Gain Isn't Only In The Uphill
Kinesiologists are the first to say descent is exercise too! And it's something we professionals, just like hikers and trail runners, can benefit from in unique ways, and need to prepare ourselves for to avoid unwanted stress and injury. So let's talk about the benefits of hiking down.
— Don't ignore the descent — or the stairs — as an exercise strategy —
According to two studies, first by the American Heart Association and second by the Vorarlberg Institute in Feldkirch, Austria, physically hiking downhill, while not lowering triglycerides levels like its counter activity (which are responsible for heart risk factors), is said to be almost twice as effective as uphill hiking at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance. This is great information for everyone since metabolizing sugars is so important for our bodies, and also a perfect metaphor for the processing of something that gives us energy for work, but can also have its risks if levels are too high! Thus, descent is a healthy and by all means necessary part of a work process (and daily life as we all know) and continues to help our body strengthen and our muscles grow — power through descent!
So it's December. You're hiking up your 2017 mountain to the beat of your own stress, almost to the summit, running on fumes, feeling the burn of 12 months of elevation gain — maybe some nice views, landslides, rock gardens along the way. Nothing that kept you from putting one mud-covered foot in front of the other. The peak is in sight, and here is your last stretch of stairs: end of year reports, invoices, follow ups, loose ends. And all of these lead to that out-of-office auto-reply flag waving there at the top.
But what if we flip this landscape for a second. Rather than wrap our heads around walking down what just took us a year to climb up, let's invert that mountain you've been scaling all year into a grand canyon, and now, where you were almost at the peak, you're just steps away from the canyon floor. That's your end of year. There's your descent. All it requires is a mental image shift. You've almost made it.
Now. Take that pressure off your quads, the muscles you've been using to accelerate all year, that have been concentrically contracting and flexed to help you spring from A to B, and feed it into your hamstrings and muscles around your knees and hips that rather eccentrically contract and lengthen with resistance. We're still resisting gravity, but now with momentum behind us, we're strengthening our muscles by trying to safely decelerate and absorb these last compounds of the season. "Safely" being the key word.
When considering hiking in terms of work, Harvard Health's techniques to descend safely can be easily translated:
Walk slowly, take smaller steps, and place your feet carefully (don't jump down) — landing heavily can irritate the knee joints and cause bursitis or mild arthritis. Translation: Take your time and allow yourself to make smart decisions. You've just powered through the year, and now wrapping up dialogues, jobs, or projects — or positioning yourself to continue them in 2018 — deserves some small strategic steps to optimize your goals and your work without risking a compound injury.
Don't go straight down a slope; take a "zigzag" route, to keep the grade as gentle as possible. Translation: It's not always about efficiency — b-lining can be dangerous in it's own way, and you miss the scenery. Think of all of the people and things you'll meet on the way down, and you'll have the breath to have a descent conversation that might lead somewhere new.
Make use of nearby trees and branches for support. Translation: You work and operate in a community — make use of all of the possible supports around you! No tree or branch is too big or small, see them all as in the same landscape as you and approach with kindness.
You can also use hiking or trekking poles, which reduce the load on both knee and hip joints while promoting a well-rounded workout by requiring you to use your arms. Translation: There are tools in your industry that can take weight off of one part of your "body" and put it onto another. Whether technology, people, routines — give yourself time to think about what might reduce the load of admin, reduce the load of stress, and free up time to work out something new.
So welcome to the end of your hike. Congratulations on getting through another year. That's your finish right there, just one more mile down. Gain from it, and enjoy it.
* Photos from our amazing members, Weave IQ, who climb everything and work just as hard
** Here are some great stretches from REI before embarking on your descent