, 2013

MikeS wrote:
Trail running. Improves core strength, balance, and proprioception. Peter Croft always said that it worked for him....


Alex Lowe as well, if I remember correctly...

I guess the trail running all does go back to the original thought that I had, which was that of course the activity itself is the best training for the activity. Will focus on that, along with some balance training.


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By kenr
Apr 30, 2013

Optimistic wrote:
of course the activity itself is the best training for the activity.

Yes except for the slight detail of "negative consequences". Going fast down on rock is best learned when you're young and foolish -- better yet younger and smaller so that upper body parts have less distance to accelerate before hitting. I was lucky that my parents got me started on rock-scrambling before I was 10 years old.

The advantage of serious leg-strength is that it gives you _recovery_ moves for when you make a mis-step, or when a rock moves as you land on it. The consequences of not having strong recovery moves, like a broken ankle five miles from a trailhead, is pretty serious.

A normally-developed adult brain much more than 25 years old is just not going to allow you to take stupid risks like that. Your adult brain needs to know it has a larger "envelope of safety" around the new sequences and downward-dyno moves you need to start trying in order to get seriously faster getting down.

Once you have the strength for the safety envelope, then your brain lets you free to discover that actually you just had a "mental" problem with dynamic balance. Once you have extra strength, you can discover that you didn't actually need it (as long as everything goes well).

And trail running down hills tends to develops strength, because as you do bigger moves on irregular terrain, there's high peak impact (intense "eccentric" contraction) in the muscles -- it's not just "aerobic".
(problem with Millbrook Mt, which for me includes running Gertrudes Nose, is that it doesn't have enough steep high-impact downhill -- maybe some well-selected trails in the Catskills could provide better focus? Perhaps the Escarpment trail just north of North Lake? contemplate the trail racers running down that at top speed to the finish by the Lake -- makes about as much sense as me trying to climb 5.12b)

So ... three advantages of running down stairs in a building are: (a) very steep, way steeper than most hiking trails; (b) negative consequences are better controlled, by hand-rails and by well-spaced landing platforms; (c) less commitment -- you're not five miles out if something goes wrong -- and you can re-tune your workout by adding or removing weight.

Great for training the primary leg and back muscles for eccentric contraction. But misses out on key secondary muscles (e.g. adductors/abductors) and on perception of sequences, etc.

For those in the southern NY region lacking access to indoor stairwells, I've heard there's a substantial outdoor stairwell around Weehawken NJ.

Ken


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By kenr
Apr 30, 2013

MikeS wrote:
Trail running ... Peter Croft always said that it worked for him....


Peter Croft was also a practitioner of high-mountain free soloing in the Sierras. Trail-running is just the obvious way to have more climbs in your single-day solo circuit.

I was lucky a few years ago to be able to partner in the Sierras with a very strong experienced climber who had copied much of Peter Croft's solo circuit -- and took me along on some of the easier routes (e.g. Conness, Bear Creek Spire -- also featured in McNamara's guidebook), but somehow in my mind's memories, running down that Sierra granite talus after the climbs stays bigger for me.

Planning to be back there soon.

Ken


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