Injury Prevention: Prepare Your Body for Hiking

Hiker standing on mountain-top

As cooler weather approaches, many people enjoy hiking the beautiful trails of the Monadnock region. While it's a fun and dynamic way to build physical activity into your life, you should prepare for this type of exercise if you don't hike often.

David Potach, PT, SCS, CSCS, who recently published Sport Injury Prevention Anatomy, offers his basic injury prevention advice for those planning to hike.

Prepare your cardiovascular fitness

If you are not someone who regularly exercises for an hour or more at a time, going on a hike can be challenging and perhaps risky. If you plan to hike this fall, start preparing by first walking on level, predictable surfaces. There are many accessible local bike trails and easy walks. Start with 10 to 20-minute walks, then make sure you can easily walk on level ground for at least the length of the hikes you want to take.

Stabilize your joints by strengthening your muscles

Hiking on uneven or steep terrain requires strong ankles and knees. Ankles are the most frequently injured joint, and a sprain can significantly impact your life and health.

Practice these exercises frequently before planning to hike or walk on uneven trails. When you first start these movements, it's a good idea to stand close to something stable that you can lean on in case you lose your balance.

Heel raise—standing flat on the floor with bare feet, raise yourself onto your tiptoes, then back down, with slow and controlled motions. This mainly strengthens the back of your ankles.

Heel walk—from standing flat, raise your toes on both feet so you're standing only on your heels, then walk around (stay close to that stable surface for help with balance). This exercise strengthens the front of your ankles.

Simple squatsproper form is important to prevent injury. This is an excellent exercise that helps stabilize your ankles, knees, and hips.

Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes facing front. Drive your hips back as if to sit on a chair—bending at the knees and ankles while keeping your weight in your heels. Sit into a squat position while still keeping your heels and toes on the ground, chest up and shoulders back. Then, press into your heels and straighten legs to return to an upright standing position.

Improve balance for uneven terrain

Once again, stay close to something you can grab onto while working on your balance.

Single leg stand—start standing with your weight equally distributed on both legs and your hands on your hips. It will help you to look at one spot in front of you. Lift one of your legs off the floor and bend it back at the knee. Hold the position as long as you can maintain good form, up to 30 seconds. Then repeat with the other leg.

Single leg stand on an unstable surface—once you start to find the above exercise easy, try doing it on a surface with some give like a foam yoga mat or pillow. This exercise will improve your balance and strengthen all the small muscles around your ankle, knee and hip joints.

David Potach, PT, SCS, CSCS, is the former director of physical rehabilitation at Cheshire Medical Center.