March 04, 2013

Everything I Know About Hiking Benches


By Doug
Pam was not pleased with my short response to a recent question about how I use my hiking bench. So, here's everything I know about getting in shape using a hiking bench.

After winning the 1997 Laser Master Worlds, I was training with my friend Martin and felt really strong. I asked him how my form looked and to my surprise he said, "Crappy, you're dragging your butt." I thought, "How can this be? I just ended the longest winning streak in Laser Worlds history and my form is crappy?" Thus began a transformation that has changed the way I sail in a breeze.

Above a certain wind speed (for me about 15 knots), how smart you are and how fast you are become irrelevant. This is because sailing a Laser in a breeze is all about how strong you are. Without this strength, all of the tactics, boatspeed, boat handling, knowing the rules, a great start, and everything else that you work on are wasted.

The vast majority of major events are sailed on the ocean. If you live on the ocean and sail regularly, then you're lucky because sailing is the best way to get in shape. Duh. But it's interesting that many of the top sailors in Sydney still train on hiking benches. If you're like me and live hundreds of miles from the ocean or cannot sail regularly, you need to find another way to get into shape. And the most relevant, efficient way to get into shape is with a hiking bench.

When I was 25 and living in Albury, Australia (try to find that on the map!) I built my first hiking bench. Its design was from well-known books on Laser sailing.


When I moved back to Canada this was the only piece of 'furniture' that I brought back with me. It was fairly easy to use and getting up to 30-40 minutes was not a problem by just hanging:



In 1980, I tore the meniscus in my right knee and had to use crutches until my surgery. It was really painful to do anything... except hike! You see, the hiking form from using this bench was hanging, and this was actually pulling my knee joint apart, so there was no pain.

Fast forward to the 1993 Worlds in New Zealand. The Kiwi's and Nik Burfoot in particular had reinvented hiking, from loose hiking straps to tight, and from the strap on their feet to the strap on their toes. I watched Nik sail and he should have won the Worlds except for a tactical mistake on the last leg of the last race. But this hiking style was such an improvement that it became fashionable to 'hike on your toes' like a Kiwi. This was really hard to do, and there were reports of injuries by people who did not have the strength or technique to really do this properly. I tried it and quickly decided that this was not for me.

Fast forward to 1997 when Martin burst my bubble. I went out and bought some 2" x 6" lumber and started playing with different layouts. The goal was to find a position where my body was flat and my butt didn't drag. After checking the dimensions of a Laser, this is what I came up with:


Looks pretty simple, doesn't it? Well I was in for a big surprise. The first time I used it, I could barely do 30 seconds!! From 40 minutes to 30 seconds? You have got to be kidding!! And if my body was not completely rigid, it would be on the ground. This was difficult!


What I had actually done was recreate the Kiwi's hiking position that is not really about hiking on my toes but rather hiking so that my legs are more connected to the deck of my Laser. So rather than just hang there and let the waves slop me around, I was locked in and connected so that my Laser felt like an extension of my body. It was an awesome feeling of control!

But there was a minor problem - I had to train a whole new set of muscles. Building up from 30 seconds to 1 minute, then 2 minutes, and eventually to 10 minutes took many months. The way I did it was to hike for 10 minutes a day in as many sessions as it took to reach my goal of 10 minutes. And when I finally made it in one session, I felt very fast on the water in a breeze.

So, after this very long preamble, this is how I train on my hiking bench that costs about $20 to build:
  • If you look closely, I have not rounded the corners because I want my Laser to feel more comfortable than my training.
  • For the same reason, my design has a mainsheet to hang on to but I do not use it.
  • And for the same reason, I do not wear hiking pants.
  • I start by stretching my hip flexors (see the end of this video). This protects my lower back.
  • Doing sit-ups feels very realistic but I do as few and possible because I don't want to wear out my back.
  • Instead, I touch alternate shoulders on the ground as many times as possible to simulate punching my Laser though the wave. When I get tired, I sit up to take a rest.
  • At no time does my butt touch the ground because my legs are always flexed.
  • Loud music helps dull the pain - something like In A Gadda Da Vida.
  • I end by stretching my hip flexors again.
2008 Olympic gold medalist Paul Goodison practices on a bench that turns out to have a similar design that can be purchased. Here's how this translates to form on the water:


And here's 2012 Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby's similar form:


Notice that neither Paul or Tom are hiking on their toes. I think that the real benefit from the Kiwi's way of hiking was not hiking on your toes but rather having a much tighter strap so that you butt is higher and you're locked into your boat.

So now you know as much about hiking benches as I do.

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for the clear explanation.

    Martin

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    1. You're welcome. I assume that you're not my bubble-bursting Martin from DFW?

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  2. Great article , thanks Doug.

    Built one to your dimensions before Christmas - got a shock the first time I tried it! The 10 min goal is a great idea to keep at it

    Dan

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  3. Definitely not! Just a beginner, keen to improve.

    Martin

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    Replies
    1. Good, welcome to Lasers! This article about getting fit will help you with 1 of the 3 conditions that we sail in. The other 2 are being smart and being fast. You can read more about this at http://www.impropercourse.com/2012/04/laser-cheat-sheet.html.

