How to Hike to Prevent Pain and Preserve Energy

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This is a post for my fellow hikers, backpackers and mountaineers.

Best explained in the video, but here is a little bit of additional information:

Body mechanics through any sport are important, and hiking is no exception. Most of us don’t pay attention to our form or body mechanics while hiking because it’s not typically a “sport” where we’re competing or going for time or distance; most of the time we’re just out there to enjoy nature, summit a mountain or successfully complete a backpacking trip.

I started hiking the way I demonstrate in the video 4 years ago because of what I know about fascia, what causes my knee pain and because it just made sense to me anatomically as a way to prevent pain. I didn’t realize until a year or so later that I was doing something already in use with hikers and mountaineers, known as the “rest step.”

The rest step is used predominantly to help high altitude mountaineers maintain their energy and oxygen levels during sustained upward movement.

You can use the rest step for the above purpose, but I promote it mostly to prevent injury and muscle fatigue/soreness, whether you’re at high altitude or not.

When I make a conscious effort to hike this way I have little to no pain. I don’t even get SORE from a big mountain climb! And my energy levels are sustained throughout a trek.

Using the “rest step” for injury prevention:

The why and how:

This is a method of UPHILL HIKING. With each step uphill you allow your back leg to extend FULLY from your hip through your heel, while pausing for a moment, before continuing with the other leg stretching fully next time.

When you allow your back leg to extend fully and your body weight rests on that part of your skeleton for a moment, ALL the muscle fibers and fascia in your back leg – the Achilles, calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), popliteal fascia (back of your knee) and hamstrings – get an active stretch while the front leg gets to rest.

Doing this in a continuous manner up a hill or mountain is a lot like a dynamic stretch routine (my favorite way to stretch), and though you’re certainly “working” your body, your fascia gets to lengthen while the muscles are allowed to rest.

At the same time, if you STAND TALL and USE YOUR GLUTES to power you uphill instead of your quads, you will be using the largest muscle in your body (the gluteus maximus), which will SAVE your quads and hip flexors from overuse. AND: you’ll sculpt a better booty, and who doesn’t want that?!

The science behind this method:

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Running & Downhill Hiking: it’s NOT the Pounding or Impact That is “BAD” For Joints – it’s THIS

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Are you one of the many people who thinks that the “pounding” during running or the “impact” of downhill hiking is bad for your joints?

I used to think this too! It was drilled into my brain on a very visceral level when I had to hike 7 miles downhill on a “bad” knee and by the time I got to the bottom I had TWO bad knees (click here for that story). I believed the terrain was the problem and I didn’t hike again for 6 YEARS! Now I know better.

With SO many people experiencing pain on the downhill, or pain through impact sports like running, it’s logical to conclude that the sport or the terrain are “bad” for your joints.

I’m here to tell you it is NOT the pounding, impact or downhill that is bad!

I never would have believed this myself had I not experienced first hand being unable to run or hike for 8 and 6 years respectively, only to find out I can hike ridiculously steep 14ers here in Colorado (mountains above 14,000 feet), even run down them, without any pain at all – if I take care of my body before going out there.

The downhill and running are NOT the problem; they simply highlight what is already dysfunctional or unhealthy in our bodies.

If you are someone who normally does NOT have pain unless you try to run or hike downhill, and only during these activities you experience foot or ankle pain, shin splints, knee pain or hip pain, then chances are…

Your fascial system has lost its SPRING!

Our body is made up mostly of fascia, and that fascial system’s make-up is like a giant web that is meant to be elastic and flexible, able to absorb impact for us while helping us ‘spring’ out of sports such as running.

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