At the end of a long day out hiking it can be tempting to sit down and rest a while. But stretching at the end of a long day in the woods can keep us hiking for longer into our lifetime, and we’ll continue to feel the benefits of hiking. Today I’m sharing the 3 stretches you need to do after a hike to reduce muscle soreness.
Hiking, after all, is a cyclic motion; over and over again we move through a relatively short range of motion. Uneven ground (and maybe scree-slogs before the peak of a mountain) can get you moving through larger ranges of motion at the ankles and hips, but generally the repetition of taking thousands of steps can lead to some tightness and stiffness over time. We also tend to be moving mainly forward (biomechanics geeks call this the sagittal plane), without much rotation through our spine and hips when out on a hike. Luckily, by addressing these shortcomings, we can enjoy a day on the trails, and build the resilience and mobility we need to continue enjoying them for many years to come.
Check out this easy circuit of 3 stretches that are sure to become your new apres go-to.If you want more of a visual, check out this video for a step by step guide to take you through the motions the first time!
Freestanding Couch Stretch into Romanian Stretch
This stretch was made popular by Kelly Starett, and for good reason. The muscles of your Hip Flexors include rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius. These muscles are used a LOT as you repeatedly lift your back leg forward to climb that mountain!
BUT we tend to not use them through their entire range of motion as we get tired. This stretch addresses that shortcoming, maintaining our range of motion through these muscles. The Romanian stretch component of this stretch Hits the Glute max, and hamstrings, which you’ll read about in the next section!
A warning, this stretch will put you into extreme hip extension, so go into it slowly, and pay special attention to the position of your hips. It is very easy to go ‘around’ this stretch by letting your pelvis tilt backwards in the couch stretch and forward in the Romanian stretch. It is stretching the
How to do the Freestanding Couch Stretch into Romanian Stretch
Start in a comfortable lunge position, and tilt the top of your pelvis backwards, then lift your back heel towards your butt and catch it with the hand on the same side. Hold for 15 seconds, release your heel, shift your weight back and the top of your pelvis forward, and lean with a neutral back towards your front foot. Hold for 15 seconds. Alternate twice per side.
Lunge TFL Stretch
The biggest issue clients have that stops them from hiking? Knee Pain. There are a LOT of different reasons you may be experiencing knee pain, but a very common one is tightness of the muscles that insert into your IT band that causes inflammation in the IT Band itself.
The IT Band is a sassy, elastic tissue that reduces the amount of muscular effort required for us to walk, run and bound. It is made up almost exclusively of collagen and fibroblast cells, and so stretching the IT Band itself is darn near impossible- it would take the force of a mid size SUV to change the length of your IT Band. Primary there are 2 muscles that insert into this band: Your Gluteus maximus and Tensor Fascia Lata.
Your Gluteus Maximus is relatively easy to stretch, but your TFL is a sneaky little guy and takes a really specific combo of movements to stretch. We have a great way to stretch it in a lunge position.
How to get into a TFL stretch
In your lunge position, walk your back knee behind your front knee, tilt the top of your pelvis to the back of the room, and shift your hips forward. You should feel a stretch on the outside-front of your back-legs’ hip.
Lunge Upper Body Rotations
Hiking keeps us in mainly a forward moving motion (we biomechanic geeks call this the sagittal plane) and the wearing of a backpack can reinforce this and stop us from rotation through our hips and spine. Incorporating rotation into the rest of the day will serve us well, as the ability to rotate allows us to maintain a neutral posture through our low back and shoulders in everyday movements!
How to do Lunge Upper Body Rotations.
In your neutral Lunge position, lock your legs into position and rotate as far as you can with your torso towards your front leg (as if you are trying to look behind you), hold 15 seconds, reverse the motion and look behind you towards your back leg. Hold 15 seconds. Pay attention that you actively counter rotate through the lower body as you rotate through the spine (ie. do not let your knee follow the turn of your torso).
Got a little more time? Spend a few minutes massaging each foot and stretching your calves out after a day in restrictive hiking boots. Hiking boots help us protect our feet, but are similar to wearing a cast on our feet. Over time a reduction in strength and mobility of our feet can lead to pain and dysfunction through the rest of our bodies.
Finally, remember that stretching will not reduce muscle SORENESS; building up your strength before your day on the trails, and a quick dip in a cool creek or cold shower afterwards are your best bets for reducing soreness. However, in the long run, these 3 stretches will increase the robustness and mobility of your joints after a hike and counteract some of the stiffness hiking can cause in the long run.
Want more mobility routines, and to learn more about the biomechanics of training for your favorite outdoor adventures? Follow Alecia and WILDR on Youtube and instagram, and check out their 8 week preset and custom fitness programs at www.wildr.ca.
Alecia Williams is a High Performance Specialist through the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. She was introduced to the mountains through her time spent as an elite ski racer, and now enjoys recreating in the mountains every chance she can get. Her work with WILDR is focused on helping clients get physically prepared for the adventures of their lives- from mountaineering to trail running races, and everything in between.