If you have a personal hiking challenge or are trying to accomplish your fitness resolutions, you need to keep yourself fit and free of injury to be able to complete your objective. Or, at the very least, know of these quick and surprisingly simple adjustments that can make a significant difference in your treks. The amazing thing is that you can do these things right here and right now and feel the difference right away.
All the Right Angles and Alignments
You should be trekking upright, not hunched down and looking down at your feet while trudging along. Your spine must be aligned to your neck and your chin is up and not digging into your throat. Your eyes must be fixed at some point in the horizon, not a few feet away from where you are. It’s easy to get tired and lose your posture when your field of vision only includes the surrounding area. Keep looking far ahead as you hike and try not to think about how far it is but rather that you will reach your destination in good time.
Also, when you’re walking on level/uneven ground or hiking uphill, try to keep your knees bending at right angles or without letting them go beyond the tips of your shoes (except when you’re navigating difficult or tricky passages and bridges).
If you must take a big step, squat slightly and engage (constrict or harden) your abdominal muscles before making the move so your upper legs and core can help support you in executing the act.
Otherwise, try and take short strides, especially when walking on uneven, muddy, or slippery ground, so that you avoid falling over and keep to your center of gravity, which helps you conserve energy and avoid premature strain. Swing your arms (positioned at right angles) as you walk to help your body propel itself forward more efficiently.
Watch Your Step
When you’re walking uphill, use your glutes to propel your body up the incline as your glutes are bigger in mass than your calves. Do this by straightening your supporting leg, activating your glutes, and pushing yourself up and forward with it while the other leg is in mid-stride.
Also, do short strides so each step you make are under your torso, which helps you avoid straining your ankles and knees. It’s essential to keep your steps close to your body to avoid overexertion. By the way, don’t lean forward too much when you’re walking uphill – just a slight lean is enough. The point is to keep your body aligned so that your legs and back won’t be out of balance or strained.
Downhill, you will have to bend your knees a bit more than usual to lessen the shock to your joints from the impact of your steps. You will still need to use short strides to keep the impact low. Land on your heel, especially when the terrain is slippery or loose, to get a good footing and then roll your foot forward to transfer the weight to your forefoot to defuse the impact and lessen the shock to your knees and hips.
See to it that your feet, while walking, are pointed forwards and aligned to your knees and hips. Your feet or knees should not be at an outward or inward angle as you walk to prevent strain. If you must walk sideways, see to it that your hips, knees and feet are facing in the same direction as you side-step.
Dig Into Your Core
Don’t rely solely on your lower legs and arms – you need to support them with your core to avoid feeling muscle soreness early in the hike or getting injured. Whatever you do, even as you pick something up or lean into your trekking pole for support as you ascend or descend, engage your core. It means you should constrict or purposely harden your abdominal muscles at the height of the effort and feel the exertion/strain right in your abs instead of your limbs.
For movements that require much effort, throw in the lower back muscles and glutes for good measure. Engage them and feel the effort right in your glutes and lower back muscles (on top of the abs) so get extra support. Your legs and arms should pretty much only serve as the executors of the action, not the main support. It’s like they’re just the wheels turning and getting you from point A to B and your core is the engine – the part that is working harder than the others.
We’ve talked about how efficient breathing can improve your hiking experience and how you can practice that. Breathing from the belly can help you avoid gasping too much or getting out of breath early in the hike (and fool you into thinking you’re already tired when you’re simply just out of breath).
Mind Over Matter
If you hike with a positive mindset, minor setbacks won’t dampen your experience out on the trail. The landscape will seem more cheery and inspiring to you and you’re more likely to finish the trip with a smile. You may acknowledge that you are exhausted or that the weather is rather dreary, but quickly countering them with optimistic thoughts (e.g. I just need to rest every now and then, I could use a bit of a snack or water, I will enjoy what scenery is out there) will help you focus on the positives of the whole experience and make the whole effort worthwhile.
In case you experience minor bumps and aches along the way, try not to dwell on the pain but think towards healing. For example, if you accidentally bumped a toe into a rock, take short, quick breaths with an open mouth, imagining the pain going away with every exhale, and touch the aching toe (imagine also that your body’s energy and heat is helping heal the aching feeling).
Think about the toe getting well and the pain going away as you touch it and let the thoughts of pain slip away from your mind. Keep breathing in and out as you do so until the ache subsides. You can check the bump to make sure there’s no wound, but always set your mind on the positive side of things.
Have you tried any of these tips? Let us know whether they work for you!