Why Training on the Trail is a Bad Idea

Updated: Jan 16



When people undertake a multi-day or thru-hike, some tend to believe that they’ll ‘get their trail legs’ and be fine after a few days. Sure, maybe they’ll be sore initially, but they figure they’ll get stronger as they go. One study from Brazil proves this isn’t likely(1).

Researchers sent 26 experienced hikers on a four-day backpacking trip. The investigators controlled for many factors affecting the hikers, including sleep, diet, rest, and terrain. At the end of each hiking day, the researchers measured each hiker’s postural sway on a force platform with eyes open. The postural sway changes were significant after each day’s hike, with the biggest difference observed on the third day, which was the longest and most challenging hiking day.

Increased postural sway means that you’ll move further away from your center of mass before you correct and return yourself to upright. Fatigued muscles increase your postural sway and your risk of falling. This study shows that multiple days on the trail don’t ‘train’ you but actually may put you more at risk for injury(1). Additionally, sore muscles and blisters, common the first few days on the trail, also negatively impact balance(1).

The muscles that demonstrated the greatest fatigue after hiking were muscles around the ankle and hip. These weary muscles impacted balance in the anterior-posterior direction, while the muscles surrounding the knee and hip impaired balance in the medial-lateral direction. As the muscles around the ankle tire, their activation pattern changes, which is likely why most ankle sprains happen toward the end of a hike when you’re nearing camp or heading back to the trailhead.


How do you avoid increased postural sway and decreased balance?

Train before you hit the trail!

Training before hiking increases your chance of success and decreases your injury risk. It improves your overall fitness for the trail, which makes hiking easier and more enjoyable. Training also reduces the time needed for recovery after hiking - no more days spent on the couch after a big hike!

Not sure how to train for the trail ahead?

1. Establish your hiking goals – The Healthy Hiker’s virtual wellness assessment allows you to express your goals and dream. The weekly coaching helps you identify what factors might be holding you back and keeping you stuck.

2. Assess your current fitness level – The Healthy Hiker’s virtual fitness assessment targets the muscles and strength needed for successful hiking and backpacking. You can't know where to go if you don't know where you're starting from.

3. Develop a fitness plan that fits your lifestyle – The Healthy Hiker’s unique app platform enables you to access your custom workouts virtually from any smart device using the equipment you have readily accessible when it suits your schedule.

Need help training for the trail? The Healthy Hiker virtual training program trains you to hike with better balance, more energy, and less struggle. Let's talk!

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