Hiking is a full-body workout, requiring fitness, endurance, balance, stability, flexibility and strength. Whether you're traversing steep slopes, scrambling over large boulders or negotiating uneven terrain, these exercises can help prepare your body, so you can lower your risk of injury and safely enjoy the outdoors.
Why they work: One of the most functional exercise hikers can do, basic or weighted step-ups mimic climbing or walking up steep terrain. They also help you develop stronger quadriceps and glutes, so you can easily step up and push off one leg.
How to do them: Stand in front of a box or bench that's high enough so your thigh will be parallel to the floor. Step up onto the box, while driving your weight into your heel. Straighten your leg, so you are standing tall; then, slowly lower yourself back to the start position. Complete 10 to 12 reps on one leg and then switch to the other until you have finished 2 to 3 sets. Once you master the activity and feel you have good strength and balance, consider holding weighted dumbbells in each hand to make your step-ups more challenging.
Why they work: It's quite common for hikers to develop painful hip and knee injuries from all the shock to their joints. If you have weak hamstrings and glutes, or an imbalance where your quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings and glutes, you are more likely to develop issues. Single-leg glute bridges can help correct asymmetries or basic weakness, so your hamstrings, glutes and lower back can work in concert to keep you balanced and protect your hips and knees while hiking.
How to do them: Lie down on your back and put your arms down vertically to your sides with your palms flat against the floor. Bend your knees, bringing your feet closer to your glutes. Place your feet flat against the floor and raise one leg, extending it straight out. If this is too challenging, you can also bring the knee closer toward your chest. Push down hard through the heel of your planted foot and your palms, while bringing your hips up off the floor. Tighten your glutes when you reach the top; then, lower yourself and repeat. Complete 10 to 12 reps on one side and then switch to the other leg. Complete two to three sets.
Why they work: This exercise is also great for evening out asymmetries and strengthening the posterior chain. It's also ideal for enhancing posture, balance, mobility and stability, which is all important when traversing rugged terrain.
How to do them: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand on one foot. Push your hips back and lower your upper body, so your other leg raises behind you. Continue bending forward until your lower back begins to lose its arch. Hold your position for two seconds and then extend through your hips to rise, squeezing your glutes until you are standing straight again. Complete 6 to 8 reps on one side and then switch to the other leg. Perform only two to three total sets.
While it's important for hikers to have a strong back, legs and core; none of this will matter much if you are winded after the first 50 yards. Be sure to engage in regular cardiovascular exercise to improve your endurance and reduce your risk of a cardiac event. This is especially important if you plan to hike at altitude, since lower oxygen levels can worsen fatigue.
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