Sometimes when I tell people that I teach a hiking class, their reaction is, “So you teach people how to walk?!” Seems kind of silly at first, but there really is a science to walking, and doing it improperly over extended miles on the trail can lead to a host of physical problems. If you’d like to learn more about proper hiking technique, consequences of incorrect gait, and methods for preventing injuries or chronic pain, read How to Walk. It’s a great guide for hikers and backpackers. It includes a brief self-assessment that you can do to see if you’re a candidate for potential problems.
You will not get in tip top shape just by hiking with this class once every other week. In order to maximize your enjoyment of the time you spend on the trail, it is recommended that you include in your weekly routine some conditioning exercises that will target those muscles used most in hiking, particularly those in the lower extremities. This will help you to avoid injury on the trail as well as muscle soreness after each hike.
Here’s a very good article on Tips for Better Hiking Fitness that you may want to check out. Learn key hiking fitness principles to get the most out of your time on the trail.
More Exercises for Conditioning
Hip Hike – Stand sideways on a step, box or bench at least 4” high, with one leg held free of the bench. Keep both hips squared forward and shoulders level. Keeping your standing leg (the one on the bench) straight (no knee bending!), raise your free hip directly upward and then drop the leg down so that your beltline alternately tilts up and down. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, add ankle weights to each leg or hold dumbbells in each hand.
Forward Straight Leg Raise – Lie on one side with bottom leg bent (the one closest to the floor) and top leg extended in front of the body at a right angle to the torso. Keep a slight bend in the top knee, with hips stacked, and avoid shifting the body backward as you lift the leg up. Keep the heel higher than the toe in order to maximally recruit the glutes. Add ankle weights to increase the level of difficulty. For greater comfort extend the arm along the floor and rest your head on it for support.
1-leg 1-arm Deadlift –Stand on your right foot with a dumbbell in your right hand; lower and raise your body for 3-8 repetitions, then without changing legs, complete the same number of reps with the dumbbell in the left hand before switching to the other leg and repeating half the reps with weight in one hand, half with weight in the other. Bend your standing leg into a squat as much or as little as you feel comfortable doing until you can touch the floor with the dumbbell.
Bridges – Lie on your back with R ankle resting on L knee, L foot flat on floor about two feet from your buttocks, and arms on the outside of either hip for balance. Raise hips off the floor. To ensure that hips stay parallel (i.e. one does not drop to the floor as you lift) place your hands on each hip socket and concentrate on keeping the pelvis level. Switch legs and repeat same number of sets and repetitions.
In-line Dowel Lunge — Find a line along the floor or the edge of tile or carpet and take a long stride forward so both feet are on that line in a lunge. Hold a dowel behind your back at the nape of the neck and the small of the back to help maintain upright posture. With shoulders remaining over hips, lower the back knee to the ground until you have right angles to both forward and back knee, but avoid dropping the back knee all the way to the floor. Press upward by driving the forward heel into the floor, and maintain balance by keeping knees in over the feet. Front knee should not extend beyond the toes (if they do, take front foot farther forward.)
Take it a Step Further (Optional Reading)
Here are six more Exercises for Maximum Mobility that you may want to incorporate into your workout routine.
Balance is another aspect that you may want to incorporate into your training program. Here are some great suggestions for improving balance to help you negotiate tricky back country terrain.
Oh, oh….I’m Sore! (More Optional Reading)
For those times when you find that you’ve overdone it a bit, stretching out your muscles will help to alleviate soreness.
Check out these great methods for stretching achy legs.
And here’s a short video on dealing with knee pain, a condition that commonly occurs among hikers of all levels of experience and fitness.