Hiking The Burroughs with Mt Rainer in background.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on exercises. However, being a Doctor of Chiropractic for 37 years with an emphasis in Sports Injuries has given me some knowledge in this area. I have treated athletes from the youth to the professional level. Being involved with their training, evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of their injuries, has given me perspective on what is needed to participate in a variety of activities. So hopefully, this post will be helpfull for you.
I’m to busy to exercise. I don’t belong to a gym. I don’t know what to do. I don’t like running or lifting weights.
I heard these multiple times during the day in my practice. My answer was “You’re wrong. You just don’t realize that you do”. Yes, you maybe wrong and don’t realize it also. It’s about perspective and recognizing the opportunities available to you.
Example 1: You are talking on the telephone. Stand up and stretch. Or do some lunges, squats. walk in place, do anything except just sit or stand there.
Example 2: How about when you are picking things up off the floor? Instead of just bending over to pick them up, do a lunge or squat to pick them up. How about picking it up from the downward dog position?
Example 3: You are stopped at a stop light or stuck in traffic. Do wrist, arm, shoulder and neck exercises. Who cares what the other people think watching you. This is for your benefit not theirs. Plus, you’ll probably never see them again.
The point is: The opportunities are always there, you just have to recognize and take advantage of them.
So where to start?
The first thing to think about is, what do I like to do. If you don’t like a particular activity such as running or lifting weights, you won’t stay with your exercise program. So try different activities until you find several that you like to do. Then build your exercise routine around them. You greatly increase your odds of staying with the program, enjoying it and getting results.
Secondly, your exercise program needs to include: Stretching and flexibility, strength , aerobic and activity specific exercises. Each one of these areas are important in achieving good results and more importantly injury prevention.
Third, BALANCE. Why did I capitalize and make it bold? It is the key to exercise in many ways.
- Fact: the most common mechanism of injury in the elderly population is falls as result of loss of balance.
- Fact: when walking/hiking the majority of your time is spent on one leg and in contact with the ground only on an area as large as your foot. That means all of your body weight and whatever you are carrying is balanced on the small area of your foot.
- Fact: without having good balance, you need to use the muscles of movement to support yourself because the support muscles are not strong enough. This leads to inefficient activity and increased likelihood of injury.
- Fact: most people are imbalanced front to back and side to side. Due to our activity, most people are stronger in the front of their body and weaker in the back of their body. Also, they are stronger on their dominant side and weaker on their non-dominant side. This leads to weak support and balance muscles. Look at yourself and others. Are your/their shoulders rounded, head forward, low back sunk in and stomach protruding out, maybe their knees are slightly bent. These are all signs of muscle imbalance and weakness.
There are many ways to do exercises and resources such as books, online programs, personal trainers, gyms. One resource that I found very helpful is Chase Mountain on YouTube. He is a hiker and has many exercises which are relevant to hiking. Also, I liked using the YMCA because it offered a variety of classes, had a swimming pool, the usual weights and running programs, had professional personal trainers available and it was relatively inexpensive. Also, there was no contract which meant I could start and stop my membership anytime. I used the facility primarily in the winter months and didn’t have to pay for the off months.
So remember, the key as I stated earlier is to do what you like and incorporate balance, stretch, strength, aerobic and sport specific exercises in your routine. Also, if you are just starting an exercise program or have been exercising for awhile Go Slow. Besides not enjoying what you are doing, the second most common reason people stop exercising is due to injury. These injuries are usually due to over use. Doing to much to soon leads to overuse injuries. This is especially true for people just starting an exercise program. They don’t let the body adapt and recover before advancing their exercise program. You need rest days and time for the body to build the muscles before increasing the difficulty and time you are exercising. No one can run a marathon without sufficient training (it is recommended at least 1 year to train for a marathon). So don’t be fooled by quick results initially . Give yourself time and avoid injury.
Where are the exercises…
Hopefully, you are still with me. As I stated earlier, there are many resources for acquiring information on exercises. I’m going to give you some ideas on how to start and where to go. Then you can develop your own program which is best for you.
