Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trail Wussies Will Be Sorry

Strength training for strength.

"We've suspected this for years," says Dr. Kjell T. Tioga, strapping himself to a backpack the size of a Ford Taurus. "Suspected, but until now we had no proof. Now we do. And it's solid."

Staggering only slightly, Dr. Tioga then meanders around a circuitous route at his research lab's exercise center in northern California. He is demonstrating a technique that he assures will "Put the man back in manly and strengthen the back through backpacking."

Because, as Dr. Tioga and his associates say, the recent swing to lightweight and ultra-lightweight backpacking among enthusiasts may be damaging their health. Weight is actually good, and the more weight the better. It protects bones from developing real problems later in life.

"Osteoporosis actually seems to get its start by age 25 when bones start to lose tissue. So this study sends an important message to young men," Tioga says. "The more you move, the more bone you build. And carrying a heavy pack is essential to this process, and so, to health."

This of course contradicts the common sense notion that small light backpacks mean traveling in greater comfort and safety. As is well known by now, "common sense may be common but doesn't always make sense," adds Dr. Northon Face, another sports medicine researcher at the lab. "Evolution gave us muscles, and the bones to use them with. We have to do our part too."

Sports like basketball and volleyball have proven best at stressing and thereby strengthening bones, due to the jumping, the fast starts and the equally fast stops involved. Soccer and tennis are also good.

But there is a problem. "The problem with all these sports is that they don't get you anywhere. You're just bouncing up and down a court or on some damn field," says Dr. Gregoire Deuter, one of the highly respected female researchers at the lab. "Backpacking is special because, although you can't jump around while strapped onto the outside of a decent-sized pack, you do need lots of strength to keep from being crushed under it."

Previous studies suggested that load-bearing physical activity might shield men and women from bone loss, which occurs as part of the aging process. "But take me, for example," says Dr. Deuter. "Because of learning to backpack with correct equipment I can easily bench-press a horse. I make a lot of money at parties with suckers who bet I can't lift their cars. Sometimes I even toss cars on top of each other for fun. Shows them. And looking at me you'd never guess," she added, flexing her biceps and ripping her sleeves in the process. "Well, usually," she chuckles.

But is this for everyone? Isn't there a downside? Can't people get hurt by trying to carry too much weight? As the scientists form into a circle, begin growling, and then ripple massive muscles under their pelts, it appears that these are not valid scientific questions.

It's true, just read what the real Dr. Science says.

A short video showing proper technique.