Hiking and trekking as recreation happen to be a great leveller—both newbies and adventurers do it, and in a country like India, one doesn’t need to travel very far to be able to walk long distances in nature. That is especially true of the varied landscapes in India—be it the snows of the Himalayas, the untamed verdure of the Western Ghats, tropical rain forests or the abundant historical heritage trails.
From ‘hop-skip-and-jump’ day-hikes on city outskirts to treacherous treks that continue for weeks, past mesmerising landscapes in faraway corners, India’s a veritable hiker’s heaven. What’s more—covering considerable distances on foot can be challenging and delightful at the same time. Ask the old-timers, William Wordsworth, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi. Or the new ones, like journalist Paul Salopek, who is on a 21,000-mile foot journey around the world.
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The pandemic has reminded us how #slowtravel could be the way forward in the age of social distancing and stricter regional boundaries, and activities such as hiking have emerged at the forefront of our options. However, adding to a report last year that we may be considerably slower at walking than our Victorian counterparts, the general emotional ennui and physical listlessness of the past months may mean even the fitness-inclined among us may have atrophied into dormancy. Here’s a look at what you may need to do to get back into action as an active hiker.
Start Moving More
Don’t throw your body, with its long-preserved lethargy, into the deep end of the pool. And even though you don’t need a fancy gym membership, maybe get your bike out of the junk room and get it serviced. Most likely you’re working from home, resulting in an increase in the sedentariness of your work. Fight for your share of the grocery trips and as always, avoid the elevator. Taking the stairs is not just great cardio—it is an effective conditioning activity for hiking uphill. Remember to take it easy in the beginning—since you would be wearing a mask—and to focus on proper breathing.
Run on Sand
Muscular endurance in the lower body is of the utmost importance when you hike or trek. More specifically, one must look to build muscles that will protect the ankles and the knees, and running on sand is a great way to achieve that. Sand helps bring into play a set of stabilizer muscles, which could help to improve ankle strength. It also functions as a lower-impact surface that doesn’t stress your joints. The less fortunate ones that don’t have a beach close by can try it out in a public park that has a dedicated sand track.
One can’t really stress enough how important cross-training is if one wants to get to the top of the mountain as smoothly as possible and minus injuries or sprains. Exercises such as hip-rolls, heel-downs, jump squats, leg curls and side planks with leg raises go a long way in boosting endurance and building strength in the core and leg muscles. Lunges are also another great exercise as they work on the core and improve stability for a wide range of terrains and gradients. Do remember to consult an expert on how often you should be training per week, and usually, one has to give the routine about two months to really show results.
Those aiming for the heights usually focus on the specific muscles that comes into play while going up great distances. For instance, doing goblet squats (squatting holding a kettlebell near your sternum) helps build the leg muscles such as glutes, quads and hamstrings. Step-ups are a fun exercise with a progressive overload capability (just keep increasing the height), and target the glutes and quads. Those with access to a decline-driveway or a gradual slope in a nearby park can go for the explosive downhill lunges. Skipping and crunches are also helpful exercises to incorporate into your hiking training regimen.
Preventing the Hiker’s Knee
Trekkers often suffer from this painful condition that occurs due to overuse of the knee while going downhill on rocky trails. However, it’s a perfectly common injury that can be prevented by strengthening the quadricep muscles and working on the hamstrings and the calves. And how do you do that? There are quite a few ways, including biking, wall-supported squats, leg extensions and calf and hamstring stretches. Learning to descend properly also goes a long way in preventing the hiker’s knee.