So here in Colorado our last(?) snow of the year has almost completely melted and you know what that means – the hordes will begin descending on the hillsides for any number of day hikes. Every year, countless people end up hurting themselves on what is supposed to be a stress free hike – be it a sprained ankle, Achilles tendinitis or worse.
While it’s great that people are finding their way outside and remembering that fitness can be fun, it is not good at all when these same people injure themselves and swear off fitness for the rest of the summer.
So, with this post I’ve distilled a handful of mobility drills down to (2) that I’d like you to consider. These are simple exercises to help you build a foundation and get back in shape for hiking.
Reclaim your mobility!
Odds are you have tight hips. I can say this without even meeting you or inquiring about your lifestyle because most of us with a computer/TV/desk job end up sitting a lot. Tight hip flexors and calves, and well, basically your entire posterior chain is probably pretty locked up right now. An if you’re a woman who has a penchant for heeled shoes, then the story grows even more dismal from a biomechanics perspective.
Why does this matter? Well, when you want to do anything besides sit, your body is going to want to move. The muscles will want to slide along each other, your joints need enough room to move around and even the position of your pelvis wants to be in a near ideal position.
Tight muscles in your hips have a tendency to throw a wrench into the whole operation. Case in point, your hip flexors are going to pull and rotate your pelvis anteriorly. Now you have an excessive arching in your lower back. And the lower back often has to compensate for tight hips. This can present a whole slew of issues when lifting heavy in the gym with compound lifts. Especially, the Olympic lifts made popular by Crossfit.
When you go hiking with a day pack you aren’t going to be loading your spine anywhere near what it would see in a heavy snatch, but for the deconditioned, a simple hike can be more than enough to give the back a serious workout.
While modifying your resting posture is a serious endeavor that requires some hardcore commitment, taking the first step to rehabilitate your body is easy. And since hiking season is just around the corner, let’s look at some ways you can improve your body’s ability to move over those steps, rocks and roots and turn you into a hiking machine!
The dirty dog
I started working with this particular exercise several years ago. I included it into every warm up I did before each session in the gym. At this point in my lifting career, I have some pretty impressive hip mobility that has helped me with my squats, climbing and yes, my hiking. Although as a responsible coach I can never (and certainly shouldn’t!) say one exercise and one exercise only will cure your issues, I do feel that the dirty dog is a powerful movement to practice for anyone looking to gain mobility.
Here’s the set up:
Get on all fours like you would in a yoga table top position. Now, keeping one knee bent at 90 degrees, raise it out to your side like a clam shell. Go as far as you can without your other leg and hip caving inward to compensate. Take note of how far you were able to move. Now, perform the same movement on the other side. See any difference? If you did, you need to work to equalize both sides. They may never be perfectly symmetrical, and that’s OK, but a large disparity will indicate that one leg is having to work a hell of a lot harder during your body’s locomotion than the other leg.
Your body is no different than working in a small team – nobody wants to carry the lionshare of the work. Friction ensues.
10 reps on each side should do it.
Walk on all fours
This movement is super simple. So simple that you may look at the video below and breeze over it saying, “ya, ya, walk on all fours, I got it.” But that’d be a mistake because even though this movement is something you did as a small child, it is still a useful tool to lengthen your posterior chain.
You can do this right in your living room. In fact, next time you’re headed to the kitchen to grab an apple, you’re going to commit to walking on all fours to get there, right?
Here’s what you do:
Begin as you did with the dirty dog and position yourself in table top position. Now, lift your hips such that your knees are no longer on the ground. You’re going to think that I’m merely explaining downward dog – but stay with me. Now, walk out one foot at a time lengthening your calves and hamstrings. Feel that stretch a little? OK, start walking forward slowly on all fours and try to dynamically lengthen your calves with each step. Not a lot, but just enough to keep your posterior chain working. Walk about 20 yards and then…walk backwards back to your starting point.
The other great thing happening here is that you’re putting your hips through a big range of motion (ROM). Just like if you were hiking. In fact, rotate this image of yourself walking on all fours and you’ll see an image of yourself hiking up a steep incline, right?
At the very least, spend some time before your next workout walking on all fours to warm up. I think 40 yards or so should be enough. And when you get bored with this movement, try playing around with it and exploring new movement:
These two movements will help you to ‘open up your hips.’ And perhaps most importantly, these movements will help to counteract all the sitting you’re already doing.
Mobility comes first. Then strength. Next week I’ll show you a few exercises to start building some boulder throwing – 14’er crushing strength.Here's how to get back in shape for hiking by Ryan Wagner