Thursday, April 16, 2009

Will your fitness training enhance your birding experience ­ today and tomorrow?

Rick, Matty and I are at Clifty Falls in Indiana this evening for a little birding and hiking. Friday we’re heading over to Muscatatuck to hopefully find some interesting waterfowl. So to help me out, my brother, Bill, offered to write a post for me. Bill is a personal trainer. He helps people get and stay strong. His specialty is wellness and the connection between exercise, happiness, and good mental health. I work out with Bill three times a week and am stronger at 47 than I have ever been in my life. We’ll be home Friday evening, but until then, here’s Bill!

Hi, I’m Kelly’s brother, Bill. Nice to meet you!

I have been following Kelly’s blog for a while, and I also go out and check out other bird blogs, and although I am not a birder (yet), I do enjoy nature and have been really impressed by what I have seen.

Tonight’s post will be about the importance of exercise as it relates to your passion for birding. How would you feel if at some time in the future you were not able to do what you enjoy most simply because you were not strong enough? We all think it won’t happen to us, but it happens to everyone at some point. I have helped many people get strong enough to return to their favorite activities, and although I have never worked with a person to develop their “birding muscles,” I have helped people get back on the hiking trail, which is a big part of birding.

Major Muscles Involved When Walking/Hiking

Muscles of the Legs - Quadriceps (thigh), Hamstrings (back of thigh), Gastrocnemius (calf), Soleus (lateral muscle stemming from base of Gastrocnemius to ankle)

Muscles of the Hips - Adductor (inner thigh), Abductor (outer thigh), Hip Flexors (responsible for forward locomotion), Gluteals (buttocks)

Core Muscles - Rectus Abdominus (abs), Obliques, Spinal Erectors (muscles located at base of spine)

Upper Body - Trapezius (upper back), Deltoids (shoulders), Biceps (front of upper arm), Triceps (back of upper arm)

Risks/Injuries Associated with Hiking/Walking

There are inherent physical risks to all activities. Since hiking/walking can be considered a “low-Impact” activity, participants often feel a false sense of security, but injuries do occur, and they generally relate to “repetitive use” and some occasional muscular or joint trauma.

Meniscus Tear - Occasionally when walking on uneven ground the knee may be twisted causing a slight tear in the cartilage, meniscus, of the knee. In most cases, these types of injuries will take care of themselves, but they could definitely ruin a nice day of birding, and left unattended could lead to a greater tear in the short term, and possibly lead to arthritis in the long term.

Ankle Sprains - Here again, uneven ground can be an invitation to an ankle sprain, although sprains can occur on even pavement as well. These sprains typically involve a tearing of the ligaments that support the ankle joint.

Hip Flexor Strains - The hip flexor acts to pull the upper leg forward. It is easy to see how walking up an incline, while off balance, could lead to an increased risk of a pull or stain if the muscle is not strong enough to adapt to the demands being placed on it.

Hamstring - This also can be said for the Hamstring, going up and down hills can place a lot of force on the hamstring muscle.

Upper Body - When people are hiking, I often see them reach out and grab a tree to pull themselves forward, or use a tree or rock to push themselves. These movements place a lot of stress on the shoulder, biceps, triceps and the entire back musculature. Not to mention the fact birders often have binoculars hanging from their necks putting a lot of pressure on the cerebral vertebrae. They also spend a good deal of time looking up into the trees, which can strain the neck and lower back. 

What can you do?

Stay active - Since your interest in birding is not seasonal, you must maintain some level of physical conditioning throughout the year to be able to overcome, without injuries, the physiological stresses of hiking.

Warm up - Always do some warm ups before you venture off into nature. Find a flat area that you can do some light walking and stretching before you move into the bushes to capture an image of that elusive Hermit Thrush.

Lift weights - Start an appropriate strength training and flexibility program. If you are new to strength training, find someone who is experienced and can help you along the way.

Do yoga - (and I didn’t put this in here just because Kelly is a yoga teacher!) Yoga helps you stay flexible and strong and is great for the back and neck, which is particularly vulnerable to injury while birding. Holding binoculars and looking up in the trees while trying to find those neotropical migrants puts a lot of strain on the cerebral vertebrae and all the musculature of the neck and shoulder. Also vulnerable are the lumbar vertebrae and muscles of the lower back. 

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at, or visit my blog at Wellness Reality ( ).

Thanks, Happy Birding, and Get to the Gym!!!!

Thanks, have some great birding fitness info here!!   Kelly  


Jayne said...

Lots of good information and tips to remain healthy and strong Bill. I miss a regular fitness routine and know I'd feel so much better if I could get back into one. I never felt better than when I was working with a trainer. I am hearing the niggle again... :c)

Laure Ferlita said...

Wow! A guest blogger! How cool and with great info too! Never thought about warming up before going off to look for birds, but it makes sense. Thanks for the info.

Mary said...

First of all "welcome to Indiana, Kelly"....even if the other side of the state! Bill....a lot of good information. I need this sort of thing, but feel very intimidated about a gym, plus being short of funds. I have a bad knee and it really limits what sort of exercise I can find to do. I've never thought of birding as a sport that I needed to warm up for, but I certainly agree about the muscle use from heavy cameras and binoculars.

Montanagirl said...

That was very informative, and good advice was given. I'm one of those that's guilty of not getting enough exercise!

Phil and Mandy said...

Hi Bill, I am another who probably does the wrong type of exercise. I am a manual worker in a Warehouse, lifting, moving, stacking etc...but I do love my weekend walks birding. Regards Phil

Kelly said...

Jayne and Laure...thanks! Bill is a special trainer. He doesn't care what your fitness level is, he just wants to help people feel good and get stronger. He's very good at motivation too!

Mary...I LOVED Indiana. Clifty Falls was gorgeous and Muscatatuck is huge! Too bad someone like Bill isn't in your town. He has a small gym and he works on making everyone feel welcome. I know I never would have went to one of the big chains because I would have been overwhelmed.

Montanagirl and Phil....if you're moving at all, it's good! Phil, it sounds like you get exercise on the job, so you can't get better than that!