The moment we have all been waiting for, Spring! is right around the corner, and that means that hiking season will soon be upon us!
There are numerous benefits to hiking. Studies have shown that time spent in nature decreases stress levels and can improve overall health (1). Hiking provides an opportunity to enjoy nature and beautiful scenery. Hiking while traveling can add to your experience of the destination, often offering a perspective that would be otherwise impossible to reach. Perhaps the best part, is that hiking is a fun way to get some exercise and improve your fitness!
As most of the US will be entering prime hiking conditions over the next few months, now is the perfect time to start preparing for hiking by getting yourself in shape! As enjoyable as hiking can be, it is hard to make the most of it when you are struggling because you are not adequately prepared. Don’t miss out on the delight of a day in nature with fantastic views because your legs are burning and you can’t catch your breath! Doing the work now means you won’t have to skip a terrific trail because you realize you aren’t quite up for the challenge.
Working to get in shape ahead of time will keep you safer and happier so you are prepared for whatever the trail has to throw at you. You will be more likely to finish the trail in your anticipated amount of time so that you avoid finding yourself stuck on the trail after dark or after fatigue has set in, and you will be less likely to get injured.
So, how do you get ready for hiking season? The first thing I recommend is to work on your cardiovascular endurance. Anything to get the heart pumping and get you out of breath will help improve your aerobic fitness (2). This might include running or walking, especially if you can work some hills, stairs, or uneven terrain into your route. If you have access to a gym, the stairmill is a great way to build your climbing endurance!
Next, I recommend that you work on some weight training. Hiking is a full body activity. Not only should you prepare your legs for the ascents and descents, but you will also want to focus on your core and upper body to help with stabilizing on uneven terrain and carrying your pack. If you are new to weight training, pick a manageable weight and start with 2-3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise. You can increase both weight and reps as you gain fitness in order to help your muscles adapt to working for an extended period of time. As you progress, a great way to train your muscles to work while fatigued is to try some pyramid style workouts. Start with lighter weights and lots of reps during your first set, and then for each subsequent set, decrease the number of reps while increasing the amount of weight. Some of the best exercises to focus on include lunges, squats, step ups, pike push ups, upright rows, tricep extensions, bird dogs, and planks. Or try this workout (3) that can be done anywhere!
Finally, it is always a good idea to get some sport-specific training. Try to load up your pack and head to a nearby trail or go for a walk someplace with lots of hills. Rhode Island has some good trails to practice, but the easiest for Providence residents is to head over to Neutaconkanut Park. You can practice walking up and down the steep steps to the top, enjoy a view of the Providence skyline, then head across the street and explore some of the trails for practice on more technical terrain. All of this without even leaving the city!
Of course, you should always be safe while hiking. Make sure someone knows where you are going and your expected time on the trail. Research the trails ahead of time and do not attempt one that you are not ready for. Always carry the 10 essentials (4).
I hope you are now feeling pumped to get to work so that you can make the most of hiking this year and enjoy everything that nature has to offer! Happy trails!