It’s important to take care of your body now so you can keep hiking in the future. “If we’re looking at preventing injury, it has to start well before we get to the trailhead,” says Dan Sieczkiewicz, a senior physical therapist at Boston University’s Ryan Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Sieczkiewicz and Rachel Lampros, a physical therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Medicine Center in Boston, offer tips for maintaining muscle strength and stamina, both on the trail and off, at any age.
1. Train before the trail.
“The hips serve as the brakes to your knees, and a lot of people neglect that in their training,” Lampros says. Implement hip strengthening exercises into your routine, with glute bridges (lie face up on the floor, bend knees, lift hips, and squeeze glutes) and band walks (place a resistance band below your knees and take sideways steps, alternating left and right legs).
2. Gear up.
Invest in a good pair of hiking boots with sufficient ankle support, and wear a knee brace if needed. Consider buying trekking poles, which “help reduce impact forces placed on our legs [from] 5 to 25 percent,” Sieczkiewicz says.
3. Fuel your fitness.
Supplement your water intake with electrolytes—gummies or gel packs should do the trick—and be sure to hydrate throughout the hike. The best way to check for dehydration is by urine color. Light pale yellow or borderline clear is good; darker is in the danger zone. For snacks, load up on carbs and healthy fats like almonds, dried fruits, or pretzels.
4. Think descent with intent.
Lampros recommends eccentric exercises to help your body tolerate downhills by lengthening your muscles. Incorporate squats or steps into your workout, deliberately slowing your descent while counting to 3. On the way back up, count to 1.
5. Practice self-care.
Still hurting from your last hike? Do some dynamic stretches or roll sore quads with a foam roller, and if needed, wait a few days until your next big trek.