Cross Training and Post-Hike Care Routine for Hikers
Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares her favorite cross training exercises, stretches, and tips for staying strong, healthy, and injury free.
Over the years there has been more and more research claiming what the “best” way to care for our bodies are. Now I’m no scientist, but I am a rock climber, backpacker, and professional modern dancer—so I’ve had some experience with keeping my mind and body ready to perform. Hikers and backpackers put their bodies through quite a bit of hard work, from steep uphill battles to rocky terrain and scrambling. Staying strong is important to avoid injuries that may present us from continuing on. As people who participate in an athletic activity, aka hiking, it is important for us to keep our bodies and minds safe and healthy.
PSA: This is what simply has worked for me. You know how to care for your body best—listen to it and figure out what makes you feel strong and healthy.
PSA 2.0: “Healthy” is different for everyone—what might be my “healthy” isn’t necessarily yours. There is no need to compare and judge, but rather listen to ourselves and, as my favorite camp counselor once told me, “rock what you got.”
I truly believe that one of the best ways to prepare for those hard hikes is simply to hike a lot. However, cross-training is a great way to stay well-rounded and strengthen other muscles that will help stabilize and prevent injury (and help with those steep climbs that we all lose our breath on).
I split my cross-training into endurance and strength. Endurance training for me consists of high intensity interval training (HIIT), or low intensity steady state (LISS) of cardio like running or cycling. I’ve recently started trail running as well (hit me up with tips for beginner trail runners). I definitely do not recommend hitting the treadmill for really only one reason—it’s super frickin’ boring. As someone who gets bored easily, I need a constant change of scenery and terrain. I recommend doing a few days of high intensity alternated with days of low intensity cardio.
HIIT training is great because it often is shorter in time, adds stress to the body which is great for all around strengthening, and I always end up feeling exhausted. The intense but short bursts motivate me to push 110% of my effort. LISS training on the other hand, remains at a steady pace with a lot lower intensity. It is great for those working on keeping a steady endurance level. I personally am not great at this, so it’s something I’ve been trying to include more into my training. If you’re not into running, other great forms of LISS training are cycling or swimming.
Strength training is so important for hikers! Using body weight or additional weights not only creates muscle, but helps to stabilize our joints to prevent injury. I try to include some light dumbbells or a barbell into my training twice a week to prepare my body to carry my pack on my next backpacking trip. Another way to do this is to simply hike with a pack—start light and add as you feel ready. I’ve also seen a lot of people hike with weighted vests too.
If you don’t have access to weights or would rather focus on body weight, rock climbing will strengthen not only every muscle in your body but your mind! Rock climbing has helped me gain so much confidence and every time I leave the wall. I feel empowered and stronger than I had before. This is a great way to cross-train while being outside—our favorite thing!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my love for yoga. I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about yoga; it isn’t just for a good stretch. You flow through a class using your body weight to hold yourself up, in whatever position you may be in. It is a physically and mentally demanding task that really humbles you.
Stretching—the most single important thing we can do to keep our muscles, ligaments, and joints happy! Now, I just said that yoga isn’t just stretching but many flows do include or focus on stretching out your body. If you’re not sure where to start, a quick youtube search of “yoga flow for stretching” will help you out.
As a dancer, I stretch a lot. The most important thing I can say about stretching is “you don’t stretch to warm-up, you warm-up to stretch.” Read that again! I’ve seen so many people instantly start stretching your muscles before they are warm… yikes. Let me tell you why. Think of your muscles like a rubber band. If you freeze a rubber band and then try to stretch it, it will snap. If you warm up a rubber band and then stretch it, it will stretch! Magic. So again, never stretch before you warm up your body (especially in the winter time).
You may be thinking, Hannah, how do I warm up my body? Great question! Start small and slow. If you are about to head out on a hike, go really slow—like annoyingly slow that everyone wants to pass you. Once you feel a little bit warm, you can do some light and easy stretching—anything you think is important to stretch out before you really start hiking.
I like to do these things called a “body scan.” I close my eyes and visualize my body, starting from my head and going down to my toes. Whatever feels a little extra sore or tight I will give a little bit more attention to.
Now, the end of my hike ritual is crucial for me if I’m hiking a long day again the following morning. I always do this stretch routine as soon as I get to camp and before my muscles get cold (think back to the rubber band). I start with my toes and work my way up. 1. Feet: I like to massage any sore spots on my feet. Spread the toes, use your thumb down your arch, and gently rub out your achilles. You can also sit on your toes- get on your hands and knees and slowly put more weight onto your feet. This will stretch out the arches of your feet. It hurts a lot, so breathe a lot. 2. Calves: The classic calf stretch: with your hands against a tree or wall, bring one leg forward and the other behind. Bend the front leg until you feel a stretch in your back calf. 3. Quads: Standing up or against something for balance, use your right hand to grab your right foot behind you, keeping your knees together. Push your hand into your foot and foot into your hand. It is super important that your knees stay together as much as possible or you can seriously injure the ligaments around your knee. 4. Hamstrings: Hamstrings are the worst—mine are always tight regardless of how much I stretch them out. I’m constantly in a downdog position or simply hanging over my legs with my hands touching my toes. You can also open up your feet and hang over that way, swaying from side to side to stretch out your IT band as well. 5. Glutes: My favorite glute stretch is pigeon pose. One leg is bent in front of you and your other leg is straight back. Really gets the meat of the booty (warning: this pose may burn to the point of tears—breathe through it, my dudes). 6. Lower Back: Any sort of twist! Laying down and crossing a knee to one side is a great option. I also will hug both knees to my chest to relax my heart rate and my mind. 7. Upper Back and Shoulders: Hold your hands in front of your body and push them out in front. This will curve your back and you will get a nice stretch between your shoulder blades. 8. Chest: Hold your hands together behind your back and straighten your arms as much as you can. 9. Neck: Finally, I like to end with some neck tension releases. Place your right hand on the left side of your head and slowly let the pressure carry your head to the right side. Do the same on the other side.
And that is my stretching routine after every workout, dance class, climb session, and of course hike. Not only do I feel like I’m taking care of my body, but it is a great time to turn off my screens, ignore the outside world, and focus on what makes me feel good and ready for the next day. I encourage everyone to take what they like from this list and add it into your own physical practice, and ignore what doesn’t work for it. It took a while to really figure out what made me feel the best, so take the time for yourself as well. Our bodies are puzzles but once we understand them we can fuel them and care for them properly.
I’m also a huge fan of carrying a small tennis ball or foam roller around and rolling out any knots or muscles that need extra love on any given day. After a long backpacking trip, I will always spend an hour at least rolling out my entire body with a lacrosse ball or my handy dandy foam roller. Icing injuries, heating muscles, and lots of natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric are also a part of my regimen. Drink loads of water, eat well, and as always, stay hardcore. Hit me up with any of your favorite cross training tips, stretches, and anything you do to stay strong, healthy, and injury free.