I know, I know, just what someone on the couch wants to hear, “Here are some exercises to do before you start exercising.” The goal is to provide you with some simple things you can do at home so your first time on a trail isn’t too frustrating. The best trail you go on is always your next trail!
I have had a few people say to me, “It’s great that you are hiking but I wouldn’t know where to begin.” There are a couple options for starting a hiking a program. First, what I did, is just to drive out to a trail head and start walking. I wouldn’t suggest that because, well I’m not very bright and have had to deal with some blisters and leg soreness from rushing out. The second way is to work yourself up to it so you have a better chance to be successful in your exercise routine and not get frustrated and quit.
Hiking is essentially walking outdoors so one thing I can suggest is take some walks. Even some small short walks around the neighborhood or a local park can be a great way to begin to get back into shape.
For some more intelligent and relevant information, I turn to a professional. Cristin McGetrick has a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy with added certificates in strength and conditioning and tactical strength and conditioning. She was also a collegiate athlete and is an avid outdoor enthusiast and climber. I was able to talk with her about a simple program to get you started toward your journey off the couch and onto the trail.
Disclaimer: This is for general education purposes only. You should consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program. Each person is different and opinions given in this article are not to be construed as a diagnosis, personal medical advice, or a treatment plan. Always personally see a medical professional for individual ailments and medical advice.
Fatman: Cristin, thank you so much for joining me today and helping my readers and myself with some simple ways to prepare for hiking. Obviously with hiking there are a lot of leg muscles in play. I have noticed a lot of soreness in my calf muscles from walking up inclines. What would you suggest as an exercise to help improve the strength of the lower legs and is there a right way and wrong way to do these exercises?
Cristin McGetrick PT, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F: Calf raises are always a good exercise, raising up and down on your toes. Try and hold a tennis ball or ball of socks between your ankles to help maintain good form. Another good idea is to do a wall squat with heel raises. You will lean back against the wall and slide down so it looks like you are sitting in a chair. Hold that position and go up and down on your toes.
FM: I find that coming down the hills really puts a strain on my thigh muscles which I believe are the Quadriceps muscles, is there something I could do to strengthen those muscles?
CM: The quads are the large group of muscles on the front of your thigh. The wall squats as mentioned above will be a good exercise to strengthen these muscles. Another option is to just practice going up and down the staircase in your home or apartment. Make sure you go up and down slowly, concentrating on not letting your knees wobble in and out (so they stay in line with your toes) and not going up stairs by pushing off your back leg.
FM: I have found that balance plays a key role on a trail. Sometimes I will have to take a long step and feel a bit out of balance, is there something I could do to strengthen or improve when I get in those situations while I’m extended?
CM: There are many good exercises for balance improvement. Balance is made up of three systems, vision, proprioception, and vestibular, so by compromising one or more system it will help improve your overall balance. Closing your eyes, moving your head side to side, or standing on a couch cushion are each ways that will throw your balance off a little and challenge each different system. Easy ways to incorporate this into your day are to stand on one leg while brushing your teeth or washing dishes. Another way to challenge your balance is to place things of various heights on the floor and practice stepping over them. For example, trying to step over a water bottle to mimic a higher rock or branch will give you a good cue if you are able to clear something of this height. If you are not, your toe will knock over the water bottle which could mean your toe will catch on the branch leading you to trip.
FM: Anything else you would suggest that could make starting to hike a little easier that I haven’t thought of?
CM: Hip strength is also very important for hiking. Side stepping, clamshells , squats with a band around your knees, bridges with or without a band on your knees, and bird dogs are great examples of exercises that will help strengthen your hips. By having strong hips it will allow you to be more balanced, step over or on to things at varying angles and overall give you more stability.
Make sure you go slow. Just because your friends want to go out to hike a 14er doesn’t mean that has to be your first hike. Look for trails marked as easy that have small changes in grade and shorter in length. As you begin to build your strength and endurance you can gradually increase in elevation gain and distance. Soon you will be summiting mountains and taking in the breathtaking views.
Thank you so much Cristin for joining me today, I really appreciate you helping out with the questions I have been having, and could be common to new hikers. Hopefully people can learn from my mistakes and start on a program the right way.
I hope to have some more blogs posted soon to help inform anyone who might be looking to get started and wants to make sure they are doing it as safely as possible. I hope to put together a series of “Getting Started Tips” over the next few weeks so stay tuned. You can also always follow my blog by signing up below to get the latest updates.
If you have a suggestion for a hike that you would like me to try, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow me on the below social media platforms. I have also added all hikes to the interactive map that you can find here.