Trail Fit

March 7, 2006
Filed under Feature Stories

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A few simple exercises can help you get in shape to explore wild country, or keep you fit over those long months until you hike again. They can also help you live longer, feel better, have a more robust immune system, handle stress easier and enjoy greater peace of mind.

The exercises here will help you lose weight, trim your waist, and help you more quickly recover from minor injuries. Strength training can also help maintain bone density, preventing osteoporosis. For those hoping to trim the waistline, don’t despair. Because muscles weigh more than fat, you might not lose weight with strength training; but because muscles are trimmer than fat, you’ll peel off the inches and look better.


A healthy training regimen balances cardiovascular and weight training. Any activity such as walking, running or biking that gets your heart rate elevated for 20 minutes or more is a good start as a cardiovascular workout. A good example is a mix of three days of cardiovascular training, for at least 20 minutes each day, then two to three days of strength training, alternating between the two to rest the muscles from the day before.

The regimen we outline here is only a recommendation. Work out less if you need to in the beginning; do more as your performance improves. For faster results, do multiple sets of the repetitions suggested for the exercises, with a minute of rest in between.


Warm up. Cold muscles are prone to injury. Do the first 10 minutes of your cardiovascular workout at a gentler pace until your muscles are warm and ready for more of a challenge. Do 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity before strength training, too. Full-body warm-ups are best. If you have it, use an exercise machine with moving arms. Or simply do bicep curls and arm lifts with 1- to 3-pound weights on a walk around the neighborhood.

Take baby steps. Start with a pace that gets you used to this new activity and helps you avoid injury from pushing too hard.

Balance muscle groups. When training, exercise the opposing muscle groups in each part of your body: biceps/triceps, quadriceps/hamstrings, abdomen/back, etc. Muscles work in groups, not alone.

Create a routine. Have a checklist of all the exercises in your routine, then check them off each time you do them.

Breathe! Breathe deeply during all exercises.

Listen to pain. Don’t worry about the burn of working muscles (caused by a build up of lactic acid and other toxins in the muscles, this should dissipate quickly after you stop exerting), or the sore muscles you’ll feel in the days after a hard workout (which will fade over time, leaving stronger muscles in its place). Painful cramps can form in your muscles during a workout, but you can relieve them with a massage, stretching and drinking water).

However, if sharp pain comes suddenly, it could indicate sprain, strain, or bruise to muscle, tendon or ligament. When in doubt, stop what you’re doing and seek medical attention.

Be a good mechanic. Proper body mechanics will help you achieve results and avoid injury. Always use good posture and good spine position when lifting weights. If exercise is forcing you into a bad or struggling body position, you’re doing too much. Back off by doing fewer repetitions or using lighter resistance to ensure good form.

Stretch. Stretching tired muscles will help flush out toxins, improve healing and ensure greater flexibility and range of motion. See the additional resources below for more information.

Buff or lithe? The amount of weight and number of repetitions you do will determine your ultimate strength and looks. Low weight with high repetitions will give your muscles endurance and tone with less bulk. Fewer repetitions with more weight build brute strength and impressive bulk. Until you have a personal trainer, however, don’t attempt any strength exercise that you can’t repeat 10 times comfortably and in good form.


It’s important to listen to your body. The best way to tell how hard your body is working is to listen to your heart. Like the tachometer on your dashboard, your pulse tells you how hard your internal engine is actually working. Abundant sports research has shown that working out at 50 to 70 percent of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) will most efficiently help you lose weight and get in shape.

To estimate your MHR, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, your MHR is 180. Your cardiovascular workouts should keep your heart rate between 90 and 126 for at least 20 minutes. This equation is simple but crude; it does not account for your particular fitness level and medical history. For a more accurate evaluation of your heart rate, consult a personal trainer. If you have concerns about your health, consult your doctor.

Ten minutes into your cardiovascular work out, stop, place your second and third fingers on your wrist, in the notch between bone and tendon at the base of your thumb. Count your heart beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four to determine your heart rate. If the number is between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age), you’re making progress toward hiking fitness.


Although exercise provides many benefits, working out too much or in the wrong fashion can be dangerous. Consult your doctor before launching into any fitness campaign, especially if you are older, out of shape, or if you have any health concerns, such as heart disease, excess weight, or if you’re taking medication. Working with a personal trainer can help design a workout regime to help you meet your personal fitness goals efficiently and with proper form.

