Originally published on http://hamptonscalgary.ca/hiking-shouldnt-hurt/
Living in Calgary, we are perfectly situated to enjoy the incredible hiking trails throughout our backyard. There is nothing quite like spending an adventurous weekend exploring the mountainous trails in the Rockies. But for anyone who has ever “over-done it” on a hike, you also know that there is nothing quite like the painful struggle to get out of the car after sitting through the drive back to Calgary. While some soreness can be expected after exerting yourself on the trail, many of the aches and pains can be avoided. Hiking shouldn’t hurt!
Before you hit the trail
Pack whatever you need for a comfortable and safe trip, but don’t overload yourself. Remember to pack the essentials: water, food, extra layers, rain gear, first aid kit, map, etc… but keep it light! A heavier pack leads to more compression through your shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles, making for a more physically demanding hike. This extra compression is likely to contribute to sore joints during and after the hike. If you are hiking with a group, then share the load and you will all have a happier hiking experience.
Wear appropriate footwear
Hiking footwear is a huge topic that cannot be completely covered here but on a basic level, when it comes to hiking boots/shoes, you need to consider comfort, cushioning, support, and traction. Your choice of footwear should be comfortable enough to wear all day without producing hot-spots or blisters, and should have enough cushioning to keep your feet from getting bruised while walking on rocky trails. The boots should also have support throughout the foot and around the ankle, to protect you from painful sprains and strains. Lastly, your boots should have sufficient traction for your choice of trail to keep you up-right and injury free throughout your adventure.
After arriving at the trailhead, take a couple of minutes to warm up your body. An easy warm up could include a short walk around the parking lot, coupled with a few squats and lunges, and some gentle stretching. Once your muscles are warm, you are ready to hit the trail.
During your hike
Take regular breaks
Frequent breaks are a great way to reduce the stresses on your body during a long day of hiking. Allowing your muscles to rest for a few minutes every hour is essential in the prevention of overuse muscle strains. Be sure to use your breaks wisely by hydrating, enjoying a snack, and re-applying sun protection.
Wear your pack properly
No matter what your pack weighs, make sure to use the waist and chest straps to help distribute the load across your torso. A properly placed waist strap will transfer a lot of the pack weight onto your hips, easing the pressure on your shoulders.
Use hiking poles when needed
Hiking poles are not necessary for everyone, but in certain conditions they can be incredibly helpful. When hiking downhill, hiking poles have been shown to reduce compressive force on the knees by up to 25%. For many people this means less knee pain and a more enjoyable descent from the mountain top. Hiking poles are also a great tool on slippery or unstable trails. By adding 2 more points of contact with the ground, you will have better traction and are less likely to slip and fall.
Post-hike pain prevention
Before you hop into the car and head back to the city, take a couple minutes to stretch. Stretching is a key factor in muscle recovery and will help reduce any post-hike soreness. Send a little appreciation to your muscles by gently stretching out the front and back of your thighs, calves, low back, chest, shoulders, and neck. In general, stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds, and should be pain-free.
Take care of injuries
General post-exercise soreness (aka. delayed-onset muscle soreness) should be long-gone within 3-4 days after the hike. If you have any areas of pain or discomfort after that time, it is a good idea to see a Chiropractor, Massage Therapist, or other health care provider to have the area assessed and treated.
Use these tips on your next outdoor adventure for a more enjoyable, pain-free experience!