With cooler temperatures and changing leaves, it’s the perfect time to go for a hike.
I’m an avid hiker now, but one of the first times I hit the trail I learned some tough lessons. It was a dry and sunny day, so I threw on a pair of tennis shoes, grabbed a day pack and jumped out of my car to hit the trail. As I was nearing the top of a mountain, my sneakers suddenly slipped from under me, I fell and fractured my finger. I walked back down the mountain, with a painful finger, sore legs and deflated ego.
Since that hike, I’ve learned a few helpful tips to prep my body for hiking, including key areas to strengthen, warm-ups to incorporate and appropriate trail gear.
Lesson 1: Endurance & Strength: Like other sports, it’s important to build muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance as you prepare to hike. Hiking puts pressure on your back, core and lower extremities.
Focusing on exercises that build strength to these areas can improve your hiking experience.
To build back and core strength, incorporate plank and bridge strengthening exercises two to three times a week into your workout routine.
Strengthen hips by simply adding leg raises and side-lying clam exercises.
Men should especially focus on hip strengthening as it tends to be a weaker, often over looked during workouts, and can lead to injuries. If you’re lacking cardio endurance, slowly build up your walking pace, distance, and elevation before tackling a big hike.
Lesson 2: Hiking Warm Up: Although an active warm up is typically best before hiking or other activities, it may be unrealistic for most hikers.
Try starting with a five to 10-minute brisk walk and then stopping to incorporate some stretching.
Light dynamic warm-up exercises such as leg swings, open/close gait hip rotations, and walking toe touches or simply static stretches can be incorporated.
Use this time to shed a layer of clothing now that you have warmed up and drink some water to stay ahead of hydration. Remember to hydrate on cooler days too!
As your hike progresses, continue to stretch throughout the day to help reduce potential soreness later. Stopping to admire views or enjoy a snack is a great time to add additional stretching.
Think about targeting hamstrings, quads, IT band, hips and lower back muscles. Between elevation and terrain changes these areas are challenged and may be prone to soreness or injury.
Lesson 3: Hiking Gear: Properly fitted boots and hiking packs are important.
Boots that are too small or too loose through the midfoot typically lead to your toes jamming into the toe box as you navigate your way through descending terrain.
Shoes that are too big or a poor choice in socks will lead to blisters.
Consider wools socks that wick away moisture and are a good source for keeping your toes warm.
Your pack should also be properly fitted and loaded, even a small pack can cause back issues if weight is distributed in the improper areas.
If you’re carrying most the weight in the shoulders instead of the waist, you could wind up with a sore shoulder and cervical muscles.
A good rule of thumb is to pack your bag tight and close fitting to the body while carrying most of the load in the hips by utilizing the backpack’s waist band.
Seek expert help at an outdoor store for properly fitted hiking boots, packs, and other gear. These stores will get an idea of the style of hiking you will be doing and let you test a variety of options for best fit and usage.
Hiking experts can also help properly fit, load and adjust your pack for a comfortable and safe journey. While many of these stores such as REI are a great source of knowledge, they also have great return policies if the items purchased did not work, regardless of the wear and tear.
Lesson 4: Treatment for Aches: Despite the best efforts to build strength, stretch and wear proper gear, hiking is challenging and you may still get sore. Continue to stretch the following days after a big hike.
Hikers with common injuries like plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, low back pain, tendonitis or medial tibia stress syndrome (shin splints) can find relief with a few simple techniques.
Ice massage is a great technique for sore muscles and inflammation. It can be utilized by rolling the sore area with a frozen water bottle or rubbing shin splints and sore muscles with a small paper cup frozen full of water.
For other areas or acute injuries such as ankle sprains, a frozen bag of peas works great as it conforms to the injured body part.
Evan Kureczka, LAT, ATC, PES, CES is an athletic trainer with OrthoCarolina and NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing. He is an avid hiker and backpacker.