For many runners, the thought of spending our precious exercise time hiking – which is really just walking (right?) – is less than exciting. It’s so sloooooow. And we like to go fast. That’s why we run. But, it turns out that slowing your roll from time to time can be a great way to not only improve your running, but keep you running for many years to come.
According to Henry David Thoreau, the cure for what ails you is a walk in nature, and science has proved that he was on to something – there are tangible health benefits to tree-hugging. In 1982, the Japanese forestry ministry implemented shinrin-yoku, or, “forest bathing” as part of their national public health program, after finding that simply being in the presence of trees helped support cardiovascular function, hormone production, immunity, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Since then, large-scale surveys in the Netherlands and UK have shown that living in areas with more green space can promote mental health and improve perceived quality of life. Other studies have shown that exposure to natural environments can reduce negative emotions, enhance recovery from illness, and improve mood.
Many runners hit the gym to strengthen their legs with squats, lunges, and step-ups. These “functional movements” mimic the real-life movement patterns you encounter when hiking. As you move up a hill, you rely on your glutes to power you up and forward. This comes in handy, as these steps mimic the motion of a runner at top speed. When coming back down, your quads fire as they help break your forward motion. Additionally, by moving at a slower speed, you are effectively loading your weight on one foot or the other, which forces your core to keep you balanced.
Smarty Tip: Whether running or hiking, downhill movements place more stress on your muscles and joints. To reduce the risk of injury and muscle soreness, try using trekking poles on your descent.
Much as you’d probably like, you can’t run all day, every day. The impact from running places a large amount of strain on the body, and we all have limits to how much we can handle without injury. According to running coach Matt Fitzgerald, if you want to continue increasing your amount of training beyond that limit, you should introduce other, less impact-heavy training. In his book 80/20 Running, Fitzgerald, advises that most runners, including those who seldom get injured, do at least one non-impact cardio workout per week. Hiking up those hills is one way that you can increase your cardiovascular endurance while keeping the burden on your bones to a minimum.
Alternate Muscle Activation
Unlike running on a flat surface, hiking requires that your foot navigate uneven, technical, and, sometimes, slippery terrain. This surface variety encourages our bodies to use different muscles, tendons, and ligaments to help keep us supported and balanced. Hiking can activate and strengthen a host of muscles that are otherwise left dormant during repetitive road training.
Smarty Tip: If you’re new to hiking, don’t just hit the trail in your trainers. Invest in the right footwear for the job – with stabilization and ankle support to minimize the likelihood of rolling an ankle or day-after soreness.
Hiking gets you high (and low), taking you to vistas you might never see otherwise. Unless you helicopter in, it’s the only way you’re gonna get that Instagram shot of you in Dancer pose on top of a mountain at sunset.
Smarty Tip: Don’t pose too close to the edge. And when you’re done getting the perfect pic, remember to capture the memory through your own eyes as well.
Posted on July 18, 2017