Why Do Hill Walkers and Mountaineers Need Movement Coaching?

Ideas by Chris, words by Anne

This blog post was first published as Why I Coach Movement to Hill Walkers and Mountaineers on 23rd March 2016. This is the new improved version.

One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time
Barbara Walters

Walking for most people is an unconscious competence – we do it without any thought. It is almost as automatic as breathing, so why does it need to be taught? Can’t any able-bodied person walk without thinking about it? Well, yes, but moving effectively over uneven ground is far from automatic, particularly when there is any danger, real or perceived. Many walkers don’t understand what it is that helps them to move effectively, so when something goes wrong they don’t have the tools to sort out the problem. A quick scan of the report page on the Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team website shows that more than half of their mountain call-outs are to walkers who have a lower leg injury sustained by slipping.  

So what should you be aiming for when walking? Think African women carrying heavy water jars on their heads – fluid dynamic movement, strong core, heel-ball-toe, slightly bent knees, upright body. That is the posture that gives the most efficient and stable walking style. It can be summed up like this:


This is easy on flat ground when your body is working efficiently, you’re not using much energy, and there’s nothing making it difficult for you. However, when you are on steep and exposed ground, fear can take over. When you experience fear, your reactions can be very strong:

1. The foetal response makes you want to curl up and stop moving – just the opposite of straight and strong, fluid and dynamic. When you bend over you lose your core stability, and have to compensate by using your hands.

2. The adrenaline rush – fight, flight or freeze. The resultant muscle tension makes falling over much more likely, and your movement changes from fluid to staccato. Static balance is much harder to achieve than dynamic balance. Have you ever tried jumping from rock to rock across a river? You get to a really small rock with a huge step to the next rock, and fear takes over, and you try to stop. You know what happens next...

When you need to move at your best you tend to move at your worst. But the good news is that it is possible to identify unhelpful movement patterns and change them for better ones. How do you do that? You put your movement process under a microscope and break down exactly what you do when you are moving normally on flat ground. If you repeat these good movements over and over on steeper but non-consequential ground, they will become the norm, even when you move on to really difficult ground.

All our Mountain Leader courses include personal movement coaching and how coach others. Here’s some feedback from one of our candidates:

Just wanted to let you know how grateful I am for planting the seeds of how to walk and move better particularly on broken ground on ML training and assessment. This week I've been working a group of mainly older retired people (one was 84!) who wanted to go up Scafell via Lord's Rake, a trip very very much on the top end of most people's confidence. Being able to model good movement on previous days and then coach them on how to move around on scree and broken ground turned what could of been an ordeal of a day for some into a challenging but enjoyable and rewarding one. Made me realise how grateful I am for someone showing me that and how cool it is when it goes full circle and I can pass it on so thank you!
Beth Wallis

Our next Movement Masterclass is on 31st May 2017. Book yourself a place and find out first-hand what a difference efficient movement can make to you. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

Photo credit: Martin Paley

Photo credit: Martin Paley