I can’t think of a better way to get in a bit of exercise and fresh air that to take a hike. Weather you choose to hike through a scenic national park or a city park, a good brisk walk is good for the mind, body and soul. Depending on your existing physical condition a walk can increase your heart rate, respiration and blood flow throughout your body. Muscles can be utilized which are commonly not used during the course of a normal day. And studies have shown that mental and emotional states are improved significantly following an out door excursion.
As with any activity there are precautions, depending where you are walking/hiking, it may require a different set of safety rules. Some universal rules apply first is to make sure you have enough water, wear appropriate clothing and your shoes match the hike or walk, wear a hat and or sun screen. If you choose to walk around the neighborhood always be aware of traffic and face oncoming vehicles, be visible and focused, get off your damn phone, use cross walks and if walking with friends travel single file (another advantage of this I will discuss later). When hiking in the wilderness always be aware of your surroundings, animal and environmental, both can kill you. Check the weather, trail maps, ask questions and make sure the hike is appropriate for you.
A good way to begin is to learn how to walk properly, but first you must stand properly. Begin by standing tall, feet 4 or 5 inches apart, knees slightly bent, NEVER lock your knees. Visualize you have 3 balloons (pick your favorite color), one is attached to your belt buckle, one the middle of your chest and the third at the very top of your head. The first balloon tips your pelvis up, this may require a little engagement of the abdominals. The second lifts your chest and rolls your shoulders back a little. And the third balloon lifts your head and slightly tilts your chin up. You are now in a very proper anatomical position, the way your body was intended to stand. From here visualize a slight breeze from behind, your balloon are now pulling you forward and up, you lean a few degrees forward and stride with your leg, always maintaining that 4 to 5 inch separation while keeping that leg in line with where you are walking.
Walking should be mostly effortless when using this method since you are using gravity to propel yourself. You are simply falling forward, catching yourself and repeating the process over and over. Sounds simple but it took me months until I felt comfortable with this but when it clicked it completely changed my approach to walking/hiking/running. Remember the single file walking earlier? When walking with friends take turn observing each other, walk behind the other person and notice how their feet, legs, arms and body move. There should be no twisting or variations off of straight forward and straight back. Strides should be symmetrical, same pattern, same length. You can look at your shoes that have been worn for some time and assess the wear patterns. If in doubt ask a running professional at a running shoe store to evaluate your stride.
I see people walking on the tread mill frequently, it’s their winter hikes. If you are supplementing the treadmill for the trail there are a few things you might want to consider. Unless you only walk on paved roads you encounter a variety of uneven surfaces so you should do the same when utilizing the tread mill. First you should vary the angle of the treadmill, some will angle up to 30 degree, that’s a pretty steep incline but really engages the legs and buttocks. A StairMaster does the same thing so it’s a personal choice. Next you will want to change the angle you are walking by rotating your body 45 degrees the left and the right, each for a set amount of time or number of strides. By doing this you will work muscles in your calf and buttock you normally don’t use, resulting better balance, reduced sprained ankles and less fatigue when traversing a side hill or uneven terrain. It doesn’t hurt to walk backwards on the treadmill, this will work muscles you don’t normally utilize, improve coordination and balance while stretching your ankles, knees and hips thus preventing injuries. Always start off slow, work up to a comfortable speed, same with the incline and rotation of your body……baby steps are indeed required when first getting use to the treadmill.