The best exercises to warm up before a hike

The best exercises to warm up before a hike

We all know it’s important to warm up before physical activity. However, many of us neglect this if we think the activity will be gentle, and this is when injuries occur.

When warming up, we’re preparing the body for exercise by gradually increasing heart rate and circulation.

This increases blood flow to muscles and loosens our joints so that when we begin to place more pressure and strain on these, they’re ready for it. If we don’t warm up, our bodies can go into shock, or worse, undergo damage.  

Even seemingly leisurely hikes come with a risk of injury, so warming up and doing stretches before you start is crucial. Here are five of the best warm-up stretches for walking. They’re all very simple and require no equipment aside from a wall or a tree for support.

1. Leg swings

The aim of this exercise is to activate and stretch your hip flexors. Stand beside a wall or tree and place your hand on it for support.

Then, swing your outside leg (the leg furthest from your supporting surface) forward and back as high as you can without hurting yourself. Keep your back straight at all times and try to keep your leg straight when swinging forwards.You can allow it to bend a little when swinging backwards but the majority of movement should come from your hip.

Imagining your leg is a pendulum can help to get this movement right.

Perform 15 swings with one leg, then swap sides and place your other hand on the wall, and perform 15 swings with the other leg.

2. Ankle rotations

This is a gentle exercise to activate and loosen your ankle joint, Achilles tendon, and other small muscles of the lower leg. 

Ankle rotations prepare your feet and ankles for the uneven surfaces you may encounter on a hike. While either standing or sitting, raise one leg off the floor and perform 10 clockwise rotations of your foot.

Each complete rotation should take approximately one second to do. Then perform 10 anti-clockwise rotations.

Ankle flexes (pointing your toes and then flexing the ankle) are an additional means of keeping your ankle joints flexible and loose. Change legs and repeat! 

3. Standing quadricep stretch

This stretches a group of muscles called the quadriceps femoris (more commonly known as quads).

Stand up straight and bend one knee, moving the foot behind you as you do. Then, using your hand to gently pull and hold your leg in this position, bring your foot up to meet your gluteal muscles.

Don’t pull from the toes or lower foot. Instead, try to use a stable grip at the ankle to avoid pulling your foot from an uncomfortable angle that places unwanted strain on your ankle joints and lower leg muscles.

For balance you can use your free hand (the one that isn’t holding your foot in place) to hold onto a wall or fence. Maintain a very slight bend in your standing leg to ensure you’re engaging and using your leg muscles to support your weight as opposed to locking the leg and relying entirely on your joints.

As you hold your leg in this bent position you should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh and hip of the bent leg (the quadriceps femoris!).

Breathe deeply and hold this position for 10 seconds, then gently release your foot and place it back on the ground.

Repeat with the other leg.

4. Standing hamstring stretch

The quadriceps and hamstrings are located in the back of your thigh and work as a pair to bend and flex your knees, so warming them up is essential for injury-free trail walking.

While standing, cross your left foot in front of the right so that your left foot is now on the right side, and your right foot is now on the left.

Then, bend at the hips bringing your head down and as close to your knees as possible, while keeping your legs straight. You may need to place your hands on the floor for support.

As long as you feel the stretch, you have gone far enough. If you experience shaking muscles or pain, reduce the stretch.

With time and repetition, you’ll gradually become more flexible. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds before steadily raising your head and standing up.

Then swap your feet over, bringing the right foot in front of the left, and perform the same stretch for the opposite leg.

5. Lunging groin stretch

This stretch is incredibly effective for hiking but of all the stretches in this list, perhaps requires the most dexterity to perform.

From a standing position, move your left foot and leg behind you and lower your body into a lunge position so that your left knee lightly touches the floor (or as close to the floor as feels safe for you). Your right knee should be bent at almost 90 degrees.

Once stable in this position, place your right elbow against the inside of your right knee and rotate your body outwards to the left slightly. Lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your right groin and lower back.

Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, then ease yourself into a standing position by bringing your left knee forward and straightening your torso. Repeat this stretch on the opposite side.

Following these stretches, your lower body should feel loose and primed for whatever a hike may throw at it.

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