The snow has melted and the sun is high, which means it’s time to do your favorite outdoor activities! When looking for a place to hike, you might want to consider 1 of over 400 national parks to choose from all over the United States. But before you start planning the trails, plan your safety first.
Safety not only applies to the area that you choose to hike and the equipment that you use but also your physical preparedness for your outdoor adventure. This article provides tips for both hiking for beginners as well as the more advanced hiker.
Muscle injuries are one of the most common injuries in the musculoskeletal system, so it is important to know how to prevent them while out hiking as well as how to recover from them and ease the pain.
- 1 Preparation Before You Begin Your Hike
- 2 Cooling Down After Your Hike
- 3 Fixes if Muscle Strain Strikes
Preparation Before You Begin Your Hike
Hiking is an excellent type of exercise that benefits your body both physically and mentally. But there are several things to consider before you set out for the day or longer when you are hiking.
Stretch before you get moving
Just like any other form of strenuous activity or exercise, it is necessary to prepare your body. Warming up before beginning your hike allows for flexibility in the muscles and allows for a larger range of movement. By doing some general stretching exercises, you can reduce the risk of possible injury to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are used in the process of hiking.
Warm-up before you hit the trail
When you think of someone warming up, you might think of an athlete preparing for a game or a runner preparing for a meet. However, when you hike; you use more muscles than you can imagine. It is not just for feet, legs, and hips that are getting a workout, but your core muscles are at work as well to keep you upright and balanced. A recent study has shown that general stretching not only prepares you to begin your hike but is thought to “reduce passive stiffness and increase range of movement” while hiking. Warming up is a way to gradually introduce the body to the activity without shocking it, which often results in injury.
Don’t put too much weight on your back
A backpack that is too heavy for your body frame or your level of expertise can result in a lower back injury or knee injury. It is always a good idea to use gear that is made for hiking and to pack as light as possible. Always pack just the essentials, especially if you are going a shorter distance.
Hydrate before, during, and after you hike
Hydration is essential when undertaking an outdoor adventure. This is important anytime you are physically active or exerting stress on your body, especially when it is warmer outdoors. Hydrating allows the body to continue to perform critical cellular functions by helping the body recover faster and avoid exhaustion.
Wear proper hiking shoes
A pair of good hiking shoes can make all the difference in your experience out in the wilderness. Not only do they provide stability and durability for your feet and ankles, but they are designed to help you trek through difficult terrain, including muddy, snowy, and rocky areas by providing traction. Wearing proper hiking shoes prevents muscle strains such as sore muscles in your legs and feet and calf muscle pain, such as pulled calf muscles.
Just remember that hiking shoes typically require time to break in, so it’s best not to buy a new pair and begin hiking with them immediately. Take some time to wear them around the house or perhaps out to run some errands.
Dress for the weather and environment with adequate hiking clothes
When considering what hiking clothes to wear, you want to ensure that whatever you wear is going to breathable.
- Don’t wear denim and cotton. Denim can reduce your movement abilities. And cotton holds on to water, so it will stay wet with sweat or rain, which could cause you to get too cold or damp, leaving risk for hypothermia, fungal infections, and more. It is best to wear sturdy yet flexible pants while out in the wilderness, as they will protect your skin from scrapes and bites while allowing you the flexibility to move.
- Wear breathable, quick-drying fabric. Consider dri-fit, polyester, nylon, or merino wool shirts and long underwear, which are all great sweat-wicking materials. Just keep in mind the weather and temperature.
- Protect your body and eyes from the sun. You don’t want a sunburn or to lose your vision on a hike. Not only is it painful, but it could make it more difficult for you to hike safely. Therefore, be sure to bring an SPF 30-50 high-quality sunscreen, a sun hat, and sunglasses if needed.
If you’re looking for exercises to help you warm-up and stretch before a hike, check out the video below:
Cooling Down After Your Hike
Once again, it is important to take measures to protect your body after your hike to ensure that you recover from a hike sufficiently. See below for the most important tips.
