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Train for Spring Hiking

It’s not too early to begin getting your body ready for a hike in May. Generally, three months are required to build up to an “event,” like a big hike or race or match, but more time means you can spread out and slow down the training—a good thing, especially for beginners.

So make a plan for yourself. Start now. Whatever kind of training you decide to do, block out time for it on your calendar, like an appointment. Putting something on the calendar and saving the time for it is the surest way to make it happen.

For hiking, you need strength—particularly in your legs—and breath. Going up the mountain will work your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs); coming down will test your quadriceps muscles, Picture grey and orange of muscles of quads in bodythe four sets of long muscles in your thighs, and your knees. Having a strong core, i.e., muscles in your abdomen and back, helps you carry the weight of your pack.

Cardio Training

There are lots of ways to build up your ability to breathe when being active. You can bicycle, run, walk fast, climb stairs, use a Nordic Track machine, walk on a treadmill with a steep incline, or wor

k out on the elliptical machine. What works best for me has been going up and down long sets of actual stairs, like in the subway or in a stadium. Overall, I’d say that’s the best training for a hike I’ve found.

In the last few years, however, due to knee injuries and my knee caps wearing down, I’ve decided to save that kind of wear-and-tear for actual hikes. To go easier on my knees in training, I’ve turned to the elliptical machine.

Start Easy and Build Up

When I started using the Nordic Track years ago for my cardio workout, I stayed on it for three minutes only at first, got off and stretched for 30 seconds, got back on for 3 minutes, stretched for 30 seconds and was done. I built up by adding several minutes each week, still chunking the workout into time on the machine and time off for stretching. I built up to a good workout of 30-45 minutes with no breaks, three times a week. Ideally, you want to do a cardio activity for 30-60 minutes three times a week, thought it may take you quite a while to get there. Another reason to start now for that spring hike!

Overdoing the length or difficulty or a

workout can lead to injuries or so much discomfort with sore muscles that you get discouraged and quit. So don’t be impatient. Many small steps will still get you to your goal, with a lot less risk and pain. Be gentle with yourself and, most important of all, listen to what your body is telling you even if the person next to you in the gym is going twice as fast or as long as you are. Forget them! If you start to feel pain anywhere, slow down, ease up. If the pain doesn’t go away, stop and stretch. Take a five-minute break; walk around. Try again, slowly, but if the pain is still there, quit the workout altogether. Go home and ice the area and rest.

Go Backwards

Whatever you do for cardio exercise, spend some of the time doing it backward. Be safe, of course. Make sure there are no obstacles in your path and go slowly if you’re not on a machine. But be sure to do as much as you can backwards. This builds up your hamstrings, a group of three long muscles in the backs of your legs, those tight long critters that burn from the back of your ankle up to your butt when they’re not stretched out. Gluts and hamstrings orange, butt shows a lotThey help bend your knee and move your thighs, crucial actions in hiking, so you need to balance your strength building both front and back.

On the elliptical, for example, I break up my workout into chunks of time, one chunk forward, one chunk backward, another forward, another backward and so on so that by the end I’ve spent an equal amount of time going forward and backwards.

Going backwards has an added benefit: it works your proprioceptive system. Basically, this system helps us sense things inside our bodies and, for example, where our bodies are in the space around us.

Walking backwards, I find, helps me gain a better sense of when I’m about to run into something. It also has improved my balance quite a bit. Even better, if one of my knees or hips feels tight or a bit sore, walking backwards “resets” my muscles in such a way that when I turn around and walk forward again, any pain or tightness has eased.

Try it!

Strength Training

All of the things I’ve mentioned above for cardio workouts also build up your quadriceps and hamstrings. There are specific weight machines or hand weights you can use to build strength, too. If you have limited time to work on strength training, focus on your legs.

Naturally, it’s great to also build your core, or torso, strength. One way to do this is by wearing a backpack filled with water bottles or cans of food as you do your cardio training, thereby getting a two-for-one workout. The same principles I mentioned earlier apply. Start slowly! Add weight to the backpack gradually as you become comfortable and build up to what your filled backpack will weigh on the hike, a weight you determine by loading the pack up with everythi

ng you plan to take and setting it on a scale.

woman doing pilates hundred outsideIf you can, take a Pilates class. It’s the best thing I’ve found for building not only abdominal strength but back strength. I’ve got scoliosis (a curved spine) so I have to be extra-protective of my back. Nothing takes care of the back better than strong abs and a slow, gradual building of back strength. Again, don’t overdo. Take your time. Hiking is an endurance sport; you don’t need to rush through the hike, nor the training for it.

