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Choosing downhill gait

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Choosing downhill gait

Postby ScottHanson » Sat Sep 14, 2013 3:41 am

Gait is the manner of moving on foot. My question is what is the most efficient and least injury prone mode of movement downhill? My assumption is you are on a trail or easy cross country (class 2) travel where neither roots nor bothersome rocks nor extreme steepness create a concern toward a serious fall. So heart and lungs are under less stress than going uphill, but general balance (staying upright) could be at least a mild concern. If you had three choices of travel (walk, shuffle, or run) what would be your choice? During my hiking or climbing for the last five years (age 58 to age 63) I have been walking more and more of the time downhill. Probably general balance is a leading reason to walk more. However, this summer coming back from a knee pain issue I have switched to more of a shuffle or modest running downhill. I now believe this faster movement is easier on the body (knees) by having quads in a flexed position (they are taking weight off your bones). Also you get from point A to point B quicker. So, what is your choice of downhill movement? And why?
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby radson » Sat Sep 14, 2013 5:33 am

A bit of a segue to your answer as for me totally depends on terrain and my level of fatigue but absolutely some of the most fun I have ever had in mountains is slipping and sliding while running down scree slopes with a single trekking pole as a balancing aid.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Montana Matt » Sat Sep 14, 2013 4:27 pm

I have a serious knee injury and as such have developed serious arthritis in my right knee. I can't hammer downhill like I could 10 years ago without significant pain. So I too employ the method of shortening my stride and keeping my knees bent to keep most of the weight bearing duties on my quads instead of on the knee joint. I usually shuffle when doing so, but can also walk or slowly run. It does tire out the quads quite a bit though, especially on a long day.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby lisae » Sun Sep 15, 2013 5:21 am

I hate going downhill these days. I have a bunion that only hurts on steep descents. Also, I have two artifical hips, one of which is the direct result from an injury I sustained after falling on some steep scree. I can't run as it is high impact. I walk but tend to whimper when my bunion hurts. I am looking into having some custom hiking boots made - anything to avoid surgery.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby aglane » Sun Sep 15, 2013 10:10 pm

Tore some of an mcl a few years ago, which still talks to me, and badly twisted the other knee in a descending fall last year, more talk. So I walk. But doing something approaching a minimal waddle speeds it up some, wider stance, weight distribution partly side to side as well as downward. Relieves the knees, and with a pair of poles they bear up pretty well.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Buz Groshong » Mon Sep 16, 2013 3:26 pm

What's with all these people with injuries and artheritis? What are you going to do when you are my age?

I am generally opposed to fighting gravity; the more you can safely use it, the less energy you use. With that in mind, I usually keep up a good pace downhill, but avoid running; control is important, especially in the woods. Scree surfing is fun, but there isn't that kind of scree where I mostly hike.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Montana Matt » Mon Sep 16, 2013 5:07 pm

Buz Groshong wrote:What are you going to do when you are my age?

I mostly swim now with a bit of cycling mixed in and the occasional hike or peak bagging trip. Most of the people I swim with are in their 50s or 60s and a few are in their 70s. When I go to meets, there are often 80 and 90 year olds competing! I can't recall the last time I saw someone in their 80s or 90s out running or hiking or climbing. Swimming is an amazing workout and causes virtually no pain so long as you have good technique (shoulders can be a problem if your technique is not good and you swim a lot). I can't say the same of any of the other activities I've done throughout my life, especially all of the miles I've covered on foot running, ultra-running or climbing. After a long day on foot, I feel like I've been beaten up, repeatedly pounded, especially my joints. But a long swim just leaves me feeling a "good" kind of tired, not like I was abused for hours. Cycling is a close second to swimming for being easy on the body, but the problem with cycling, at least for me, is the uncomfortable position one is in while on the bike.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Buz Groshong » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:37 pm

Good post, Matt. I know what you mean about the "good" kind of tired that you feel after swimming. Fortunately, hiking leaves only my feet hurting. An hour or so later, on the drive home, my legs will be very stiff when I get out of the car and walk. Before long, though, I'm good to go again - on hiking trips, I usually hike every day. Swimming is just too much of an exercise for me - I'd get too bored to keep it up regularly. Bicycle riding isn't much better.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby lisae » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:10 pm

Buz Groshong wrote:What are you going to do when you are my age?


More yoga?

I am 60, getting close to 61. Other than the bunion, hiking feels good to me, provided I stretch afterwards. Climbing feels good as long as I don't try and push the grade. My arthritic fingers don't like it. I know a lot of people my age who hike and climb, without problems. Swimming has been recommended to me as it doesn't hammer your joints. Problem is that it is too boring. I don't know what I'll do when I don't enjoy hiking/climbing.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby jdenyes » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:45 pm

Come to swissland, the plus 70+ folks will blast by you whilst smoking a pipe and wearing traditional gear :-D, I always check out the shoes before I offer anyone a seat on the tram or the bus. :-).
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Montana Matt » Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:03 pm

If I didn't have any significant injuries, I'm sure I'd feel the same as you Buz, with only my feet hurting after long days. Wish I'd have been more careful in my youth and not injured myself.

And I know what you mean, Buz and lisae, about swimming being a bit boring. Pool swimming is definitely a challenge to keep interested in. I have to set goals and stay focused to keep my motivation high during the winter months. But all summer I swim outside at the local lake and frequently compete in open water races on weekends. It's not as nice as being in the wilderness climbing a mountain, but open water is definitely much more stimulating. Swimming is something that I really enjoy and can see myself being able to do well into my golden years.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Tonka » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:35 am

I am generally opposed to fighting gravity; the more you can safely use it, the less energy you use.


I agree with Buz here. I very rarely would run but depending on terrain, physical condition and weather I go with gravity up to what someone called a "shuffle" but won't run. I'm also not shuffling when on low verticle or flat terrain, I just use a quick pace.

I'm lucky that I have no knee or hip issues at this point that's for sure.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Ze » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:52 am

The best choices are the ones that don't hurt.

Generally, smaller steps will be better as this will reduce impact forces and also reduce knee flexion angles. The energetic cost is higher however.

"Not fighting gravity" method lowers energetic cost, but not a good idea if you already have issues that will only be exacerbated.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Buz Groshong » Tue Sep 17, 2013 3:44 pm

Not fighting gravity can still allow for small steps.
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Re: Choosing downhill gait

Postby Ze » Tue Sep 17, 2013 7:05 pm

But still higher impact forces.
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