5 Most Important Exercises For Hiking Farther, Higher, and Longer
When it comes to backpacking or hiking, few things can make you more excited than getting to the top of the destination you set your sights on. If you have a goal in mind, whether it is getting to the top of Mt Rainier or simply hiking around Afton Alps, these 5 exercises will help you get there. But not only do you want to get to the top, you also want to make it down with as little difficulty as possible. If you are carrying a backpack of any size, every extra pound you carry is actually 3-6 pounds more force on all of your joints. These exercises will help alleviate the stresses that are put on your body. In addition to a good cardiovascular exercise program, try these out 3-4 times per week.
There are very few better core exercises than the old standard plank. Holding this position on your forearms and toes for as long as possible, activates back and abdominal muscles that are much needed if you plan on carrying a backpack with any weight in it.
Lunges are a great exercise for the lower extremities because they work just about every muscle in your legs. They are also very functional for the types of motions that you will do when hiking. Being able to pull yourself up a big step requires the same muscles you would work in this exercise. Technique is important so remember to never let your front knee go forward past your toes. That can put unwanted stress on your knees. Do as many as you can, alternating legs. Try it with your pack on.
The forgotten muscles when many of us exercise are the gluts. Many of the exercises we do, work the quadriceps on the front of the leg, but almost as important are the muscles in the back of our leg and in our buttocks. When we are climbing a hill, our legs push us up and our hips do a motion called hip extension. Your gluts and hamstrings are the primary muscles for this motion. To strengthen these muscles, try bridging. Keep your abdominals tight as you lift your hips off the ground a few inches. While your hips are off the ground, try lifting one foot at a time to isolate each side. Do as many reps as you can.
Single or double leg squats are some of the best ways to work the quadriceps muscles. These are the strongest muscles in our legs and the ones that we need the most for not only going up, but also for coming down. Its easy to get summit fever and forget how difficult it is to come down after making it to the top. There is more stress put on the knees coming down, especially when you have a backpack. When doing these exercises, remember that technique is again very important. Don’t let the knee go past the toes. Trying squatting down as slowly as you can. This is called an eccentric movement and will definitely pay dividends when you are coming down from the top. Do as many as you can and try it while wearing a backpack to make it more difficult.
5) Calf Raises
Our calves primarily aid in a motion called plantarflexion. This is a move that we make repetitively when hiking. These muscles help propel us upward. But they also help aid the knee in shock absorption when we come down as well. Try doing calf raises where you raise up and down on your toes as slowly as possible. Try once again wearing your pack or not holding on to anything to also work on your balance.
If you have a hike planned, start doing these exercises a couple months prior to your trip, 3-4 times per week. Make sure you are doing them in addition to any cardiovascular program that you are also doing. If you are having any pains or concerns that may limit your trip, see a physical therapist. We’d love to help you out and get you to the summit.