It’s the Vision Thing

If working out is not your favorite pastime, remind yourself you’re doing this so you can enjoy that first beautiful spring hike out in the woods or mountains, breathing crystalline air and surrounded by beauty. It helps to focus on the goal when you’re tired and would prefer to collapse in front of the television or sit down with a book instead of do your work out.African Am woman with silver weights

Take pride in the progress you make. Give yourself small rewards at the end of each workout, or the end of the week if you’ve done everything you planned to do. Some people set aside a dollar for every work out, building up to a massage. Others eat a piece of chocolate when they’re done or take along bath with candles. Whatever turns you on, reward yourself with it for your hard work. (Rewards also train the unconscious to expect something pleasant, so eventually going to work out becomes easier.)

In the months between now and May, you’ll become more fit in the service of getting ready to do something you’ll really enjoy. Look forward. Anticipation is half the fun. Picture yourself there on that first hike feeling strong and comfortable in the body you’ve thoughtfully prepared to have a great time.

Nancy atop mountain raising fists in air

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Get Ready for Spring Hiking

Come hike with me in the spring!

I’ll be leading a hike for beginners. Which means it’s time to think about training, since it’s never too soon to start training and making sure your gear is in good shape. So here are suggestions for any beginners—or folks who are returning to hiking after a sojourn in the office, on the couch, or doing another sport.

Boot Up

Hiking doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but it does require some paraphernalia. Check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s suggested list of stuff to bring on a day hike, or email me for my personal list. You can then apportion any needed purchases over the next several months.

Be on the watch for sales after Christmas and New Year’s!

What to buy first? Boots. They are the single most important piece of equipment for three- season hiking. (Winter hiking requires another whole set of purchases and of skills, so I’ll focus on hiking during the rest of the seasons.)

Yes, boots can be expensive. The key thing is to find ones that fit both your feet and the kind of hiking you’re likely to do. If you intend to backpack, you need taller, sturdier boots to help support the extra weight and distance. Some folks prefer leather boots, which last a long time but are heavier and hotter on the foot. Others like ones that are partly netted, providing more air to the foot and lighter to pick up and put down on all those steps one takes on a hike. If you’ll mostly day hike, you can do with lighter boots.

Two pairs high hiking boots

I have both kinds, as shown in the picture, but mostly wear the lighter ones.

Some people, even for day hiking, don’t like boots that come higher than the ankle. Me, I’m prejudiced in favor of taller boots. I think the support they give to the ankle is worth the extra weight. But if you try on lots of pairs of boots and the ones that feel the best are lower, go with them. The key is to be as comfortable as possible.

one pair low cut hiking boots

Shop in places with knowledgeable salespeople and where you can take your time. Try on a zillion pairs of boots in different sizes, shapes and materials. Definitely walk up and down the ramp, if the store provides one, so you can see if your toes get squished on the way downhill. Squished toes are bad juju. Find another boot.

Boots should offer room for your foot to swell as you hike, because it will most of the time, but not so much room that your heels rub up and down; heel rubbing is also bad juju.

Wear Boots Now

Start wearing your boots now, around your apartment, to the grocery store, on the subway. Wear them for half an hour only at first. Then gradually increase the amount of time they’re on your feet.  Here’s the first rule of enjoyable hiking: never, ever wear new, unbroken-in boots on a hike. They will hurt your feet! Enjoyable hiking is all about keeping your feet happy.

“Happy feet” means un-blistered feet. The best start to blister prevention is good socks, so make them purchase number two if you don’t already have socks made for hiking. Hiking socks provide a little cushion to weary soles, but most importantly, they wick away sweat. Sweat can cause blisters.

Three pair hiking socks

Lots of folks, including me, wear two sets of socks so that the inner sock, not your skin, rubs against the outer sock. These inner socks are called liners and are made of very thin wicking material.Two pair liner socks for hiking

For Tenderfoots

When I was in my 20s searching for heels in a shoe store once, the sales guy looked at my small, skinny feet with even narrower heels and said, “Lady, you’ve got aristocratic feet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It means you have to spend a lot more money on shoes.”

Sadly, he was right. And since my skin is tender, I have to be pro-active to prevent blisters. For most folks, you can do the double-sock thing, go hiking and all you need to do is be aware when any place on your feet or ankles feels warm, hot or rubbed. Stop. Stick a Band-Aid or piece of moleskin on that spot immediately (no moleskin if you’ve already formed a blister), and you’ll be fine.

Not me or hikers like me. I moleskin-up beforehand because I know I’ll get blisters if I don’t. I also use the rubbery kind of blister-aid things, which stick well until your feet get too damp, but come in great shapes for toes and heels, for example.

I also use anti-blister powder, which I shake into my liner socks to help prevent blistering in places I haven’t bandaged. Other times, I rub Vaseline petroleum jelly all over my feet before sticking them in the liner sock. This feels a little nasty at first, but works and is cheaper. If your feet don’t blister when you buy a new pair of shoes, you probably don’t suffer from aristocratic feet, so you may never have to go this extra step.

Mo’ Later

This post could go on forever, so I’ll be doing it in installments. Check back each week for a new topic in getting ready for the spring hiking season. Remember to contact me if you want my personal gear list, tested over ten years and 80 or so mountains.

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