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Hiking: It’s For Everyone!

Hiking is a great way to help all your clients take steps for better health.

Hiking Group

Telling a person to “take a hike,” used to be a bit of an insult, but sending someone on a trek is really more of a favor. Besides having physical benefits, hiking improves mental health by fostering a relationship with nature. Research shows that spending time among trees and the great outdoors reduces blood pressure, lowers cortisol and adrenaline levels, and amps up the immune system (Mitten 2016).

Hiking has the added benefit of feeling more like play than exercise, which means people may enjoy it more than “formal” training. That make is a great cross-training activity for your clients, and you can help them stay on the right path with programming that helps them step lively on their adventures.

Expanding Hiking Popularity

The pandemic has spurred increased interest in hiking.  Outdoor walking and trekking tours from companies like Country Walkers a 50% increase in bookings in 2020 compared with 2019.

Members of the American Hiking Society say they hike for exercise and to connect with nature citing that hiking is effective exercise; is accessible to all; and requires little equipment, training or cost.

But it’s important to note that not everyone feels at ease hitting the trail.  Just because clients can go hiking doesn’t mean they feel comfortable or welcomed participating in the sport. The diversity and inclusion we’re striving to create in our classes and gyms needs to extend to the great outdoors, if we really want to define them as great.

According to the Journal of Forestry, for instance, around 90% of visitors to public parks are white, despite making up only about 60% of the population.

Diversity on the Trail

Enter groundbreaking leaders like Rhiane Fatinikun, a U.K. woman who founded Black Girls Hike (BGH) in 2019 to encourage black women to hike in the safety of sisterhood. “The lack of representation in hiking is clear for all to see,” Fatinikun told Women’s Health this year.

“It’s never something I associated with Black people – it’s not even marketed at Black people. “I wasn’t keen on the prospect of venturing out alone or joining a typical hikers’ group where there’d be nobody I could identify with.”

See also: Promoting Equality for All Hikers

Preparing Everyone for the Hiking Trail

Encouraging clients to hike is one thing; properly preparing them is another.

“While many consider hiking recreational, it is also an endurance sport,” says Alicia Filley, MS, PT. “Like athletes who train for an event or a series of events, hikers may plan a targeted or scheduled hiking trip, such as a thru-hike or a section hike. A thru-hike is a trek from one end of a trail to the other.

Whether your clients want to accomplish a major hike or just want to enhance the hiking experience, Filley recommends the following plan:

Warmup:

Take the client through at least 15 minutes of dynamic, low-intensity cardiovascular activity.

Core:

  • plank: Begin at an appropriate level based on the assessment, and progress from 6 to 10 reps, 15 seconds to 2 minutes. Once the client can maintain good form for 2 minutes, progress to a more challenging stage.
  • windshield wipers: Progress from bent knees to straight legs, performing reps to failure for up to 6 sets.
  • seated Russian twists: Have the client start by holding a tennis ball and progress to twisting with a heavy dumbbell or weighted ball. Perform up to 6 sets to failure.

Strength:

Perform 3 sets of the following circuit. Select an appropriate starting level for each move, based on the assessment.

  • pushup, 15 reps
  • leg-strengthening exercise, 15 reps per side (see examples, below)
  • pullup, 15 reps
  • leg-strengthening exercise (see below), 15 reps per side

Leg strengthening examples:

Progress from body weight to weighted for 15 reps per side, choosing from these exercises:

  • squat progression
  • lateral leg lift in side-lying position or standing with resistance band
  • box step-up, step-down and lateral step-up
  • lunges—front, back and side
  • deadlift progression
  • calf raises

You’ll also find great resources for helping beginners get started—and getting ready for winter hiking at Backpacker magazine, and Yoga Journal offers 4 Yoga Poses for Hikers.

Looking for more ways that your training can help your clients get the most out of their free time?  Check out Fit to Travel: Exercises for Seniors.



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