Hiking Season Has Arrived!
Tips for switching your workout to the trail
Hallelujah, what you might call “peak hiking season” has finally returned! Every September, I lament the close of summer but quickly celebrate the best time to hit the trails. If you haven’t hiked in a while, here’s the perfect window to switch up your workout once a week or so. After all, we’re poised right on the brink of: brisker, less muggy weather; the last of the longer days; the likelihood of bugs taking a chill pill; and of course, the turning of the leaves.
Naturally, it’s also a perfect season for biking, kayaking and the like (and if that’s your jam, go for it!). But hiking is just so darn accessible to most people. Most exercisers already walk as a workout. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 18% of Americans who engage in a sport or other physical activity daily, 30% opt for walking. This makes translating a workout into a hike very doable.
However, hiking does differ from a walk around the neighborhood, of course. Here are some tips to make the transition a smoother one.
Mind your joints.
If you deal with joint issues or another serious condition, always consult your physician before significantly altering your exercise routine. When headed out to the trails, remember that gorgeous, PAVED ones abound in many state & local parks. These tend to be flatter and more easily accessed from parking lots. If you’re a neighborhood walker, then these asphalt trails can truly mimic your current workout—while also affording you the beautiful experience of nature you’d get on a more rugged trail. Also, on dirt trails, I’m a huge fan of trekking poles, which have completely softened the experience for my sometimes nagging knees and ankles.
Train for the terrain.
While hiking may seem like basic walking, on more advanced trails, you’ll also find yourself climbing (perhaps even grabbing a tree now & then for support), scrambling, crouching, and controlling steep downhill treks, all while carrying a pack of some sort. To help avoid injury, be sure to especially build muscles of the legs, hips, and core in your twice weekly strength training workouts. Some excellent, basic moves to include are: lunges, squats, calf raises, glute bridges, and planks. Also work some balance moves into your routine to sharpen your sense of proprioception, which will make a huge difference as you navigate uneven terrain. Even simply standing on one foot for 30 seconds a clip will help. (I’m famous for doing this in the grocery store line.)
Gather a bit of gear.
Don’t hurtle into the woods with only t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. Hiking doesn’t require tons of stuff, but you should be sure to have a few key things before you hit the dirt trails. First, swapping tennies for true hiking shoes/boots will make an enormous difference in terms of support, traction, & stability, not to mention dryness. Long sleeves and pants will help protect you from ticks and sun exposure. Water is a must. In fact, if you are going any distance (even a short one) off road, there are some additional essentials that experienced day hikers & back packers ALWAYS bring with them: map & compass, flashlight or headlamp, a bit of food (like a granola bar), small first aid kit, matches, small multipurpose knife, sunscreen, and an extra layer of clothes. This may sound like tons of stuff, contrary to my promise above, but it’s actually a pretty compact collection, and should you become lost, you’ll thank your stars you brought it. Oh, and did I mention that carrying a pack makes for an even better workout? (That’s why I always hand mine over to the hubby!)
With a bit of preparation and planning, you can transform some of your fall workouts into sublime, little escapes. ‘Tis the season to go hiking. See you on the trails!