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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.