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5. Hiking Down Hill First, Then Back Up!


As you begin to train, listen to your body. If you have any problems or concerns, the time to address them is while you are training, not at the trailhead on Hike Day. Listen to your body and take your training seriously. Execute your plan to the best of your ability, check your ego at the trailhead, and follow your plan. As you train, if your goal for the day is 7 Kilometers, then go 7k. No further. Just remember, what goes out, must return - under your own power. As you progress, make your training walks and hikes longer and more challenging. 


Start your hike training program based upon where you are right now, not where you want to be! Learn to set new and more difficult goals as you progress.


The best way to train for a strenuous hike is to do other strenuous long hikes! But before you hit the trails, you will want to do some strengthening exercises and aerobic conditioning to prepare not only your heart and lungs but also the muscles you will be using while you hike.


"When you are moving your feet, look down!
When you are looking up, stand still!"



Preparing To Hike Down


You will have to learn the correct form to use when walking downhill. Bend the knees and lean forward. This sounds simple, but it is counter-intuitive. Leaning forwards feels very strange at first because our inclination is to lean backwards when the terrain feels steep. However, if you lean backwards, your feet have a tendency to fly out from underneath, especially when there is loose, ball-bearing-like volcanic rocks underfoot. Instead, assume the athletic "ready position" with knees bent and a slight lean forward. With feet directly underneath and a low center of gravity, it is much less likely that you’ll lose footing. Even if you do, the feet are perfectly placed to affect a quick recovery.


For many, hiking down seems to create the most stress on lower body joints such as hips, knees, ankles and feet. If this is the case with you, a simple yet very effective precautionary tip is to just slow down. It can relieve the jolting effect you are experiencing. The other is to stop often and take a moment to stretch your lower back and rest your joints, especially when you are just starting out and your muscles are not entirely warmed up.


Preparing to Hike Up


The walk uphill is usually the greatest challenge to the lungs and stamina. It is here that aerobic conditioning really pays off. The best way to prepare for a long uphill walk is to begin by walking uphill while at home. 


If you have access to a treadmill, try adjusting the incline angle so that your body gets used to going uphill. Even better, find a steep hill near your home or a walking route that has several gradual hills and walk up and down the hills for anywhere between 20-45 minutes, depending on whether you are just starting your program or later in the season. Stair steps are also great for training for steeper hikes. Jogging is another good option. 


In general, 3-4 aerobic workouts a week including 20-45 minutes of walking, hill or stair climbing, elliptical cross training, or other suitable aerobic exercise that works the muscles in the legs will help with your conditioning. The muscles that tend to get tight after long hikes are hips, lower back, calves, quads, glutes, hip flexors, shoulders, and hamstrings, all to varying degrees depending on individual body types. Single limb exercises such as step-ups, walking lunges, and single-leg squats will do wonders for your balance and also strengthen all the smaller muscles in the ankles and the larger muscles around the knees and hips.

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