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Hiking season is upon us! Most trails are uneven and have at least some elevation gain, so even the easiest hiking requires balance and strength to avoid injury. Two of the most common hiking injuries are ankle rolling and ankle sprains. If you’re out of shape or just haven’t been active for a while, start with some basic exercises to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.

Start with the Basics

  1. Planks: Building your core strength will help you keep your balance on uneven surfaces.
  2. Squats and lunges: Keep your back straight and take each squat and lunge slowly to strengthen your core muscles.
  3. Push-ups: Good upper body strength (especially in your back) will serve you well on long trips where you need to carry a heavier pack.
  4. Cardio: Getting this is as easy as walking on a trail. (City-dweller? Hitting the treadmill or stationary bike at your local gym works too.) Whichever you choose, make sure to get your heart rate up. This will help build your lung capacity so you can hike longer.
  5. Step-ups: Before a backpacking trip, weight your pack (use 20 lbs. to start) and step up onto a park bench 16 to 18 inches high. Add 5 pounds a week until your pack is as heavy as it will be on your hike.

How to Avoid “Hiker’s Knee” 

  • Exercise during the week to build up your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings. Brisk walking, either outside or on a treadmill, is good for this. Riding a bike also targets these muscles.
  • Do single leg balance exercises to build ankle and hip stability.
  • Use trekking poles to help reduce the impact on your knees.

Basic 9-Week Early Season Training Program

Building a good strength base early in the season is key. As you need more endurance, you can easily trade short-burst power for long-burn performance. Think of your muscles as a savings account for fitness. As you move from segment to segment, build on the fitness and strength gains you’ve made.

  1. Weeks 1-3: Strength-training 3 days per week, 1 hour/session.
  2. Weeks 4-6: Add one endurance workout every week for 45 minutes at moderate intensity.
  3. Weeks 7-9: Increase the intensity of your weekly endurance workouts to 1.5 to 2 hours and add 1 day of high-intensity exercise with high output but less weight (e.g. speed hiking).

Written by Taya Skarda, PT, DPT, CSCS, COMT

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