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 .
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