In my opinion, the very first thing everyone should start with is Balance exercises. This is the key to giving proper support to the body. The balance I’m referring to is standing on one leg. The goal is to be able to stand on one leg for 1-2 minutes without falling over or putting the other foot down. Ideally, you want to be able to stand erect with very little swaying, have the arms and the other leg close to your body. Once you can achieve this, you can make it hard by adding weights to one side of the body. Or slightly bend the knee and maintain your balance. Standing on a soft surface will make this harder as will balance boards, etc. Remember, start out slow and gradually work up to your goal. This is a great exercise that can be done while talking on the phone, making a meal, doing dishes, standing in an elevator/escalator/in line, anywhere. Just incorporate it into your daily routine. In other words, you have to change you perspective about not having enough time. Think about ways to add exercise into your regular life.
Core Muscles: The major muscles of your core include your rectus and transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae and multifidus (muscles along the spine), diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles. Your minor core muscles include your lats, traps, and (to the surprise of many people) your glutes. The reason the core muscles are so important is that the core is the center of gravity. Everything you do is focused in to and out of this region (pelvis). Without a strong core, you greatly decrease the efficiency of all the other muscles of the body and make activity much harder even balance. A strong core is as equally important as good balance. There are many ways to do core exercises. So do your research and find what is best for you. Side note: Kegel Exercises are one of the best for strengthening the pelvic floor.
General conditioning. This is often forgotten about by most people. Since this is about hiking, I’ll use hiking as the example. Many of you will think “I’m going to do a multi-day, section hike or thru-hike, so I’ll just start hiking and build my strength from there”. That’s great and I believe you should incorporate that into your exercise program. But what about the neck, arms, back, lungs and every other part of the body? This is another part of balance. Remember I said that most people are imbalanced front to back and side to side. This is where general conditioning is important. Think about carrying a backpack or using trekking poles. Climbing up and down hill or mountains. You need all of these muscles to be strong, not just your legs.
Muscles to focus on to improve your balance from front to back and side to side (list is not completely inclusive but will get you started).
- Muscles of the back of the neck and spine: Trapezius, Scalene’s, Levator Scapulae, Erector spinae and multifidi, Lats.
- Muscles of the arm and shoulder: Triceps, Trapezius, Lats, Rhomboids, Rotator cuff.
- Core Muscles
- Hip and thigh: Gluteus Maximus and Medius, Adductors of the hip, Tensor Fasciae Latae (Iliotibial band), Hamstrings.
- Knee: Quadriceps, Hamstring, Gastroc-soleus.
- Ankle: Dorsi Flexors of the ankle, foot and toes, Gastroc-soleus/Achilles tendon.
- Foot: Plantar muscles (supports the arches of the foot).
- Lungs: From a functional point of view, there are three groups of respiratory muscles: the diaphragm, the rib cage muscles and the abdominal muscles. Each group acts on the chest wall and its compartments, i.e. the lung-apposed rib cage, the diaphragm-apposed rib cage and the abdomen.
Use your resources to find the best exercises for you. Many of the exercises especially breathing exercise can be incorporated in your daily routine.
What about sport specific exercises for hiking?
No, I didn’t forget about those. We actually have incorporated them into our program. However, I will give you a list of these muscles and the reason why they are important in hiking.
- Foot: Plantar muscles. Involved in Plantar Fasciitis a common injury for hikers
- Ankle, foot, toes: Dorsi Flexors. Involved in shin splints.
- Knee: Hamstring, Quadriceps, and Gastroc-soleus. Knee stability for walking up and down hills/mountains.
- Hip: Gluteus Medius, Holds the pelvis stable when you take a step. Gluteus Maximus. Pelvic and hip stabilizer.
- Core muscles: already explained
- Back muscles: Listed above. Supports the spine and helps with balance.
- Shoulder and arm: Rhomhoids, lats and traps. Stabilizes the shoulder blade, helps with arm and shoulder movement. Triceps. Used extensively with trekking poles.
Side Note: Besides Plantar fasciitis and shin splints, other common injuries for hikers are tendonitis (overuse injury), strains (pulled muscles), strains (pulled ligaments), blisters (caused by the rubbing of the upper and middle skin layer together over time), slips (causes sprains and strains), and falls (a major reason for falls is weak core and balance muscles). Many of the injuries can be prevented by properly preparing the body through a good training exercise program.
Hopefully, this helps give you a starting place to begin exercising and a reason for having the correct exercise program. Thanks for following my blog.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
This is such an outstanding post – thank you!!