Hiking stretches are needed if we want to stretch our hiking.
In my last post, I spoke about fitness, how to get your body in shape for the hiking season.
The key to making fitness work is the activity taking place 15 minutes before and after the hike, hiking stretches.
Hiking is no different than any other sport. It is essential to warm up and stretch the muscles before using them to avoid stress, cramps, and ultimately injury. Most of us forget to stretch. We are too busy anticipating the next rendezvous or breaking camp or just itchy to get on the trail. The most successful beginning is one that is warm and loose.
My friend and cohort Rupert has an attitude about beginnings. He views the preparation as the petrol (remember he is English) for the pace. And the pace is everything to efficient hiking. If you aren’t warmed up you will not keep pace and if you can’t keep pace you are not prepared for the unexpected and if you are not prepared for the unexpected you may miss the adventure. So be ready, not just to limp up some trail but to engage the unexpected and enter into the pace of discovery.
So what does it mean to be warm and loose? The warm is a secret to the loose. You hear lots of discussion about stretching before the hike but the key to hiking stretches is warm. So here is the routine to really get yourself ready for the pace.
- Take three or four minutes before your hiking stretches and do some aerobic activity. Jog around camp; do push-ups, jumping jacks, etc. The key is getting the heart rate up and the blood flowing to the muscles before you stretch.
- Stretch slowly and smoothly, not jerky and bouncy. No forced stretches!
- Control your breathing; rhythm is the key to hiking and it is the key to stretching. With each exhalation move deeper into the stretch.
- Don’t be thinking about getting gone, but concentrate on counting to reach the stretching goal. Your focus will get you ready for the fun.
Now from Robert Anderson’s excellent book on Stretching, here is where you need to go. Don’t just do it for the big hikes; make it your hiking habit. The five-point hiking stretch:
- Squat (this covers the lower back, shins, Achilles tendon) Squat with your heels 8 to 12 inches apart and toes slightly pointed out. Your knees should be over your toes and your arms hanging down in the middle. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat. If you are tending to fall over, hold onto a tree.
- Hamstrings Sitting with one leg straight out, toes pointed up and the other leg bent and facing the straight leg with both legs flat on the ground. Now bend from the hip without curling the back, keep it straight. Hold with your hands where you feel the stretch in the hamstrings. Do both legs. You want to make sure the foot of the leg being stretched is upright, not lying over. Hold each stretch for 5 to 15 seconds.
- Calf and Achilles Stretch Lean forward into a tree with your foreleg bent and your back leg straight. Make sure your toes are facing forward and you are keeping your back straight. You can rest your head against your hands. Now move your hips forward into the tree and you will stretch both your calf muscles and your Achilles tendon. An alternative is to take this position with your legs and then put your hands on the tree and slowly bend your elbows thus stretching the same muscles. Hold an easy stretch for 5 to 15 seconds and then move slightly further into a deeper stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat with both legs. Don’t overstretch.
- Quadriceps Stretch Stand on one foot. Grasp the ankle of the other leg with the opposite hand and pull the foot up to your butt. You should push forward with your knee so that the thigh stays vertical. Do both legs. Grab a tree if you are tending to fall over.
- Groin Stretch Sit on the ground. Clasp the soles of your feet together holding your toes together with your hands. Gently lean forward from your hips while you contract your abdominal muscles slightly. Initially hold for 5 to 15 seconds then increase the stretch and time as you loosen up. No jerky or bouncing movements.
Stretch by the feel of the stretch not by how far you can stretch. Start with 5-15 second intervals and move up with longer and deeper stretches.
Recovering today will make for a stronger tomorrow
One of the challenges for those of us that go on multi day adventures, backpack trips or do rotational hiking is entering into the day after. The objective is to recover at the end of each day so we are even stronger for tomorrow’s trek.
The key is to Eat, Drink and be Stretching, for tomorrow needs to be an even stronger day.
- Transition The oats are in the barn but take your time to get there. The last 5 to 10 minutes of your trek needs to be a cool down time. Like a racehorse, take the extra lap, don’t just head for the paddocks. This gives your body time to transition from activity to resting. This few minutes of lower intensity slows down all of the systems, keeps the blood from pooling in the lower extremities, and reduces the risk of fainting and cramping.
- Stretching Pack-Off time is investment time. Five minutes of stretching right after dropping your pack and after drinking down 16 ounces of water, Gaiter aid etc. can dramatically reduce soreness and cramping by restoring your muscles to their normal positions. Go through the same pre-hike routine only now you are hot so move into the stretch until you feel mild to moderate tension and then hold it for 15 to 30 seconds. This will encourage your muscles to relax to a resting state. As recommended with your warm up drills avoid bouncing in and out of your stretch.
- Rehydrate …like your capacity tomorrow depends on it. You most likely will arrive at camp or the end of the trail, mildly to moderately dehydrated. It is much easier to build up your body fluids in camp than on the trail. A good goal to achieve long-run performance is to get 16 to 24 ounces of water per hour. Try to do this for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours slowing down your intake as you get close to bedtime.
- Fill up your Reservoir You have a window of up to an hour once your pack is down when your body will maximize absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, and liquids. Your muscles are craving protein to repair muscle tissue, carbs to refuel the energy level and liquids to start replenishing muscles for the following day. A reasonable pre-dinner quick fill should include about 2 ounces of carbs for every 100 lbs. of body weight. Grab some nuts, peanut butter, beef jerky or similar protein usually ¾ of an ounce to an ounce will get your muscle systems healing along with 16 to 24 ounces of water. This routine will supercharge your recovery and minimize your muscle soreness for a long day on the trail.
- Have a Hearty Meal Go for a full meal deal within 2 hours of leaving the trail. You want to get a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats packed in before bed. Most freeze-dried or dehydrated backpacker meals will provide sufficient sustenance but check the package and don’t hesitate to have seconds to make sure you are refueled adequately for tomorrows adventures.
Planning is the key to successful hiking/backpacking, and planning includes not only packing the necessary stuff, but also incorporating a sound routine. Be prepared when you leave and prepare after each day’s hike for the adventure of tomorrow. A healthy routine of stretching, rehydration, and rebuilding your body’s systems is a key to sustainable long run hiking stamina and health.