Be it Autumn, winter, spring or summer, hiking is a wonderful way to get fit, challenge yourself, enjoy beautiful landscapes and make new friends. Following on from last weeks’ free weights focus in our hiking series, Capital Physio’s Physiotherapist Omkar shares his tips on what machine exercises you can do to strengthen and get into top hiking form.
Climber or descender?
They say that mountains are the best levellers. Some people are better climbers whilst others are better at descending. Whatever your talent, understanding how your muscles work and how to train them will benefit your hiking strength and technique.
What muscles do hikers use?
Great climbers are often very dominant in their quadriceps but can struggle when descending mountains. These hikers may benefit from working on strengthening their hamstrings and ankle muscles. This will improve their downhill technique and injury-proof their bodies.
Some hikers are much better at descending than ascending. These people can greatly benefit from quadricep and gluteal strengthening to improve their climbing technique and speed.
Using gym machines for strength training
If you’re a member of a gym you can easily use gym machines to strengthen your muscles and prolong your hiking career. Machine resistance exercises are easy to perform, super-effective and have great strength gains. It’s good to start strength training on machines before progressing onto using free weights. This will allow you to hone your technique, build strength and confidence.
Another advantage of using gym machines is that they allow muscle isolation, letting you focus on targeting and strengthening the correct muscle groups for you. There is also a lower risk of injury as they guide you in a proper range of motion. On the other hand, machines have little effect on your deep stabilising muscles and do not replicate normal movements. A risk of this is that it may predispose you to injury.
These are my favourite exercise machines which I use to target my muscles and strengthen my hiking legs:
Leg Press machine
The Leg Press is the best lower limb strengthening exercise in the gym. It targets adductors, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and soleus.
Position yourself on the Leg Press machine and select an appropriate weight. Sit with your feet wider than shoulder width. Push firmly into the foot plate, extending your hips and knees. Slowly return to the starting position. To increase the difficulty, perform the exercise with a single leg. Repeat.
Hamstring Curl machine
Hamstring muscles are crucial for hikers when descending mountains and hills, particularly for providing control. The Hamstring Curl machine helps you to strengthen hamstrings and gastrocnemius and soleus (calf) muscles.
Position yourself on the machine with your Achilles tendon resting on the resistance pad. Contract your hamstrings and pulls your heels up. Lower your legs to the starting position with control. The movement occurs at your knee joint as your lower leg is drawn up to your hips. Repeat.
Seated Calf exercise machine
The gastrocsoleus complex is a vital group of muscles for preventing injuries when going up and down mountains and hills. The complex refers to the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (your calf) and the Achilles tendon. Seated calf raises target the soleus muscle with the gastrocnemius being the synergist.
Sit in the Calf Raise machine with your thighs under and supported by the lever pads. Place the forefoot of one of your feet on the platform with your heel extending off. Press the lever all the way up then control it down. Repeat.
Strong glutes are required for climbing and control while descending. Cable abduction is a great exercise to isolate glutes.
Stand next to the cable machine with the cable attached to one ankle. Make sure you are perpendicular to the resistance weights. Keeping your unattached hip as still and stable as possible, move your weighted leg away from the midline of your body as far as you can. Control the movement back to the starting position. Remember to keep your hips level and stable and initiate the movement from your leg. Repeat.
Quadricep Extension machine
Good quadriceps strength is vital for hikers who mainly climb mountains. No other machine targets these muscles as effectively as the Quadricep Extension machine.
Sit on the machine with the resistance pad over your shins. Extend your legs, slowly kicking the feet outwards and up. Slowly and with control, return your legs to your starting position. Control of the movement in both directions is vital.
Other gym machines
There are many other machines in the gym including the back extension machine and abductor and adductor toning machines. I love to use these to avoid boredom and to spice up my workout.
In my final blog of this series, I’ll be sharing my five favourite yoga stretches for hikers.
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