Although the most important aspects of being prepared for a few hours out on the trail is having good boots and food and water in your backpack, keeping your body prepared can really improve the experience of your hike. There are plenty of functional exercises that mimic natural movement and that work the large and small muscles of the lower body. Good balance and solid core strength are also key and can be improved with some practical exercises.
How to physically prepare for hiking depends on your fitness level, but whatever you decide, be sure to have the right boots. The right boots are an important component to preventing injury, and are a factor in being and staying comfortable from start to finish.
In this article I will go over what I think are some excellent exercises that can be done at home with little to no equipment. Finding exercises that suit your fitness level to get you ready for trail trekking is highly recommended. It will ensure that you will reduce the chance of injury and improve your endurance, balance, and agility.
Exercises to prepare for hiking:
Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any kind of rigorous exercise. One of the best exercises to start with is the hip bridge. It’s great for a warm up before doing more strenuous routines, because it helps to loosen up the spine, pelvic area, and joints, while preparing your glutes, legs, and lower back for more rigorous activities.
To start, lay on your back with arms by your side with palms down. Your legs will be bent with feet directly below your knees about hip width apart. As you inhale slowly raise your hips up as high as you can, feeling the weight evenly pressed into your shoulders and feet. Hold for a moment while clenching your glutes. Exhale as you slowly lower your hips back down until your back is flat on the floor. Repeat 8-12 times and do 2 or 3 sets.
One of the great things about the hip bridge is that there are several variations of this exercise depending on your fitness level. Some variations include toe and heel lifts when at the top of the bridge. Or performing a march movement at the high point, where you hold your hips up and keeping leg bent raise each leg one at a time. Another way could also be keeping one leg straight, and slightly higher than the other knee while alternating each leg for each bridge.
For this exercise be sure to have a stable surface to stand on or use stairs. Keeping your back straight and arms by your side, place one foot up on the surface putting all your weight on that foot. Pull yourself up with that foot until the leg is straight while driving the knee of the other leg up to waist height. Then bring the non-weight bearing leg back down below the step followed by the weight bearing leg.
Repeat with same leg or alternate, do as many reps as you can with up to 3 sets. Dumbbells or ankle weights can be added as you advance with this routine.
When performing this exercise using an incline or shallow step is best. Start on step or facing downhill with hands on hips and feet hip width apart. Keeping your back vertical take one big step forward bringing yourself down until the thigh of your forward leg is parallel with the ground. With the weight on your forward foot drive into the heel back up to a standing position, continue while alternating legs up to 12 reps per leg and try to do at least 3 sets.
Remember to keep your forward foot flat thru the step, with feet hip width apart and back upright.
To start this full body exercise, position yourself in a push up position with arms straight and shoulder width apart, legs straight and feet hip width apart. It’s important to keep your body position in a straight line during this exercise, keeping your head up and back straight throughout.
From this position you will be essentially running in place by bringing one leg up to your chest without touching the ground, and as you bring it back switch to the other leg. Do this until you start to feel the burn with up to 3 sets, depending on your fitness level.
Start standing upright with a dumbbell or kettlebell held close to your chest, and with feet slightly wider than shoulders, back straight with head upright. Then slowly squat down until your upper legs are parallel to the floor, hold for one second, then without bouncing lift until standing while squeezing your glutes together.
Do this for at least 3 sets with 8-15 reps.
When the boots come off
What type of terrain you want to explore depends on if you can handle it physically. Always be sure you don’t over do it. Starting out with yoga or Pilates may be a good idea if you feel you need to improve your balance and core strength before starting out on the trail.
At the end of the day hiking should be fun and exciting, so make sure your ready for it. Other ways to be ready would be to make sure you get into the habit of doing stretches before and after any workout or hike. Each stretch should be 10 to 15 seconds, but should be avoided if there are problems such as joint inflammation or infection, recent bone fractures, sprains and strains, or when there is pain when the joints are moved or the muscle is stretched.
Benefits of stretching include helping to increase range of motion, promotes circulation, reduces muscle tension and soreness, and prepares you for more strenuous exercise. These exercises and pre-workout tips can prepare you for a day out in nature. A day that you can easily enjoy with the confidence of knowing that you are totally prepared for a healthy dose of adventure, whether it’s a park path or a mountain trail up to a photo worthy view.
So put your best boots on and find your path!