If you have an uphill hike in your future, you may be worried about how your body is going to hold up over mile after mile of altitude gain. Whether you're joining friends on a mountain climb or you're taking the kids up a steep trail, there are a few things you can do to keep the experience from being a painful one. A little training, some stretching, and good planning, and you'll be leading the way on your uphill climb!
No matter what pace you do it at, uphill climbing requires hard work from your hamstrings. These powerful leg muscles work overtime when it comes to propelling you uphill. On the downhill leg, your toes and knees take more of the brunt. And if you'll be carrying a backpack, your upper body also plays a big part. Not only will you need the core muscles to carry your pack for hours, but you'll need arm and shoulder strength to get your pack on and off.
Depending on the length of the hike you're planning, you might beef up your training by adding some cardiovascular exercise to your fitness routine. This is the time to schedule that daily walk or jog, and to ramp up your activity from whatever you normally do. If your hike will be very steep, you might add some stair sets to your workout. You can do these at home or go to a facility like a stadium that has a lot of stairs for extended climbs. Alternately, many gyms have stair-step cardio machines that will help you get into climbing shape.
Add stretching to your routine. Stretching not only helps prevent injuries, it also helps tired muscles recover from a hard workout. After all, if Michael Jordan believed in stretching before and after basketball games, shouldn't you? Be sure to do toe-touch stretches that extend your hamstrings, quad stretches, and calf stretches (put your hands against the wall and extend one leg behind you, gently pressing your heel toward the floor until you feel a nice stretch).
Weight lifting will help you build new muscles. With a simple pair of dumbbells‚ or even heavy soup cans‚ you can do shoulder presses, bicep curls, triceps extensions, and one-arm rows. If you go to a gym, you can use the squat press machines to build stronger quad and hamstring muscles. At home, lunges and calf raises will help you be fit and strong. As an added bonus, each of these at-home exercises requires you to practice balance, a skill that will serve you well on the trail.
Now it's time to increase the difficulty of your daily walk or jog. If you've been jogging for twenty minutes, try alternating one day of longer jogging (building up to forty minutes) with a hilly hike while wearing a backpack. If you'll be wearing boots on your hike, wear those on your practice hikes as well. If you've been walking for your exercise, alternate longer walks with walks that include hills. You may find so invigorated by your workout that you don't want to quit when you reach the end, and that's a perfect time to turn around and do the hill one more time or to go just a little farther.
As with any workout program, the key is to keep at it. Even if you don't feel up to your full workout, make a promise to yourself that you'll at least get started. Odds are that once you get moving, you'll be more interested in keeping on until you finish. And if you find your motivation lagging, keep your goal in mind. One day in the near future, you'll be climbing up a wooded trail, heading toward gorgeous vistas and clear blue skies. You might even get above the treeline and see some amazing birds and wildlife. Keep that picture in your mind's eye and enjoy the process of getting in great shape!