Updated: Jun 22, 2020
This is the fifth week of social and physical distancing for most in the United States due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Most state and national parks have shut down or have limited access. Even those of us who live near lovely local trails are being asked to stay home. By now, you're getting antsy to get trekking and believe me, I feel ya!
Feeling like you're between a rock and a hard place?
If you're feeling like the walls are closing in, it's time to get training for your upcoming adventures. Yes, as hard as it is to imagine right now, the trails will open back up and you want to be ready! So, here are the three most important exercises you should do right now to prepare:
The calves are the power house movers in the legs, but they often get ignored in favor of the more showy glutes, quads, and hamstrings. If you're going up an incline, you want strong calf muscles to propel you. Most importantly, you need the soleus, the underlying and barely visible muscle to move you up step trails and steep grades. So let's get going with this super simple yet incredibly effective exercise!
To strengthen calf muscles, start in standing, knees straight, and rise up on your toes. That's it! If you need help with balance, hold on to a countertop or doorway. The goal is to perform 3 sets of 25 - 45 reps. Progress to performing while standing on one leg. Again, hold on for balance if needed! To add weight, grab a jug of laundry detergent or a bag of kitty litter.
To isolate the soleus muscle, perform the same action but begin with a slight bend in the knees. When you go up on your toes, your body doesn't rise up like in the previous exercise.
Modified pistol squats
The calf muscles will get you up the mountain, but it's those quads that help get you down. Eccentric strengthening helps the quads control your body as you move downhill and protects the knee from bearing too much load. This exercise is essential if you suffer from pain in the front of your knee.
Start by standing on one leg with the other leg straight out in front and arms extended. Slowly lower yourself to sitting on a chair or bench, keeping the knee moving forward over the toes. Try to avoid the knee drifting inward or out. Use both legs to stand up and repeat on the other side. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps. If it bothers your knee, move your foot closer to the chair and hinge forward from the hips.
Balance drills sequence
Hiking requires significant balance to step over rocks, roots, and right yourself should you trip. As we age, we challenge our balance less and less, so our reaction time gets a little slow. The way to change that is to work on the muscle memory in a controlled situation so that when you do stumble, you can return to upright before you hit the ground.
This balance sequence is a great dynamic warmup before you hit the trail for a hike or a run. It works on balance on one leg with the center of gravity close to the body in the knee hug, farther away in the monster walk, and adds rotation in the elbow to knee maneuver. Walk forward alternating each leg in the knee hug for about 10 steps. Turn around and perform the monster walk, alternating legs, back to the starting point. Try the knee to elbow alternating legs while standing in one spot. Then try it taking a step forward after each rotation.
Lockdown is hard, but getting locked up, stiff, and weak will make hiking much harder. Staying strong in key areas with these three exercise drills will help you return to a life of adventure more quickly and safely.