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Book Review
1972 NOLS wilderness course grad writes
definitive outdoor fitness text

BOOK REVIEW: CONDITIONING FOR OUTDOOR FITNESS: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE. DAVID MUSNICK, M.D. AND MARK PIERCE, A.T.C.

REVIEWER: CRAIG STEBBINS

Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 1999.

I've always stubbornly prescribed to the belief that simply doing one's activity regularly was the best training for outdoor activities. Strong mountaineers climbed often. Good paddlers went paddling a lot. Fitness experts refer to such routines as functional training. Such training regimes are great for those of us with flexible work schedules and nearby outdoor recreating areas, but what can be done for those of us doing the 8-5 grind in the flatlands?

Start by going to the bookstore on the way home from work.

Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness: A Comprehensive Training Guide, a new book by David Musnick, M.D. and Mark Pierce, A.T.C., provides multiple solutions for creating activity-specific training programs that one can execute from the home or health club. This is truly a book for everybody, regardless of current fitness or skill level. This book is as useful for someone preparing for a NOLS course as it is for those of us retired from the full-time "outdoor circuit" and only getting out on weekends and holidays.

Like other publications by The Mountaineers, Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness is a compendium for the layperson on functional strength training, basic exercise concepts, posture, movement patterns, balance, and agility as it relates to 16 outdoor sports. The reader learns to better evaluate exercises, programs, and equipment while employing the principles of functional training and conditioning. To achieve this, the book is broken into three sections: Part I covers the fundamentals of conditioning; Part II discusses the anatomy of different body regions and details appropriate exercises for each; and Part III focuses on conditioning specific outdoor activities. To optimize the rich information contained in Part III, the authors recommend brushing up on the basics in Part I and studying the appropriate body-region chapter in Part II, before starting an exercise program.

Musnick and Pierce have done a solid job of organizing the material for quick references as well as cultivating deeper understandings of the theory behind his recommendations.

Each chapter begins with highlighted objectives for the section and includes "practical points" which can be utilized during the activity. My favorite "practical point" is the doctor's demonstration of how to safely take on and off a fully-loaded backpack. Dr. Musnick demonstrates the identical method he learned on his 1972, NOLS Wind River Wilderness course, and a technique that every hiking course learns on their first day at the school.

The best way to understand this book is to look at an example chapter in Part III. Here are some excerpts from the "Conditioning for Backpacking, Hiking, Snowshoeing" chapter.

This chapter will help you

  • understand the aerobic, balance, strength demands of backpacking.
  • learn how to avoid common injuries from this activity.
  • develop a condition program to achieve goals of a full day of strenuous hiking, backpacking, or snowshoeing. [A whole day being defined a six miles with 2-3000 feet of elevation gain.]

Aerobic Conditioning
Six weeks before your first long hike begin one low-intensity, longer duration activity per week at one-third to one-half your expected distance and elevation gain. Gradually increase the elevation gain, distance, and degree of difficulty every week.

Practical Point
It is very important to take breaks and not go to fast when you are walking downhill, even though is it aerobically less taxing... There are a lot of forces on your kneecap when you walk downhill. You can reduce the likelihood of kneecap pain by taking breaks every 1-1.5 hours.

This chapter also recommends specific exercises for the lower extremity, abdominals, and upper body - all of which are illustrated and referenced to Part II, body-region specific exercises. Musnick also furnishes information on pack fitting, boot choice, and techniques for varied terrain.

Dr. Musnick currently practices sports and internal medicine at the Sports Medicine Clinic in Seattle and at the Northwest center for Environmental Medicine in Bellevue, Washington. He has taught backpacking, canoeing, cross country skiing, and rock climbing. The book's co-author, Mark Pierce, is an athletic trainer in Bellevue, Washington specializing in functional strength training and optimizing physical performance.


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