“We don’t stop hiking because we grow old
– we grow old because we stop hiking”
Somewhere over the past few days I saw that great quotation – I think it was on Crory’s Outdoor and Lifestyle’s Facebook page so thanks Crory’s for that! Spot on!
I just love being able to look forward to a long, tough hike, feeling good hour after hour right to the end! It comes down to hiking fitness.
Walking and hiking’s fantastic low-impact exercise, but can we get a bit more from the time we spend on the trail? Can we increase our hiking fitness? I think so! especially for the arms, shoulders and upper body.
Here’s a few suggestions for improving hiking fitness while on the trail:
1. Shoulders and Arms
Simulate doing the butterfly or crawl swimming stroke in sync while striding. Three or four sets of 30 to 50 while on a one-hour exercise walk will make your shoulders feel as if they have done something! If you can take more, hold a smallish rock in each hand while doing that – lots of those for free on most trails! You can also use the rocks for gentle bicep exercises while walking!
2. Knees and Thigh Muscles
Strength and endurance in the knees and thigh muscles are what I find really counts on long, steep descents. We all know the ‘wobbly knee’ feeling when pushing it on descents! I have seen comments that most injuries occur on descents, another good reason to build capability in this area. My suggestion when out on exercise walks is to walk backwards up an inclining trail. Even better if you are carrying a pack. I find that gets to knee, shin and thigh muscles that don’t often get worked – those used during steep descents. Try it for 100 strides on a smooth trail with a good incline and you will see what I mean! But please make sure the trail is smooth as it would be easy to stumble and fall backwards – not a good idea, so please be careful and avoid that! Another big benefit – the view behind is just as beautiful as the view ahead, and we don’t often assimilate that perspective! A set of 3 or 4 of those on your one-hour exercise walk should do! I find it great and I can usually comfortably and safely outstrip my hiking companions on descents.
3. Walking Poles – Shoulders and Upper Body
They are just brilliant when used in a sync’d and coordinated way with one’s normal stride. I find them particularly useful for getting the arms, shoulders and upper body very gainfully involved in steep climbs – great exercise for those body parts and taking a lot of pressure off the legs and knees by sharing the workload. It becomes a bit like ‘paddling a canoe’ uphill or climbing a ladder with the help of arms and legs. Way to go! and really translates into being able to tackle more challenging, longer hikes much easier!