The cooling down phase after exercise allows your heart rate and breathing to return to normal. More importantly, this process prevents the pooling of blood in the large muscles of the legs after your hike. If this happens, it can lead to the buildup of waste materials like lactic acid in these muscles and reduces the risk of muscle cramping.
The cooling down process involves slowing your movement (not stopping) and literally allowing your body temperature to decrease. This process should last about 5-10 minutes and can be something as simple as a longer, slower walk back to the car or house. This gradually calms the body, and the muscles can relax, in preparation for the next hike or other physical activity.
Stretching is not only essential before you begin a hike, but also after you have completed your day. Gentle stretching can help you to reduce muscle soreness and prevent injuries. This activity should be done immediately after your hike and whenever you begin to feel muscles tightening to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
As hiking can be a rigorous activity that uses your entire body, you’ll want to do a full-body stretch session when you’re finished. Check out the video below for a full-body cool down after hiking that will prevent you from tightening up. This can also be a great meditation activity to calm your mind and body post-hike:
The risk of dehydration is always a threat with any strenuous exercise and increases dramatically when the weather conditions are warmer. When a person becomes dehydrated, the body loses its ability to recover from strenuous exercise. As a result, muscles, organs, and other body systems are deprived of the essential fluid necessary to maintain normal function and prevent injury. This can also negatively affect your future athletic performance, making it worse. Therefore, is necessary for you to replace fluids that are lost.
The amount of fluid loss through sweating (dehydration) depends on several factors and can be used as part of an actual calculation. These factors include the person’s body size, their general level of health, choice of clothing, the duration and intensity of the exercise, and the environmental conditions.
Medical professionals and physical trainers suggest that you drink one and a half times the water lost from exercising after working out. Research suggests that sodium added to the liquid will aid in rehydration (especially on a cellular level), and macronutrients such as carbohydrate and protein can help you maintain hydration.
Rest and Sleep
Allowing your body to rest will give your muscles the appropriate time to recover. When you are done with your hike, sit down or lay down and allow your feet and legs to rest. It is a good idea to elevate your feet slightly to assist blood flow from the lower extremities to return to the heart.
Many people may feel exhausted after this type of strenuous exercise. This is your body letting you know that it needs rest to recover and sleep is the best form of recovery. All of this allows the body to heal itself and return to a normal state. Sleep will also prevent further damage that could be caused by additional activity.
Fixes if Muscle Strain Strikes
If you experience any type of muscle strain during your hike, you can prevent it from getting worse and help the muscle heal by following the PRICE method.
- PRICE: PRICE is an anacronym for Prevent, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. Let’s look at each of these parts in greater detail.
- Prevent Use the different suggestions as stated above, like warming up, hydrating, cooling down, and resting to prevent additional damage to the muscles.
- Rest: Many times, when the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) are used beyond their abilities and not properly taken care of, they will let you know. The best cure for overuse and misuse is rest.
- Ice: Ice can be applied to sore and injured areas of the body to decrease inflammation, swelling, and pain. When applying ice to an area, be sure to rotate it on 15-20 minutes and off 15-20 minutes. Application any longer than this can actually cause damage to the affected area.
- Compress: A firm compress (not tight) can be used in areas that have been over-worked. The application of intermittent compression is recommended as it can reduce swelling and fluid build-up in the area, which can interfere with or delay the healing process.
- Elevate: It is helpful to elevate the affected area slightly above the level of the heart. This allows any pooled blood to return to the heart and helps to reduce fluid accumulation.
- Naturally derived pain relief topicals: Topical pain relievers that include naturally derived ingredients for pain relief like menthol, camphor, or capsicum distract the pain signals in the brain for fast and powerful relief. If your muscles feel like they are on fire after a hike, you’ll appreciate the cooling sensation of menthol and camphor in particular. Take a stick with you on the go for a portable friend for your tired muscles.
When spring or summer is here, it’s time to hit the mountains to enjoy the great outdoors! However, make sure you take the proper steps to prevent injury, such as stretching, hydrating, and properly warming up and cooling down to ensure you have many happy trails in your future!