Whether you are going on local nature walks at Turkey Run or Teddy Roosevelt Island or down by the Navy Yard and Georgetown waterfronts, day hikes at Sky Meadows, section hikes in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, or through hikes in the Shenadoahs, the Washington, DC region has great options for spending more time out in nature. With some of the nations best National and State parks located in nearby Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, an enjoyable time in nature is just a short drive from the city. The outdoors offers opportunities to get good exercise and enjoy social distancing during a hike. The outdoors offers opportunities to get good exercise and enjoy social distancing during a hike.
Hiking is excellent exercise because it strengthens your lower body and core, provides excellent cardio, allows you to choose the difficulty of the trail, and affords you the opportunity to set your own effort level in hiking as fast or slowly as you wish. Hiking challenges your cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance, and coordination and this helps to reduce your risk of injury and improve your ability in all exercise, and helps us take on more difficult hikes as we improve.
Hiking fitness includes strength, stability, and endurance. The following routine can be added to your workouts to help build you up as a hiker and should be deployed together using a 3-5 sets, 10-20 repetitions, depending on your current fitness level and as outlined below:
- Strength is what allows your legs to carry your weight. It’s what permits you to step your whole body up on a rock, or down from a rock without your legs crumpling in the process. Two exercises for building strength for hikers are step ups and step downs.
- Step ups: on either a stool or step, with or without weights, step ups mimic similar movements performed while ascending hiking trails. It strengthens the quads and glutes, which straighten out your legs and are critical to improving your hiking capacity. I personally perform these holding dumbbells at my side and perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps on each leg. Be sure your knee tracks over your toes and doesn’t wobble or shake, and that you don’t use your back foot to help propel you up onto the step.
- Step downs: on either a stool or step, with or without weights, step downs mimic movements performed while descending a hiking trail. While it may not seem as important, it is vital to strengthen your muscles that allow you to walk downhill or step down from a rock. Not controlling your descent will increase the amount of compression and stress on the joints themselves, potentially causing injury plus joint/muscle soreness. To perform this exercise, start by standing on top of a stool/step, and slowly tap your heel down on the floor or step in front of you. Make sure your knee is tracking right over your toes and it isn’t wobbling. This can be performed with or without weights, perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions per leg.
- Stability is your body’s ability to control the amount of motion in your joints. It’s what stops you from rolling your ankle or twisting your knee every time you step on a root or loose rock. My favorite way to develop hiking stability is with single leg deadlifts
- Single leg deadlift to high knee: This is a great lower extremity exercise to help improve strength but is more geared towards stability and balance of the ankle and knee. Keeping your back straight, hip hinge and keep one leg on the ground with the other one extending behind you, planted leg will have a small knee bend. Reach for the toe with the opposite arm to the one planted on the ground. Slowly stand back up and bring the elevated leg into a high knee. I suggest doing 2-3 sets of 10 reps per leg.
- Endurance is what allows us to use our muscles over and over without getting tired. If you have good muscular endurance and cardio, you can continue to step up and reach higher elevations without getting tired. Jumping alternating split squats are a great way to improve your endurance.
- Jumping alternating split squats: To improve your body’s ability to lift your weight over and over, this is a great way to improve your power, stamina, and muscular or cardiovascular endurance. Start in a split squat with your trailing knee within 6 inches from the ground, and perform a small jump and switch your legs so the other leg is now leading, and continue alternating. Perform this for 30 seconds straight, with 30 seconds to 1 minute break in between sets. these holding dumbbells at my side and perform 3 sets of 10-20 reps on each leg. Be sure your knee tracks over your toes and doesn’t wobble or shake, and that you don’t use your back foot to help propel you up onto the step.
By working on your strength, balance and endurance, you can prepare yourself for increased hiking distances. We started with short nature walks, then progressed all the way to lengthy day hikes. If you are considering a through hike, doing these preparatory exercises allow you to really enjoy your time out on the trail and avoid injury.
For perspective on building up your routine, consider reading “How to increase your running capacity and avoid injury” blog entry because the perspective of ramping up activity is connected to building strength, balance and endurance.
If you would like more advice or are experiencing any problems, please give us a call or schedule an appointment through this website. Our therapists in downtown Washington, DC at either our Farragut Square offices or Navy Yard office near Capitol Hill can help you get through nagging aches and pains as you increase your training. We also offer online appointments which you can do from the comfort of your home, or a Wayside on your through hike!