I love to go hiking in the fall. The crisp air, autumn colors & crunch of leaves under foot add to the enjoyment. Hiking is simplicity. Step right, step left, up you go. All it takes is a good pair of hiking boots and some pre-hike conditioning to have a pleasant and injury free hike (oh and a mountain or nature trail helps too!)
Get Ready: Heading to the mountains or foothills for a day of hiking? Get your heart and legs ready a few weeks before you go with these exercises for hiking. If you don’t regularly do aerobic conditioning, you’ll want to start walking 30 – 45 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week incorporating varied terrain. If you live in the flatlands, then hit the stair master, find a good ole step aerobics class or flight of stairs to climb. Heading to the mountains or foothills for a day of hiking? Get your heart and legs ready a few weeks before you go.
Eccentric Strengthening: Surprisingly you expend more energy walking down the hill then up even though it doesn’t feel that way because the demand on the heart and lungs is less. Incorporating eccentric strengthening into your routine helps avoid post hike soreness. An eccentric contraction is when the muscles lengthen under a load (while also contracting).
Step Downs: Using a 5 to 10 inch step or wooden box (depending upon your leg length and level of conditioning) start with both feet on the step. Keep your arms at your side or if needed for balance hold out in a T position. Balancing on one-foot (hold wall as needed) flex or bend the knee to lower down until the opposite heel with leg held straight touches the floor. Push to straighten the bent leg and alternate to other leg. Repeat 10-15 times for each leg, working up to 3 sets. Good form is important! Keep your weight back as you descend as if you’re sitting down in a chair and keep the knee tracking forward, straight over your foot and not wobbling in or outward. Stop before your knee moves beyond your toes.
One-Leg Squats: If steps downs are too challenging for your balance or leg strength, start with one-leg squats. Balance on your left leg, holding wall if needed and either bend your right leg behind you or extend in front (more challenging). Keep an upright posture while bending your left knee to lower down. Stop before your knee moves beyond your toes. You can go deeper by shifting your weight back like you’re sitting in a chair. Hold 3-5 seconds, then slowly straighten leg to stand back up. Repeat with the other leg. Do 10 -15 reps for each leg and work up to 3 sets.
Office Chair Hamstring Strengthening: This isn’t your traditional hamstring exercise, but Tony Soika, owner of Sports Performance Advancement and a former fitness director at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, swears by the chair walk. Sit up straight on the front half of rolling desk chair in a long hallway or large room (50 – 75 feet). Place your hands behind your head. Walk the chair forward by extending then flexing knee to alternately pull the foot under you. At the end, turn around and walk the chair back. Repeat 3 or more times if in a shorter room. You’ll need to wear grip sole shoes and do this on a wood or cement floor, carpet is tough!
Stretch Hips in Warrior II Pose and Lunge. The hips can get really tight with all that hip flexion required to hike up a hill or mountain. Stretching out your hips flexors during and after your walk will also allow you to take a longer stride and get more oomph out of your glutes. Warrior II pose aligns your knees, opens up your hips, stretches the inner groin and hip flexor while increasing leg strength and flexibility. Knee down lunge provides a deep passive stretch to the large hip flexor muscles.
Warrior 11 Pose: Stand with your feet about 4-5 feet apart with arms raised out to both sides, palms down and parallel to the ground. Pivot your right foot in slightly about 45 degrees and your left foot outward 90-degrees. Look over your left shoulder, exhale, and bend left or front knee. Align knee directly over the ankle of your front foot. Your front shin should be perpendicular to the floor. Sink your hips low, to bring your front thigh parallel to the floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on other side and as often as you like.
Knee Down Lunge: Assume a ½ kneel position with one leg bent at 90 degrees in front of you with sole of foot on floor and the other leg in 90 degrees in a kneeling position with top of foot on floor. Gradually slide or wiggle the front foot forward keeping the knee bent at 90 degrees, while the back leg extends at both hip and knee. You may want to pad the knee on the floor with a folded towel if this stretch is uncomfortable on your knee cap.
To deepen the stretch on the extended leg and hip, you can gently move the front leg further forward. Then raise your arms up over head, lifting your rib cage while pressing your shoulders down. Ahhh, feels so good.
Wrist Assured Gloves work great as gloves for hiking when using hiking poles. Enjoy your time in nature and just keep putting one foot in front of the other!
In every walk with nature, one receives far more than (s)he seeks – John Muir
Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. – Ed Viesturs