It is officially spring! It is time to get out there and get moving with some spring hiking and trail running, but let’s do this the smart way.
The biggest error we see happen is when patients get excited and want to go summit Pisgah or Spencer’s Butte, but forget that they have been hibernating for the last 4-5 months due to winter weather. Transitioning back into exercise (or yard work, for that matter) is the key!
Spring Hiking & Trail Running Tips
- Difficulty: Start with flat, traversing hikes to retrain your body to be on uneven surfaces before you add the incline. Some examples: lower level and traversing Pisgah trails, mellow sections of ridgeline trial, Pre’s trail and/or Amazon Trail.
- Frequency: Start with short-time duration and go more times per week. Chances are you are going to fatigue pretty quickly. You are better off stopping and doing a shorter hike, but building your strength and endurance by doing that hike several times per week.
- Stretching: Make sure you are doing some stretching and strengthening exercises to get prepared for increased activity (see below for a couple of ideas)
- Hydration: it is still cooler out so we do not automatically think to bring the water. Don’t forget you will be working hard and sweating, you need to stay hydrated!
- Gear: It may be time for some new spring hiking or trail running shoes. Appropriate footwear is key for preventing injury.
Exercise Demonstration Video (Summaries Below!)
Stretching Exercises for After Your Hike or Trail Run
The hamstrings are a great muscle to stretch after hiking and/or running. The hamstring muscle attaches from your ischial tuberosities (sit bones on your pelvis) down to below your knee. The best way to isolate the hamstring is to sit up very tall through your low back to get your sit bones pointing behind you (no slumpy sitting!) and have the leg that you are stretching out straight in front of you. Some people feel a stretch just trying to get their knee straight, but if you do not, hinge forward at your hips to get a bigger stretch. Do not bend or round through your back and you should not have any pain. Hold 15-20 seconds and repeat on each leg 2 times.
The piriformis stretch is a great way to release your hip and tailbone. When it is tight, it can also press on your sciatic nerve giving you neurological symptoms down your leg. The piriformis attaches from your sacrum (tailbone) to your hip. One way to isolate this muscle is sitting and crossing your foot (of the leg you are stretching) over your other knee in a figure four stretch. You want to hold at your ankle so your hamstring and the rest of your leg can completely relax. You can also mimic this stretch laying down on your back. Hold 15-20 sec and repeat on each leg 2 times.
Strengthening and Stability Exercises You Can Do Daily
Standing Half Squat
This strengthening exercise targets your glutes (booty!) and quadriceps (front of thigh). When doing the half squat, form is the key. You want to have your feet hip/shoulder width apart, your weight in your heels, and you want to sit back like into a chair. Your shin bones should stay perpendicular (vertical) to the floor not allowing your knees to go past your toes. You want to squeeze your glutes before you come back up to direct the force through your booty. The more you concentrate your mind to the area you are working, the more isolated and stronger the contraction will be. Work up to doing 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions daily. Start with 2-3 sets of whatever number you can do without a breakdown in form; this could be 5, 8, or 10 – it does not matter. It is essential, however, to start with only what you can do and not compromise your form.
Single Leg Balancing
When thinking about heading to terrain and hills, it is important to start with working on your proprioception. These are the receptors in your joints that tell your body where you are in space. They help you with your balance when you are on uneven ground by giving your body feedback on how to correct itself so you do not fall.
The best way to work on improving balance is to WORK ON BALANCE! Start with shifting your weight onto one leg and focus on contracting several muscles including the thigh muscles (quad set), glutes, and abdominals. Try to do a light finger touch or let go entirely of the surface in front of you. Work up to doing 30 seconds to 1 minute long holds 3-5 times each leg. You can progress this by standing on an uneven surface like a folded yoga mat, towels, or if you happen to have some dense foam just laying around.
- These are the basics and where you want to start. They are meant to help you get moving and ready to think about spring hiking or hitting the trails.
- There are many wonderful and fun progressions for spring hiking that you can add when you are ready. Just to name a few: multi-directional squats/lunges, lateral skiers, monster walks, walk out and lateral planks, squat jumps, modified deadlifts etc. The list could go on forever!
- To progress balancing, you can close your eyes, move your arms, do leg movements with your non-weight bearing leg, and have a friend toss a ball to you that you have to reach for. Have some fun with it!
Do yourself a favor and get prepared to hike or trail run. We live in a beautiful community with a tremendous amount of outdoor activity to be had. Enjoy!
Megan, Diane, and Chelsea