I've never considered myself an athlete, but for the past 10 years, I have been pretty focused on physical fitness and I've been an avid hiker for the past 5 years. I also turned 40 last year, so my body is responding differently to the stress of life.
Hiking is rough on the ole body. Like many hikers, I've suffered with knee injuries, tight hamstrings and even painful IT bands. I've spent a lot of money on compression clothes, braces, and other apparatuses attempting to solve these problems. While some of these problems can be isolated injuries, there is a root cause for my pain that I had never even considered.
Now, I take full responsibility for the overuse injuries that might have involved trying to hike 20 miles a day coming straight off the couch, but after going through physical therapy, I discovered that one of my biggest problem was tight hips! This was affecting everything in my lower body and I have learned some techniques for stretching and keeping my hips more flexible.
Some of you may be suffering these same pains and injuries, so to help stay mobile, here are a few of the things that I have changed regarding my on and off trail routines.
For a long time, I would only stretch before running or some other type of cardio exercise. As I have gotten older, I have begun to stretch everyday regardless of whether I plan to work out that day. This includes stretching before and after I go hiking! These are the main target areas for me:
There is a wealth of information online about stretches. Find the ones that will work for you. I usually spend 15 minutes a day doing a simple stretching routine, just to keep the joints and muscles free.
Seems like an obvious one, but most people today don't have many opportunities to walk much. We work in offices, sit at desks and live in areas where it's not convenient to walk. I have tried to focus on taking time to walk at least 10 miles a week, outside in my neighborhood park, or even some of the local BREC trails. Developing "muscle memory" is crucial for future periods of prolonged walking, such as when I am on a multi-day hiking trip.
3. Supplements and diet
I know for me that eating right isn't always easy, especially with a toddler. When I can, I try to eat foods that are rich in Omega 3 fats like salmon and nuts. This type of fat helps with muscle health and is a natural anti-inflammatory. I also try to avoid sugar as much as possible. Sugar is the leading cause of obesity and the more weight I can keep off the better. In addition to a healthy diet, I have added supplements to help with connective tissue and muscle health plus natural anti-inflammatories. Here is a list:
Glucosamine and Chondroitin - Connective tissue
Hyaluronic Acid - Connective tissue
Tumeric - Anti-inflammatory
Whey protein - Muscle
BCAA (Branch chain amino acids) - Muscle
A good all around multivitamin
Be sure to continue taking these supplements while on a hiking trip and try to incorporate whole foods as much as possible.
I used to only focus on developing muscle mass when I would exercise, but now I am more focused on functional strength and that doesn't involve throwing around as much weight as possible. Included in this approach to exercise is using kettle-bells and body weight routines that are more about how I move than how much weight can I lift. Once again, there are plenty of online resources for finding exercise routines that are right for you.
Probably the most important thing to my physical health today is my practice of Yoga. The connection between our mental and physical health is often ignored but is very powerful. Learning to move with my breath and keep my body in a strenuous position is great exercise for me. The calming effect of focusing on only the next Yoga movement is wonderful for managing stress. The added flexibility I have gained is also very important to managing injuries while hiking day after day.
Injuries and discomfort are things that can't be avoided completely, but I have found that by following a program of diet and exercise I have been able to enjoy my hiking more and more often.