When people get ready to go for a run or play a sport the first thing that they generally do is stretch. However, when it comes to hiking, many people forget the importance of stretching. While hiking is a sport that consists of mostly walking, it still requires you to stretch before and after hitting the trails as a way to prevent injury and increase performance. Stretching before engaging in physical activity not only warms up and loosens the muscles, but also increases circulation, heart rate, flexibility, and overall performance. Stretching after a hike allows your body to cool down while also breaking down some of the lactic acid that has built up during the workout. This helps to prevent stiffness and muscle soreness that can occur after a workout. Here are a few of the best warm-up and cool-down exercises to do before and after a hike.
Warm-up and Stretches
Before performing any stretches you should do a quick warm-up to get your heart rate up and raise your body temperature. This warm-up can be as simple as walking a few hundred yards on flat ground while pumping or gently swinging your arms. You should do this for about five minutes.
The stretches that you perform before your hike should be dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are ones that involve movement. The purpose of this is to “wake up” the muscles by engaging them in a range of motion that does not exceed a person’s stretching abilities. Some good dynamic stretches for hikers are ones that work your hip flexors, quadriceps and thighs.
Hip Flexors: Stand on one leg with the opposite leg lifted off the ground in front of you and the knee slightly bent. In a quick and controlled motion pull your lifted leg behind you, tighten your buttocks and straighten the knee as well as the hip. Bring leg forward again and repeat this every 3 seconds. You should do this for a total of 30 seconds. Switch feet and repeat on opposite leg.
Quadriceps and Hamstrings: This is a stretch in which you are moving forward while engaging in the stretch. Start in a standing position. Step forward with your right leg while bending your left knee down into a lung position. Bring the knee close to the ground, but make sure that it does not touch the ground. When you stand up straighten the right leg and pull the left leg back gently with your left hand around the ankle, bringing the left heel to your butt. You should feel your quads stretching. Repeat this sequence but start with the left leg. Repeat this stretch 10 times
Calves: get into a sprinter’s lunge with your hands flat on the ground. This means that one leg should be extended straight outwards, and the other should be slightly bent . You should be resting on the balls of your feet. In a quick and controlled motion press the heel of the extended leg towards the ground and remain there for a second, then switch the position of the legs, extending the bent leg to the back and lowering the heels while bending the opposite leg.
You want to make sure that you stretch as soon as you finish your hike while your body is still warm. The stretches that you perform during your cool-down are static stretches, meaning that they are done while standing still and are usually held for at least 30 seconds. Keep in mind that these stretches should be performed so that you feel a moderate stretch. If you are in pain that means that you are pushing yourself too far and can actually be hurting your body instead of helping it.
Calves: Find a sturdy tree. Place both hands on the trunk of the tree and positions your legs in a slight-stride stance. Your toes should be pointed forward towards the tree. Lean into your front leg, keeping both heels on the ground. You should feel a stretch in the calf of the back leg. Hold this for 30 seconds and then switch legs and repeat.
Quadriceps: Use a tree for balance. Stand tall on one leg and grab the ankle of the opposite leg, bringing the heel towards your butt so that you feel a slight stretch in the front of your thigh. Make sure that the knee is pointed towards the ground. If you want to get a more intense stretch try tucking your butt under yourself while tightening your abs. This will create a pelvic tilt that increases the stretch.
Hamstrings: prop your leg up on a bench, rock or fallen log in front of you with the knee straight. Keep your back straight and slowly bend forward at the hips towards the extended leg. You should feel a stretch in the hamstring of the elevated leg. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite leg.