Trekking in the mountains is one of the best forms of exercise, not to mention great fun! But if you don’t ramp up the intensity of your treks gradually, then you could sustain an injury. Follow these five tips to experience an injury-free trekking adventure this summer:
1) Get a biomechanical assessment
Prevention is better than cure, so if you want to step up your exercise, it’s a good idea to work out where your weaknesses lie. Often the part of your body that hurts isn’t the underlying problem. (For example, your painful knees could be the result of weak glutes). A good physio will be able to give you a full body assessment and some exercises to address any weakness.
2) Warm up before you go trekking
Sitting down at a desk all day is bad news for your body, especially your hamstrings and hip flexors. It’s important to warm up your muscles before placing demand on them, to counteract the tightness from sitting all day. Rather than static stretching (which is best after exercise), try warming up with dynamic movements and joint mobility exercises. Squats and lunges are a fantastic way to open your hip flexors and wake up your glutes, and heel raises can prevent achilles strain. Joint mobility exercises are simple movements, like ankle and hip circles, that get the synovial fluid moving around your joints.
3) Be consistent
Little and often is the key to improving most things in life, and particularly fitness. Being consistent with your training programme before a trekking holiday is important — if your muscles are weak, then your joints will take the pressure on descents. Consistent training is the best way to increase cardio fitness too, which will make your trek much more enjoyable.
4) Hit the mountain trails to fully enjoy injury-free trekking
Get off the roads and hit the trails! Trekking on trails is great because the soft, uneven surface decreases the impact on your joints and improves your proprioception. Proprioception is your body’s sixth sense that helps you catch yourself instinctively when you fall or stand on one leg with your eyes closed. Simply put, proprioceptors are the sensors in your muscles that help you balance. When you’re walking on uneven terrain, your proprioceptors inform your muscles how to react so you won’t an ankle. These small stabilising muscles, especially in your ankle, get stronger through mountain trekking.
5) Stretch (and do it properly!)
It’s important to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds – one minute to allow your muscle time to relax. When a muscle undergoes tension, receptors in the muscle belly (muscle spindles) send a message to the spinal cord, which tells your muscle to contract and resist. This sounds counterintuitive, but the ‘stretch reflex’ is your body’s way of preventing damage that could occur when a muscle overstretches. By holding a stretch, your muscle spindles get used to the new length and stop sending signals to contract. Easing gently into a stretch is also important, as the stretch reflex is strongest when the muscle is stretched rapidly.
Bonus tip – go trekking, and don’t avoid the hills!
Your best chance at injury-free trekking will come by trekking often! If you are walking the tour du mont blanc or the haute route this summer, then you will be tackling considerable ascent and descent every day. Flat ground and weight training will not prepare your body for hills, so remember to practice hiking distances and ascents similar to the trek you’re training for.
Most importantly, enjoy it!