Wodraska: Tune up your body before hiking season begins
Fitness • Exercises for knees, ankles and core will boost strength, stability.

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: April 25, 2012 05:26PM
Updated: August 5, 2012 11:35PM
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Lya Wodraska

The trails around Salt Lake City are about to get busy with hikers now that the weather is getting warm. Are you prepared, or do you need a tuneup?

Even if you have spent the winter running on a treadmill or beefing up your weight routine, you still might not be ready for the demands that walking on uneven ground brings. There’s plenty of time to sharpen your agility and balance to make you a more stable and stronger hiker.

Here are a four drills that can help you hike with confidence and, maybe, even a little grace!

Bounding • This is an exercise often used by sprinters and skiers who need a lot of leg power. It’s a plyometric exercise that converts all your strength training into power. Best of all, it needs no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere. All you need is enough room that will allow you to connect at least five or six bounding motions together.

Start out in a jog, then extend the jog into big leaps. Use your imagination and think of leaping from rock to rock in a creek bed or over a series of creeks. You don’t need a lot of reps with these; two or three sets of six to eight bounds per leg is plenty. Do these and when you come across such an obstacle on a hike, you’ll be able to leap over it without getting your feet wet!

Reverse step-ups • If your knees hurt when hiking down a hill or if they tend to “fall in” toward the middle, chances are you have a muscle imbalance. Strengthening the knee with reverse step-ups might help.

Stand with a block or step behind you that is about 6 inches tall. Put one foot on the block and elevate the heel that is on the block. Step back on the block using the weight of the foot on the block to lift you up, keeping your heel up as you do so. Try not to push off the ground; make the foot that is on the block do the work. Set the foot down flat, then pick up the heel again and reverse the direction. You can steady yourself by holding a wall or rail, but as you get better, try to do it without the support. Three or four sets of five reps on each leg is a good goal.

Balance • Ankle sprains are one of the most common hiking injuries, and they recur at a rate as high as 80 percent. If you have ever had a sprained ankle or suffer from weak ankles, start some balance training now. Single-leg toe touches are great. Stand on one foot and bend over and touch the ground, then return to an upright position.

Take the balance training a step further by investing in a balance disc, available at many sporting-goods stores for $15 to $20. Standing on the disc for a few minutes a day will help strengthen the muscles around the ankle and will sharpen your proprioception (sense of position). For more advanced work, buy two discs and stand on them while performing squats, overhead presses, etc.

If you don’t want to spend money, use a pillow.

Core work • Finally, balance and stability start at the core, so don’t forget to work the belly and the mid and lower back muscles. If you don’t have inner balance, you won’t have outer balance. One great exercise starts in the shortstop position. Stand in a bent-over position as if you were playing softball or baseball, with your hands on your knees. Let your stomach relax, then tighten it against your spine while keeping a neutral back. Hold for 10 seconds, then let it relax. Performing three sets of about 10 reps will go a long way in training the lower abdominal muscles, which are the primary stabilizers of the back.

Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK Practitioner and Holistic Lifestyle Coach. E-mail her at Lwodraska@sltrib.com.

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