Prep your body for the trails with these moves
Psyched to hit the trails this fall? Of course you are! It’s fall and the scenery is beautiful this time of year. Hiking is great exercise and a known mood-booster. It can also leave your body hurting in the morning if you’re not prepared to walk up- and downhill, and traverse over uneven ground.
Here are some simple and quick yoga and Pilates moves from industry pros that will prepare your body for hiking up mountains with ease. You'll enjoy the beautiful fall foliage without limping into the office Monday morning — you're welcome.
Pre- and post-hike stretch
Although one does not necessarily need to warm up before going on a hike, it is always a good idea to stretch the key muscles that will be engaged before any activity. There are a few simple yoga poses that will prepare the body, as well as prevent next-day soreness. Below is a sequence from Jessica Bellofatto, yoga instructor and founder of KamaDeva Yoga in East Hampton, N.Y., and creator of Yoga Athletica, a class geared specifically for lifestyle athletes that like to participate in such activities as hiking, running, cycling and paddleboarding.
Cat cow: Begin on hands and knees, with the wrists lined up under the shoulders and the knees lined up under the hips; begin to synchronize your breath with your movement. As you inhale, arch the spine (concave into the body), move the sitting bones back and apart, open the chest, lift the face and look up. As you exhale, round the back, pull the navel to the spine, curl the tailbone and release the chin to the chest. Cat cow warms up the entire spine and invites breath into the body.
Cat cow with leg variation: After several rounds of regular cat cow, on the next inhalation extend the right arm forward and the left keg back. Keep the spine neutral and gaze at the floor. Exhale and release down. Inhale and extend the left arm forward and the right leg back; exhale and release down. Repeat at least five times on each side; then hold for a few breaths. This move will strengthen your hamstrings and buttocks muscles in preparation for walking uphill.
Downward-facing dog: From the same hands and knees position, lift the hips high into the air, drop the head between the arms, straighten the legs and press the thigh bones back into the hamstrings (backs of legs). Let the buttock bones lift to the sky as the heels reach back and down into the earth. This will stretch and open the backs of your legs and the calf muscles. It will also open up the upper back and chest, inviting the breath in.
A well-balanced body
In addition to strong legs, it is often important to have balance while hiking to traverse over rocks and other obstacles. Below are Pilates exercises recommended by Julie Erickson — owner of Endurance Pilates & Yoga in Arlington, Mass., and creator of Barre Boston — to strengthen your core to improve balance for fall hikes:
Standing Pilates: Starting with your legs hip-width distance apart, lift up onto your toes so the heels are in the air. Externally rotate at the hip sockets to bring the heels together to engage all of the leg muscles from the heels up into the buttocks. Maintaining this heel-to-seat connection, lower the heels so that they graze the floor, but don't allow weight to transfer. Lift the heels up. Repeat 20 times. Turn the legs back to parallel and bring the inner thighs to touch. Lower and lift the heels 20 times. Turn the legs inward from the hips. The hips stay at the same height from the floor as the heels lower and lift and the knees come together and apart. Repeat 20 times. Repeat entire sequence three times. You guessed it: This move strengthens the calves.
Push-up sequence: Start from a standing position with your arms reaching up to the ceiling. In Pilates stance — heels together, toes a fist distance apart, heels lifted away from the floor — start to roll down the body a bone at a time, so that your spine achieves complete articulation and the hip flexors stay open until they assist the torso in reaching the mat. Walk your hands out so that the wrists are slightly behind the shoulders and the body is in a plank position. Lower the body forward and down so that the elbows are at shoulder height. Press back up to start. Walk the hands back to the feet and pause. Walk back out to the plank position and perform two push-ups. For beginners, repeat five times. Great for the core!
Arm weights sequence-lunging: Stand with legs in Pilates stance and small weights — between 5 pounds and 8 pounds — in hands. Step right leg as far out to the side as possible, and band right knee to 90 degrees, extending left leg completely and grounding through the left foot. Reach upper body forward with arms extended in line with shoulders and parallel to floor as belly scoops back in opposition. Return to start (way easier said than done!). Repeat five times on each side.
To make it to the top of the mountain, it is crucial to have strong legs. Below are poses recommended by April Martucci — yoga instructor and creator of FireDragonYoga in New York City — to strengthen and stretch your legs for hiking:
The dragon on the throne: Start with back against the wall, feet and legs hip-width distance apart. Bend your legs like you are seated in a chair, with your back flat against the wall. (Hands can rest on top of the thighs.) Tuck in your tailbone and make sure your front ribs are pulled in. Hold for 10 breaths. This can then be done in the center of the room with your arms in the air. This pose helps to stimulate the diaphragm and heart. Arthritis of the knees can be treated by regularly performing this pose. Click here for a demonstration.
Devoted dragon: Start in Vira I or Warrior I pose. Feet should be apart about 3.5 feet or one-leg's distance. Bend the front leg at 90 degrees; pivot the back foot onto the mat. Bring your arms over the head — hands apart to start — and hold for five breaths. Straighten the front leg, and interlace your hands behind the back. Inhale, arch and look up at the ceiling. Re-bend your front leg; descend torso and arms over head to the inside of the leg. Shoulders and head on the inside of the front leg; hold for five breaths. Stand up with straight legs. Switch sides and repeat. Warrior I not only develops concentration, balance and groundedness; it also improves circulation and respiration, and energizes the entire body. Click here for a demonstration.
Peaceful dragon: Start in Vira II or Warrior II pose. Start out in Warrior I pose (see above). Stretched out your arms at shoulder height to start, hold for five breaths. Straighten your front leg for one breath, then re-bend. Stretch the back arm down the back leg like going to touch the back ankle; the front arm reaches up and back overhead for a side stretch. Hold for five breaths. Switch sides and repeat. This move is therapeutic for flat feet, sciatica, backaches and osteoporosis. It will also increase the strength and flexibility of the legs, ankles and feet. Click here for a demonstration.