Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness

Hiking downhill might seem easier than uphill travel but it presents different challenges to the body. David Musnick, M.D. and Mark Pierce, A.T.C., recommend training with activity-specific exercises including Step-Downs, as presented in their book, Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness: Functional Exercise and Nutrition for Every Body, 2nd Edition.



4-inch step on a step platform, or stairs or bleachers with a 6- to 8-inch step.

Improve your ability to control gravitational forces while moving downhill.

Stand with both feet on the step, facing downhill. Balance on one foot and with the other foot reach to the floor in front of you. Allow both knees to bend and try to keep your back in a neutral position. During this initial phase of the step-down, try not to transfer your body weight over the descending foot. Touch your heel to the floor and then return back to the start position. Use the foot and leg on the step to raise yourself back to the start position. Do 2 sets of 15 reps.


  • Variable height : Increase the step height. You can use 2-3 stairs.
  • Variable distance : Increase the distance from the step to the ground touch area to 10 inches away, and so on.
  • Loaded step-downs : Add resistance by wearing a backpack or holding had weights.
  • Continuous step-downs : In stairs, do connected step-downs of 2-3 stairs for 30 seconds to 4 minutes.
  • Lateral step-downs : Try stepping off to the side of the step, keeping your step-off foot parallel to your stance foot. Don't put weight on the step-off foot, just touch the floor with your toe or heel and return it to beside your stance foot.
  • Rotational step-down : Try stepping off the step while turning at a 45- to 50-degree angle. If you are balancing on your left foot, turn and step off at a 45- to 50-degree angle to your right with your right foot pointed in that direction.

Avoid lateral and rotational step-downs if you have low back and especially sacroiliac problems.

-- Adapted from Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness, 2nd Edition by David Musnick, M.D. and Mark Pierce, A.T.C. (The Mountaineers Books, $26.95 paperback)


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