Fall is definitely the best season for hiking in Canada. It isn’t too hot and the leaves are changing. And, best of all, the bugs are gone! And while you might think hiking is just walking, the uneven terrain and climbing up and down hills means the activity can be hard on your body. We asked Fayez Abdulrahman, a Montreal-based Certified Athletic Therapist who consults with Premiere Performance, B2ten and Diving Canada, and a hiker himself, for tips on staying injury free on the trails.
The ankles don’t lie
The most common injury when hiking is a sprained ankle, more specifically, when you roll your ankle to the outside, an inversion sprain. “Most ankles sprains are due to lack of ankle mobility in dorsiflexion [the act of raising your foot up towards your shin, you use dorsiflexion when you walk],” explains Fayez. The best way to stay injury-free is to strengthen the muscles around your ankle.
How do you do that? Try the following simple exercises that you can do anywhere, no matter what your fitness level:
1) Standing calf raise: raise up and down on your toes
2) Heel walk: walk around balancing on your heels
3) Hopping: on either one or both legs, hop forward, side-to-side and backwards
Finding balance in your life
The biggest difference between a walk and a hike is the terrain. Hikes tend to be on uneven terrain that gains and loses elevation. There will likely be tree roots, rocks, even boulders that you have to navigate. The key to staying injury-free is balance. “Balance is a combination of a strong core, strength, body awareness and coordination,” says Fayez.
How do you get that?
An easy exercise is to balance on one leg. When that gets too easy, try closing your eyes and balancing.
An exercise that works on your balance and core is the wood chop; you can use a hand weight in this exercise:
- Start in a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and holding the weight in both hands.
- Twist your torso to the right, raising both arms above your head, keeping your feet and knees pointed forward.
- Then, move into a squat as you rotate your torso to the left, bringing your arms down, diagonally across your body to your left hip in a chopping motion. Change sides.
To strengthen your legs, try the step-up exercise. This exercise gets your quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings working concentrically, the force needed to accelerate your body up the trail. All you need is a stair or sturdy box for this exercise where you literally just step up and down at your own pace; add weights if you are ready for more of a challenge.
Before you hit the trails, Fayez recommends warming up with dynamic movements. “They are more effective than stretches,” he says, “since the controlled movements warm up your body and prepare the muscle tissue to exercise.” Two exercises Fayez suggests are squats and walking lunges.
You finished your hike and now it’s time to relax. However, before you sit down, remember to stretch. “By stretching you will help minimize the amount of delayed onset muscle soreness and it will help your flexibility,” explains Fayez. “Otherwise your muscles may get stiff and your risk of future injury may increase.”
B. Sc. CAT (C)
Fayez graduated from Concordia University in 2006 from the Exercise Science Athletic Therapy program and was certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association in 2007. He has been actively working in the field of fitness as a personal trainer (since 2003) and athletic therapist (since 2004) helping people achieve their goals while keeping them motivated.