If you are an older adventurer who wants to supplement a fitness regimen with nature and outdoor beauty, a small investment in your overall fitness will go a long way on the trail.
First, allow time for your body to prepare. Depending on your fitness level, it may take up to three months to see a significant improvement in your hiking readiness.
Begin by focusing on cardiovascular fitness. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week for people 50 and older, with at least 30-minute sessions at a time. Aerobic activities like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling will get your heart rate up.
Next, realize that while overall strength training is good, leg strength is essential for hikers because your legs will be doing the bulk of the work. If you work out in a gym, leg machines are beneficial. At home, exercises like lunges, squats, calf-raises and leg curls with ankle weights are good. To combine leg strength with aerobic training, set the treadmill to a higher incline or use a step mill to simulate climbing. Hills and steps can also help you prepare.
Don’t neglect your core. Core muscles run from the latissimus dorsi all the way down to the hamstrings. The abdominal muscles, back muscles, lumbo pelvic hip, and glutes provide balance and flexibility. Try exercises that stabilize the core, such as bridges, planks, leg raises and controlled crunches. These will also help you check your shifting weight and backpack, which leads us to my next tip regarding a strong back.
You’ll need a strong back to carry water and a backpack. Exercises for shoulders, mid and lower back are great. Exercises such as back rows, shoulder presses, lat pull-downs, and dumbbell rows are some examples. To simulate hiking, wear a backpack while walking up and down stairs.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of balance. Hiking terrain varies and changes depending on conditions and time of year. You may encounter roots, rocks, mud, uneven surfaces, and you may also need to lower your body to avoid overhanging trees and other obstacles. Prepare by balancing on one leg, find some surfaces that will strengthen your ankles, and shift your weight. There are many naturally occurring slippery and uneven challenges all around; find them and practice.
Next month I’ll discuss how to minimize going to the gym during the holidays and still stay fit and healthy.