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  4. You lived in Albury? I know where that is. I've even been there.

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    Replies
    1. Yup, I lived there for a few years working with a really interesting electronics company. Good people, but no wind at the local lake. Dallas is the same distance from the ocean and is also the windiest inland city in the US, which I really appreciate!

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  5. Small world. I used to work in IT for a company whose IT operations for Australia and Asia were headquartered in Wodonga if you can believe it (which is right next to Albury and shares its airport.) Visited there several times. Interesting place and friendly people, but it's not exactly Sydney.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, small world. And very small towns in the middle of nowhere. Cool that you were there.

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    2. My favorite memory is of the night I was flying from Melbourne to Albury/Wodonga and a lightning storm hit a transformer or something at Albury and put the airport out of action. We had to divert to Wagga Wagga. And the bus that drove us back to Albury in what was by now the early hours of the morning was called the Wagga Wagon. Love these Australian place names!

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  6. Albury? Easy to find. Just get onto the highway from Sydney to Melbourne and you pass through Albury, eventually!

    I'm fascinated by the flat hiking style. I first saw it on Steve Cockerel's Rooster site and it started to make sense. I tried this on my Laser and understandably I crapped out in 30 seconds! It's HARD work, but the benefits are clear. However, I'm worried about the damage these sessions can do to your hammies and blood vessels. I think you do need to use hiking pads to protect the body from serious internal damage and injury.

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    1. Back in the 70's the Hume HWY was just 2 lanes, so getting stuck behind a lorry on a long hill was no fun. I drove a Mini at the time, which was great training for crouching in the cockpit in the light Albury winds.

      You raise a good point on injuries. My training partner 10 years ago built a hiking bench from my design and it put him in hospital because of blood clots in his leg. Really dangerous stuff that ended his sailing career. He apparently had health issues that the hiking position exasperated.

      I have not heard of anyone else with problems from a hiking bench, but there are dangers in our sport for sure. Everyone needs to check with their doctor and use their best judgment.

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  7. Doug, I decided to build your hiking bench. I call it my TV lounge.

    http://www.woodworkforums.com/attachments/f169/261860d1365299359-building-shesha-hunter-valley-gis-australia-dscf0423.jpg

    It's a great design for lots of reasons. If my shoulders touch the floor, I'm fully hiked. If my bum hits the floor, time to straighten those legs! Has rubber feet to grip the floor when torquing and twisting to look around ahead and behind. Cost me zilch because I managed to find all the timber and bits in my garage. The timber is recycled Hoop Pine from an old demolished house I had been saving for a rainy day. Well, it rained the other day.

    I'm using the Tabata training method with my bench. Starting off with 10 reps of 30 secs each with 20 secs rest between. The idea is to push out the time to 1, 2, 3 mins etc, but the maximum rest between each is 20 secs. You can download Tabata timers for smart phones so no need to watch a clock.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the Tabata method, I'll check it out. I did not have permission to see your jpg, is it store elsewhere?

      To connect all the wood, I used door hinges to allow me to fold it from 7" down to 2" but at 7" it was already low enough to store under things. I found out that hinges are strong and a compact way to connect things, so it's another example of finding something by accident.

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    2. Just for the record that reply was from Doug. I have no idea how he managed to pull up an old log on of mine.

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  8. Hi Doug

    Great informative site.

    I'm just starting out Laser sailing at 48 with my eldest son Louis (14) already well versed in a Tara and now just into a 4.7.

    On the timber section for the bench; had you considered raing it from the ground a couple more inches, using 2'' x 8'' or would that defeat the object?

    Best Wishes

    Philippe

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  9. that was an RS Tera not Tara and raing should have been raising it! editing...

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    1. Thanks Philippe for your kind comments. Raising it would definitely defeat the object, which is making the training harder so that the sailing gets easier. I marvel at how comfortable the boat feels when I'm in shape!

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  10. Doug and Pam,
    Very nice write up on hiking and using a hiking bench. I just wanted to make you aware I have just launched a very unique hiking bench to the market. This one is not "static", it "rocks" to simulate flattening the Laser or other. It starts with a small "heal" and than rotates back as you hike out. The beauty of this is it is very self policing!! Start to cheat and it comes back up. When the seat is horizontal or past horizontal the Laser is flat. Also, for all the families who do not like having a big bulky bench in the living room, it collapses / erects in 20 seconds, no tools required, so you can slide it under a couch or bed. Also makes it easily transportable for serious travelling campaigners. It has duel main sheets so your arms do get a work out while hiking but I have gone for a padded seat so it saves the need for putting on pads while working out. Although just launched I have some great Laser sailors using it already including Chris Barnard, North American Champion 2012. You can view it at www.hiking-bench.com. It has seven adjustments to allow for size of sailor and is light weight at 20 lbs.


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    1. Thanks for your message. Your design looks great and serves an important market.

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  11. is it hurting your feet to sit like that?

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    1. Not really, or maybe I'm just used to sailing barefoot. In some circles I'm known as the barefoot sailor because I rarely wear boots (too heavy, too easy to get tangled with the mainsheet, etc.) In Oman, Brett tried to give me a new pair of really good hiking boots but I told him that someone else would use them more.

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