Vail Daily column: The weak fitness link in mountain living |

Vail Daily column: The weak fitness link in mountain living

Most sporting events that we participate in for competition or recreation in mountain communities often lead to the following, but not limited to: low back pain, uncomfortable neck postures, loss of muscle tissue, knee pain and ACL tears. Can’t figure out why your lower back continues to nag, even after several chiropractic adjustments?

To understand the degree and how these injuries develop, it is important to recognize the history and culture of the environment we live in. For example, a lot of residents choose to participate in recreational sports such as trail running, biking and hiking because of the enjoyment and the fitness opportunities these activities provide. After all, why would you go to the gym when you could take in the views of the New York Mountain Range? The problem isn’t the nature of fitness developed from these activities, it’s the fitness that isn’t being developed by limiting yourself to these activities.

Even though there are other activities such as river boating, skiing, climbing and swimming, the scope of this article will discuss the imbalances created from the former activities. Those activities take place in the sagittal plane only (looking at a person from the side profile view). There is flexion and extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints with very minimal rotation. There is also limited isometric bracing from the torso muscles during these events. The result is often weak gluteus medius (that butt muscle that you ought to be able to crack eggs on), that negatively impacts knee valgus (knees collapsing inward due to internal rotation of the leg) sometimes leading to knee pain. Another example includes low back pain from the chronic, repeated lumbar spine flexion (bending over) that is unavoidable in cycling. Acute discogenic back pain rarely happens because of one single event. It usually is a long process of delamination (the cells begin to divide and weaken) that presents its ugly head during a culminating “picking up the pencil at the office” and it gives way. Yet the pencil is never the reason for injury.

The first step in the solution process is to be evaluated by a medical professional. As Gray Cook, PT board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist, a strength and conditioning coach and a USWLF weightlifting coach, has said many times, “We don’t want to provide a fitness solution to a medical problem.” However, more often than not there is a movement imbalance created by muscle weakness and dysfunction. In the absence of a real medical problem, the next step is to find the weak link in the chain and strengthen this area. For a weak gluteus medius, external rotation side lying leg lifts and bent knee leg lifts would be a great place to start. For disc related back pain, bird dogs (on all fours raising the opposite arm and leg in front and to the back of the body respectively) and side bridges might be worth looking at.

After strengthening these weak links, make sure to get with a good coach and learn proper “bigger picture” strength training applications that could help create more efficient movements that will ultimately help spare your joints. With a few discerning exercises that a good coach can provide, you can be injury free and enjoying our mountain lifestyle.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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