Strength and flexibility are key to keeping your body in condition, injury-free, and ready for hiking and climbing to your heart’s content. Here are Omkar’s five favourite exercises which will strengthen your feet, legs, glutes and lower back, and protect against injury.
Whether you’ve experienced an injury before, or are an aspiring hiker wanting to get in your best shape before heading to the hills, there are some easy and effective exercises you can do at home to prepare.
5 basic exercises for hikers
Before you start these exercises, a word about quality of movement. To build strength around the joints and condition your muscles correctly and efficiently, it’s essential that you move with precision and in correct alignment. Moving poorly and not completing each rep effectively can lead to injury and hinder your hiking. So, leave your ego at the door and focus on quality, rather than quantity – only build up reps and weights once you’ve mastered the basic exercise and can perform it with excellent form.
We recommend that you practise these exercises for a minimum of two weeks so that your body (your ‘muscle memory’) can learn the correct form before you begin to add in extra weights (more details below). On training days, aim to complete each exercise for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, with at least a minute’s break in between. Once you’re confident that you’ve mastered the movement, it’s time to add in the weights to up the strengthening and conditioning benefits of each exercise.
Heel raises on a step.
Mountain hiking involves a lot of climbing hills and descending, with lots of force and impact being transferred through the lower limbs. Along with the higher risk of slips and trips, ankles are a common area for injuries to occur. Heel raises are a fantastic and easy to perform exercise, which you can do pretty much anywhere. However, for the most effective movement, find a step with a handrail.
- Position yourself so that the balls of your feet and toes are on the step with the heels off the back.
- Lightly hold on to the bannister to aid your balance, if needed.
- Slowly rise up on to your toes, then lower down slower.
- Practise with both feet, then raise one leg to exercise and strengthen the supporting leg.
Hiking requires good knee and hip strength to help you climb those hills, so step-ups are a great way to condition your legs pre-hiking trip. A good range of motion in your knee and hip joints is also key, so try to vary the height of your step once you’ve mastered the basic move.
- Find a step (or use the first step on a staircase). Step onto the step with your right leg, then lower back down.
- Repeat ten times, then step up leading with your left leg.
- Increase the height of the step to make this exercise more challenging. Remember, you can lightly hold on to a bannister to aid your balance, if necessary.
The basic squat, once mastered, is a powerful exercise to strengthen your glutes and quadriceps. Start small, then squat deeper as your strength and mobility increases. Remember to engage your core muscles too to support your back as you squat.
- Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward, with your weight balanced equally between right and left feet.
- Begin to bend your knees and fold at your hips, sending your buttocks backwards as if you were to sit back on to a chair. Pause slightly.
- Push through your feet to stand back uprights. Repeat.
- Once you’ve built your strength, challenge yourself by increasing the depth of the squat or trying single leg squats.
Lunges are renowned for strengthening your quadriceps and gluteal muscles. However, you can reap the benefits of this move with a reverse lunge which avoids the potential for knee pain that you might have with a regular lunge.
- Stand tall and engage your core muscles. Take a giant step backwards with your left foot, simultaneously bending your right knee to a 90° angle, and lowering your left knee until it is also at a right angle. Push back through your left toes and return to the starting position.
- Make sure you keep your body upright and gaze going forwards throughout the movement.
- Either alternate between legs, or complete 10 reps on one leg before switching to the other side.
Bridging has a multitude of benefits, including toning and strengthening your glutes, core activation and challenging and building the strength of your back extensors, adductors and hamstrings.
- Lie on the floor with your arms long by your sides, knees bent and feet planted flat on the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes hard, engage your core and smoothly lift your hips off the ground. Take care not to lift your hips too high, causing you to hyperextend your back.
- Hold for a few seconds before lowering your body back down to the ground.
Once you’ve practised these movements for two to three weeks, it’s time to add in some weights for progressive strengthening and an extra challenge. You could add dumbbells, barbells or a rucksack filled with weights. Although it’s tempting to train hard every day, it’s essential that you also incorporate flexibility sessions, rest and recovery days in your hiking training plan. Active recovery will help to prevent burnout and injury from over-training, so that you can head off on your hiking trip primed for a great walk.
If you’re a keen hiker, I have some more blog posts coming up, including strength training for hikers in the gym using free weights and machines, yoga stretches, conditioning and foam rolling for hikers.
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