New Zealand is home to some of the most scenically beautiful hikes. Whether you are an avid hiker or just getting started, hiking is a great way to stay active and get in touch with nature. Below are a few tips for making sure you are hiking fit and avoid those unwanted injuries on your next hike.
1. Preparation is the key to any hike.
Choose a trail that is suitable to your ability; For example, if you haven’t hiked all year, I wouldn’t recommend attempting an advanced trail with a big elevation gain. Instead, start with an easy trail with flat terrain and build up to harder trails as your fitness and endurance increases. If you feel extremely fatigued during the trail, take a break or turn around. Muscle fatigue can result in increased loading on the joints and affect your walking mechanics, which can lead to unwanted overuse injuries.
2. Wear appropriate shoes
Avoid flip flops or sandals, and if you are doing a longer hike invest in some quick-dry socks so you don’t end up with wet feet and blisters. Walking on uneven terrain and varied elevations can be hard on both your feet and knees and increase your risk for falling and tripping. Make sure if you haven’t worn your hiking boots for a while that you work them in with some walking and shorter hikes.
3. Use hiking poles
Hiking poles are an effective way to help distribute your weight evenly and decrease loading on your joints. Recent studies have also shown that using poles during hiking helps decrease muscle soreness and allows for reduced loss of strength post hiking aiding in quicker recovery times.
4. Check your balance and proprioception.
Proprioception is a fancy word for the ability to know where your joints are in space. The better your proprioception and balance are, the better you will be at adapting to uneven terrain, poor visibility and preventing unwanted falls during your hike. A quick and easy way to work on your balance is to stand on one foot while closing your eyes. Remember, Be aware of your surroundings and work on that balance.
5. Check your Single Leg Squat
Here is a quick test to see how well you can support your weight on one leg. Stand on one leg and squat. Does your hip shift to one side? Does your knee and/or foot collapse inward? If they do, you may be at risk for injury. Hiking requires repetitive bending and loading to the knee joint especially on the downhill. The inability to support your weight can create increased pressure especially on the kneecap, but also on all the lower leg joints resulting in overuse injuries. Working on your glute and quadricep muscles can be an effective at mitigating hip, knee and ankle injuries on your hike.
5. Don’t push through the pain.
Some discomfort it to be expected, but if you are in pain; stop, take a break and turn around if it continues. If your pain persists you may need an Osteopathic Assessment to help identify the cause of your pain. Your Osteo can help to determine where there are any weaknesses or muscle imbalances and tailor specific exercises, so you are better prepared for your upcoming hike.
With some simple preparations, hiking is a great way to get out and enjoy the beautiful scenery that New Zealand’s great walks have to offer this summer.