If you’re like me, you’ll be chomping at the bit for restrictions to be reduced and the chance to get back to hiking in the great outdoors. The question is, what else can we do in the meantime to keep ourselves fit and ready for our return to the wild?
There’s only so long you can settle for hill reps up your stairs. They certainly don’t give you the same viewing platform as mountain summits…. So here are a few alternate exercises you can try to increase your functional fitness.
What is Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness is improving the body’s ability to cope with daily, or sport-specific tasks. It often means that rather than just practicing one muscle action, for example, a knee extension, the exercise is designed to allow the muscles to work together and simulate common actions used within sport or daily life. For example, instead of a singular knee extension, a single leg squat uses a similar muscle pattern to climbing up stairs or up a a hill.
By training your muscles to work well for a specific sport, such as hiking, you are preparing your body to perform more efficiently under those conditions. Not only will it increase the fitness of one joint, but several. In this example, a single leg squat increases the fitness of your core stability, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves rather than just your quadriceps.
An increase in functional fitness prepares the body for the task or sport ahead more efficiently. It can therefore help to reduce the chance of injury.
For functional exercises directed at hiking we need to select multi-joint aerobic exercises which focus on:
- Increasing the strength of your lower limbs for the steep inclines
- Increasing ankle strength for tackling rough ground and power for jumping obstacles such as small streams
- Improving your balance
What is aerobic exercise?
Hiking or rambling is known as an aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is defined by the American college of sports medicine as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously and is rhythmic in nature”. Exercising within an “aerobic capacity” allows for huge health benefits such as an increased efficiency of the cardiovascular system.
How do I improve my balance for hiking?
Whether you are climbing the Matterhorn or sightseeing around Bath, you are going to come up against rough and uneven ground. The best way to combat this is to increase the strength in your ankles, as well as their ability to cope with changing directions.
How do I increase my strength and performance for hiking while at home?
One of the easiest ways to increase resistance, or to progress an exercise, is to add weight. This can easily be done at home by wearing your normal hiking rucksack (or any rucksack you can find). Fill it with either the kit you intend to be carrying on your mountain climb or essentially anything that can contribute as an extra weight. Wearing this while completing the exercises in this blog will increase your functional fitness significantly and help you on your way to being mountain ready.
How do I increase my Power?
Power within sport is an explosive burst of movement. You’ll need power in hiking for traversing large steps or rocks. This can be improved by increasing the speed at which exercises are completed, or the impact /distance of an exercise, such as jumping higher or further. For example, while squatting, an increased speed of straightening the legs from 90 degrees, or jumping up from the 90 degree bend, will increase the power.
Functional hiking exercises
I have selected the exercises below to help you to maintain or increase your fitness while waiting for the go-ahead on travel and to help keep your cabin fever at bay.
1. Rucksack squats
With a packed rucksack and feet hip distance apart, keep your back straight, engage your abdominals and squat down as if you are about to sit down. Stop when your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Then straighten your legs to stand up again. Repeat this 15 times.
Why? This will build your leg strength for those inclines or bigger steps.
2. Mountain climbers with rucksack
Lift your legs alternately so that your hip and knee are at 90 degrees each time you raise your knee. Keep the ground leg vertical. Your arms should also move up and down. It should look as if you are climbing a ladder. Repeat this 20 times
Why? The leg lifts with arm movements should raise your heart rate in order to increase your fitness and also help to increase your balance and glut strength with rocky terrain.
3. Lunges with rucksack
Wearing your rucksack, step forward with one leg until it bends to 90 degrees. Keep your back vertical, abs engaged and your back leg straight behind you. Repeat 10 times each side. To make this harder you can do the lunges in different directions.
Why? This manoeuvre builds strength and endurance as the large muscle groups being used increases your aerobic fitness. It also simulates powering through boggy ground or leaping across obstacles like streams.
4. Single leg squat
Either with bodyweight or with a rucksack, engage your abs. Keep your back straight and one leg out in front of you above the ground. Lower yourself as if you’re about to sit down. Then straighten again using the foot and leg to push up from the ground. Repeat 10 times each side.
Why? Not only does this increase the strength in your lower limbs but it also increases your balance to deal with rough and uneven ground and your power for large inclines. It is also hard work, which pushes you to increase your aerobic fitness.
5. Single leg stance eyes closed
Stand with feet together then lift one foot off the ground and attempt to hold this for 30 seconds to one minute. If this is easy try this with your eyes closed. Repeat 4 times on each side.
Why? This increases your ankle’s proprioception. Also know as its ability to feel where it is in space. Effectively it’s increasing your balance and reducing your chance of injury.
6. Using a wobble cushion
Similar to the single leg stance, with the use of a “wobble cushion” or a normal household cushion or pillow under the foot on the floor. stand with feet together then lift one foot off the ground and attempt to hold this for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat 4 times on each side.
Why? Attempting to stand on an uneven surface that is often changes makes your ankle have to work hard under changing circumstances and ground. Much like the terrain of the British countryside.
If you’d like to watch some of these strengthening exercises targeted specifically at hikers, check out our YouTube video playlist here.