Hiking is a great activity that you can do throughout your entire life. If you can walk, you can hike. As we age, not only have we developed significant muscular strengths in areas where we excel, but we have also developed muscular weaknesses from years of ignoring certain components of movement. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link. To enjoy the most out of your hiking and backpacking adventures and to reduce your risk of injuries, you need to have a balance in all areas of fitness. Here are the 5 components of fitness and exercises to get you ready for hiking over 40:
1. Use a Foam Roller for Flexibility
Good flexibility gives your joints and muscles the freedom of movement to bend, extend, twist and reach. Static stretches are great for after a workout, but you can also do foam roller exercises at the start or at the end of any workout.
Foam Roller Rules:
- Roll a couple of inches forward and back at a time, working your way up or down a muscle.
- Roll slowly and focus on your breath.
- Breathe into tender spots.
- If your breathing gets shallow, you are probably not letting your muscle relax enough or you are pressing into the muscle too hard.
Hikers should focus on the calves (back of lower leg), piriformis (center of your butt), latissimus dorsi (mid-back) and pectorals (chest).
2. Do Cardiovascular Activity
Build a base for heart healthy activity 3-5 times per week. When you can’t get on the trails, you should walk (or jog), climb stairs, swim, bike, etc. Lower impact activities are easier on your joints, but lower impact doesn’t necessarily mean lower intensity. You should always be able to say 4 words without catching your breath, but if you can say more than 10 words— pick up the pace!
3. Build Muscular Strength and Endurance
When you hike, you are repeating big muscle movement patterns. So, you need to train your muscle endurance.
Do 1 to 3 sets of these exercises below:
-Squats- (Modified or Full)
Targets hips, glutes and thighs.
- Stand tall with feet hip width.
- Sit back as far as you can, but keep weight on your heels.
- Your chest is open and shoulders retracted and depressed.
- Slowly return to standing. Perform 8-15 repetitions.
- If your knees hurt, modify this by only going a quarter of the way down. You’ll need to be able to get up from a seated position for your entire life, so do this exercise!
- If you can perform full squats easily, perform one leg squats by lifting one foot an inch off the floor.
-Tubing Back Rows-
Targets mid-back and core.
- Anchor tubing about chest level.
- Start with tension on your tubing and row your arms back.
- Attempt to pinch your shoulder blades together without shrugging your shoulders.
- Slowly release back to the starting position. Perform 8-15 reps.
- For an added core challenge (and ankle, knee, hip stabilization), stand on one leg.
-Tubing Chest Presses-
Targets chest and core.
- Anchor tubing about chest level and place tubing under your arms.
- Start with tension on your tubing and press your arms forward.
- Slowly bend your elbows again keeping your chest open throughout the motion. Perform 8-15 reps.
- For an added core challenge, stand on one leg.
-Plank- (Modified or Full)
- Elbows are directly under shoulders.
- Shoulders are retracted and depressed.
- Start your plank from your knees, breath and hold for 30 seconds (working up to a minute).
- When successful, perform planks from toes (feet wider is easier), then (when successful) try one foot lifted an inch off the floor.
4. Add in Balance Training
As you hike, you are balancing from foot to foot on an unstable surface. If you train balance at home, you’ll be ready for any roots and loose rocks that get in your way!
Try this exercise:
- Balance on one leg.
- Turn your head side to side slowly.
- Lift and lower your head slowly.
- Tilt ear to shoulder slowly.
- Added challenge: Close your eyes. If successful, close your eyes and tilt your head up towards the ceiling.
Agility is not just for young athletes. Building speed, quickness and coordination is important for any activity you do. Because of this, they’ve even started incorporating agility training in senior fitness classes.
Try this exercise:
- Stand with your feet together.
- Place two pieces of tape on the floor just outside of you feet.
- Now take your feet outside of the tape and inside the tape – out, out, in, in – or right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.
- Start slow and speed up as you get the pattern down.
Do 20-30 seconds leading with your right foot, then lead with your left foot.