The activities detailed here have been chosen for people of all fitness levels and without the need for expensive exercise equipment. This article is intended for entertainment purposes and to give you ideas on how to get in shape for hiking. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. If you have health concerns, consult your doctor.



The next time you’re lifting your boot-heavy legs up a steep trail, you’ll be happy you did these. Lie on your back on a firm surface with your legs bent comfortably, feet near your buttocks. Slowly lift one knee at a time toward your chest, then lower it. Then lift both legs at once. Aim to do each of these 20 times. Pull your belly button toward your spine, and keep your lower back flat on the floor during these lifts to ensure proper form and avoid injury.

For an advanced version of this, straighten your legs. Slowly lift them 3 feet off the floor, then ease them down. Do not attempt if you have lower back problems.


Sit-ups strengthen your upper abdominals, which support many upper-body movements. Lie on your back on a firm surface with your legs bent comfortably. With your arms crossed across your chest, slowly bring your chin to your chest, then continue curling your back until your shoulder blades are off the floor. Slowly reverse the curl back to starting position. Aim for 20 repetitions.


This exercise will strengthen the abdominal muscles down your front and sides, which help with sitting, side-to-side motion and balance. Lie on your back on a firm surface with your legs bent comfortably, feet near your buttocks and your arms resting on the floor by your hips. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor. With your right fingertips, reach down and touch your right ankle. Then touch your left ankle with your left fingertips. Go back and forth, left, right, left and right. Aim for 20 repetitions on each side. For greater challenge, place your heels farther from your butt.


This simple yoga pose will help to strengthen your lower back, butt and hips, providing balance to the six-pack you’re developing in the front. Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet near your butt. Lift your pelvis up, squeeze your buttocks and push your pelvis toward the sky. Breathe deeply, and count to 10. Then lower, rest, and repeat.


Squats strengthen many muscle groups and teach them to work as a team-your quads, buttocks, hips and back. They also build support strength around your knees, which are prime candidates for hiking injuries. Stand on a firm surface, with legs shoulder-width apart and weight evenly distributed. While maintaining proper posture (look up toward the ceiling to help with this), bend your legs and lower your buttocks a few inches, then stand back up. Keep your knees in line with your toes.

Beginners should start with shallow squats. Advanced squatters can squat deeper and/or add weight. To protect your knees, do not go deeper than a 90-degree angle at your knees. If your knees hurt, do shallower squats. You can also reduce the weight by supporting yourself with ski or hiking poles.


Lunges help your muscles work as a unit for acceleration and deceleration on the trail. They also improve balance and coordination. Stand upright with your feet eight to 12 inches apart. Step forward, placing one foot 12 to 18 inches in front of you, then sink into that position and hold it for a count of three, keeping your knees in line with your toes. Then reverse the motion until you’re in the starting position. Do the same for the other side. Aim for 10 repetitions with each leg.

For advanced versions, step farther forward, deepen the bend, hold weights or wear a backpack. To improve your balance, pretend you’re standing in the center of a clock face and lunge out to the 1, 2 and 3 o’clock positions.

As with squats, protect your knees by keeping your knee angle greater than 90 degrees. If your knees hurt, don’t step as far out or bend your knees as far, and add support with ski or hiking poles.


There are two great reasons for doing calf raises: they strengthen calves for uphill hiking, and build support for your ankles-prime candidates for hiking injuries. Stand either on the floor or with your toes on a stair, heels hanging over (for full range of motion and greater stretch). Gently hold onto a rail or the wall for balance, if needed. Stand up on the balls of your feet, raising your heels high, then lower your heels slowly. Do this in three positions: toes straight ahead, toes pointed in, and toes pointed out. Try for five repetitions in each position, for 15 total. For a greater challenge, increase repetitions, hold weights or put on a backpack.

To balance strength in this region, complement calf raises with toe raises, which will strengthen the much smaller and weaker muscles along the front of your shin. While sitting on a chair with one leg extended comfortably in front of you, point your toes; then pull them up toward your knee, bending only at the ankle. Add resistance by pressing down on your toes with your other foot, or by placing something heavy (such as a sand bag) on your toes, or hooking your toes under the edge of something heavy such as a couch.


* /Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness/, by David Musnick and Mark Pierce (Mountaineers Books; 1999)

* /Stretching/, by Bob and Jean Anderson (Shelter Publications; 2000)

* Fitness websites: /fitnessonline.com/getfit/ and /justmove.org/myfitness/.

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