With spring weather finally here, snow is melting and trail conditions are improving … hiking season has arrived in Northern BC! After a long winter you might be ready to get out there and start your adventures, but is your body ready? If you spent the winter months hibernating, don’t just lace up your boots and go; hiking requires strength, balance, and endurance, all of which need to be trained for.
To get to those longer, steeper hikes that you may have your eye on, you’ll need to have a strong lower body to propel you forward and up. This means strengthening the muscles of your legs and hips with exercises like squats and lunges. Step-ups are great because they transfer directly to hiking; they’re even better with weights to mimic carrying around a heavy backpack. It’s also important to add some single-leg training into your workouts because they strengthen your weight-bearing muscles while also improving your stability and mobility. But, having a strong lower body isn’t all you need for hiking. Depending on the types of trails you’re going to be doing, you may be facing uneven ground and other obstacles, which will require good balance. You can improve your balance by training the muscles in your core. Your abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles all help stabilize you even while you twist, turn, duck, and lift. Having a solid core will help you stay upright on your trip, and will also help you support a heavy backpack. Another important part of lifting and carrying your gear is having a strong upper body. Train your shoulders and back so they’re not only able to lift, load, and unload your bag, but to resist fatigue as you carry it throughout long trips. Your mid- and upper back have to continually contract as you’re walking to prevent the backpack from slipping side to side, which requires muscular endurance. Finally, you are going to need to build up your lung capacity for long trips. This is especially true if you’re planning on trekking up into higher altitudes. You might be a bit de-conditioned if you haven’t been very active this winter, so start at whatever level you’re at and gradually increase your cardio workouts until the duration and intensity rivals your planned hikes.
Exercise will also help reduce your chance of getting injured out on the trails! The most common hiking injuries are ankle rolling and ankle sprains, so it is important to not only warm your ankles beforehand, but to also strengthen your lower body to help protect your ankles and your knees. Stronger muscles will help stabilize you as you traverse over rocks, obstacles, and slippery surfaces. Training your lower body will also help prevent ‘hiker’s knee’, which is an overuse injury that can lead to pain around or behind your kneecap, especially on your way downhill. You may think that the way up the mountain will be the hardest part of the hike, but the descent can be very hard on your legs, knees, and even your toes, because they are holding your bodyweight back to avoid falling forward. One way to avoid hurting yourself on the way back down is to add some eccentric training (especially for your hamstrings) to your regimen.
So start your training now to be ready to hit the trails this season, because hiking is no walk in the park… 😉