Gilroy Today 2013 03 Spring - Page 36

Hiking: are you ready for the hills? By Stephanie Vegh Stephanie Vegh has a degree in Exercise Physiology from Chico State and has worked in the fitness industry for over 12 years. She is the Health & Wellness Director & Fitness Instructor at the Centennial Recreation Center (CRC) in Morgan Hill. She lives in Gilroy with her husband Frank, five-year-old twin daughters, Isabella and Addison, and 2 year old baby girl, Alexis. H iking is a physically and mentally rewarding activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Even for those with no experience in hiking or even regular exercise, they can find hiking pleasurable. If you’ve never experienced hiking before, just a little forethought and preparation can make the difference between completing your hike energized and invigorated instead of exhausted and sore. If your upcoming hike is short and flat with easy footing, you may already have the amount of fitness needed to complete the hike easily and comfortably. However, if your hike is long, hilly, or on uneven terrain (many trails are all three), then a little groundwork is in order. First, you should be physically able to cover the mileage required. Regular walks, building up to about three-fourths the length of the planned hike, should be performed to make sure your aerobic fitness is adequate to complete the distance without undue fatigue. For the most part, hiking is an aerobic activity performed at an intensity that can be sustained for a long period of time. However, during very hilly stretches of a hike, your exercise intensity may be very high no matter how slow you walk. Your walking route should incorporate some hills to condition your body and you can take frequent rest stops if needed. Remember the goal is exercise and enjoyment. If you’re walking so fast that you can’t carry on a short conversation, slow down. A regular walking regimen is a great first step to get ready for your hike, but it’s not quite enough on its own. Now that you’ve built some aerobic fitness, you need to work on your hiking fitness. The best way to become fit for hiking is to hike. This is one of the principals of exercise training — the law of specificity, which states that in order to improve in a certain sport or activity, you must perform that activity. Hiking to prepare for a hike gets your body accustomed to the exact movements and conditions that will be required of you during the actual hike — something that no other exercise can perfectly simulate. Even walking on a treadmill will not prepare you for the frequent up and down hills, adjustments in speed, and uneven footing you will encounter on a trail. Even if your aerobic fitness is fine, your leg and torso muscles will need some time to adjust to hilly, uneven terrain. Walking on flat, even ground targets your buttocks, hamstrings, calves, and the muscles on the back of the leg. However, when uphills are thrown into the mix, more emphasis is placed on the quadriceps and shins on the front of the leg. The buttocks, hamstrings, and calves contract even harder - a perfect recipe for muscle soreness or strains if unprepared. Walking downhill can cause muscle soreness if untrained because the leg muscles are undergoing eccentric contractions. Most of the time, a muscle shortens when it contracts. During eccentric contractions, the muscle actually lengthens as it contracts, often resulting in microscopic tears in the muscle. Finally, the uneven terrain of most trails requires you to engage your “stabilizing muscles.” They are the ones keeping your torso upright and ensuring that your legs and feet remain stable upon impact with the ground. These muscles include the abdominal obliques on the side of the torso, iliotibial band on the outside of the thigh, vastus medialis (just above and to the inside of the kneecap), and the peroneals on the side of the lower leg. In order to improve hiking fitness, your goal should be to train in conditions that will simulate the big hike on a smaller scale. For example, if you are planning a 6-mile hilly hike, you would first ensure that you can hike 4 miles on flat terrain with no problems. Then, to improve your hiking fitness, take shorter hikes of 2 to 3 miles on hilly, uneven terrain to condition your body and mind for the demands of the upcoming hike. Make sure to simulate as many conditions of the upcoming hike as possible. This includes wearing the same daypack, clothes, shoes, and accessories that you will bring on the big day. This will give you the chance to make sure that everything feels comfortable and there are no problems with your gear. Your goal should be to walk at an easy pace and enjoy yourself. It’s normal to be a little sore and tired after your first couple of hikes. The good news is that with repeated short practice hikes, the muscle soreness will eventually go away and be replaced with feelings of confidence and vigor. Once you reach the point where feelings of energy and relaxation outweigh the feelings of fatigue after a hike, you are probably fit enough to increase the duration of your excursions if you like. 36 G I L R O Y T O D A Y S P R I N G 2 0 1 3