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How-To: Conditioning For Spring Hikes

Just about anybody can get out and hike, but it’s more fun if there’s a spring in your step and easy rhythm to your breathing. Whether you are planning on an after-work jaunt or multi-day trek, here are some tips on getting in shape. No excuses!

1. Increase Your Cardiovascular Fitness

Nothing gets you in shape for walking better than walking. The critical part is getting out. Plan on 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Your cardiovascular fitness increases according to the level of intensity of your workouts—with the fastest gains being when you are pushing at about 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. (Check your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220—it is not an exact formula, but it will give you a good ballpark). In layman’s terms, you should walk fast enough that you’re winded, but not exhausted. Practices walking at a brisk pace, never pushing so hard that you have to stop. Take your first 20-minute walk on a flat course (around the block, or at a local track). Then start looking for hills. Determine your course, and then go ahead and walk. Once you are comfortable going two to four miles, add a backpack with five to 10 pounds to get your back used to carrying weight.

2. Flexibility Training

Stretching can be done anytime—before you exercise, afterwards, or for five minutes in the morning and five minutes before you go to bed. Stretching is supposed to help prevent injuries, so don’t force it. Stretch four to five times a week for the best results. Begin your stretches with mild tension (about 10 to 15 seconds) and then stop and hold the position. Hold the stretch for another 15 seconds—and don’t forget to breathe.  Hikers should concentrate on stretches for their calves, groin, hamstrings, and shoulders.

3. Strength Training

If you have access to a gym, start working on leg and hip muscles. You’ll also need to concentrate on muscles in your back, core, and shoulders. Leg presses are good as they work your abs and buttocks too. Abdominal crunches are something you can do at home or at the gym. Concentrate on your stomach muscles when you do these, and keep them up until your abs burn. Pull-ups are also a great way to increase back strength for carrying a pack. Start with your palms facing away from you, and don’t lower down so far as to straighten out your elbows. For each exercise, do three reps of 10.

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