Hiking this Spring? Is Your Body Ready?

My husband Derek and I love to hike.  Mary’s Rock in Shenandoah Park is one of my favorites. One of the things we noticed during the hike was when we were going uphill I was a lot faster than Derek, and when we went downhill Derek was definitely faster.  We joke about this when we hike these days.  But the question is why?  Why do we handle inclines and declines differently?

It’s all about muscles, joints and the cardiovascular system. Going uphill takes a lot more effort.  Blood pumping and utilizing the oxygen in your system so that you can climb up Hawksbill Trail or the rock scramble along the top of Old Rag.  The primary muscles you use are your thigh, hip and trunk muscles.

Going downhill uses a type of muscle contraction called eccentric control.  That’s when you use a muscle to control the amount of speed or movement.  That way you won’t find yourself running down Stoney Man trail or falling down the White Oak Canyon Trail.

Derek has better eccentric muscle control than me and I have better cardiovascular endurance and quadriceps strength.  Below are some ways to help improve both directions so you and your friends can make it to Mary’s Rock at the same time.

High intensity Interval training – Perform a high intensity exercise such as high knees, jumping jacks, or running in place for one minute.  Try and do it for a full minute. That’s how you increase your cardiovascular endurance

Step Ups – Use stairs or find a high step.  Using only one leg at a time, step up on the stairs and then back down.  The goal is to perform 30 repetitions on only one leg at a time.  This will strengthen your quad muscles and hip muscles for going uphill.

Step Downs – Still using the stairs.  The focus now is controlling yourself as you are moving in a descending motion.  Starting on top of the stairs or a step.  Using only leg at a time, stick your heel out and slowly dip your heel down to the next step and straighten back up.  Perform 30 repetitions on one leg and then the other.  This exercise will strengthen your hamstring muscles that help control you as you descend downhill.

Have fun hiking this spring! All of the trails listed above are found in Shenandoah National Park.   All the details and many other great hikes can be found on www.hikingupward.com