The Answers to Common Hiking Questions!


As the summer approaches, Portlanders start to scramble towards the coast, Columbia gorge, and Eastern Oregon (to mention a few!) to get their hiking fix with the beautiful weather.  With the big increase in hiking activity, I see more hiking injuries.  This isn’t a coincidence!  There are ways to prep your body for the increased hiking load.  Let’s talk about it by answering a few common questions I get in the clinic.


What are the muscles you use when you hike?

You use every muscle in your body when you hike, but the biggest ones are your quadriceps (front of thigh), glutes (buttocks), hamstrings (back of thighs), calves, and abdominals.  You use all of these muscles eccentrically and concentrically which are strengthening.  Eccentric contractions are those that lengthen the muscle while it’s under load.  For example, your quads when you are walking downhill.  Concentric contractions are those that shorten the muscle while it’s under load.  For example, your quads when you are walking uphill.


I roll my ankles a lot.  How can I prevent that from happening?

I like using balance activities to increase something called proprioception.  Proprioception is detailed information about where your joints and limbs are in space.  A simple balance activity would be standing on one leg.  Increase the challenge by moving your arms or other leg.  Closing your eyes also increases the difficulty.  If you have poor balance to start with, don’t try these things without a counter nearby.  When you hike, though, you are moving.  You are not stationary on one leg.  Make sure to incorporate more functional training by adding more motion to challenge your ankle control.  For example, try walking along a straight line or performing a karaoke motion to make it more dynamic.  Google ladder drills.


High or low top hiking boots?

Regarding high vs. low top shoes, there is no solid evidence that says one vs. the other prevents rolling your ankles.  One study that supported this was published in 1993 (old, I know, but still good stuff).  It looked at basketball players wearing high tops vs. low tops and found that the incident of rolling their ankles in the different types of shoes was the same [1].  Granted, hiking is different than basketball.  If you know you like the sensation of extra stability against the ankle joint with high tops, go for the high top.  If you like a more mobile, free sensation, choose the low top.  I have high tops, but mainly because I think I get less dirt in my socks.  I don’t know if that’s true.


What can I do in the gym to improve my hiking game?

Think of those muscles I mentioned above.  If you want to increase your general hip and leg strength, you can focus on squats and lunges.  Take a bosu ball and place it face down (blue side down) then do a squat on that.  That’s going to throw in that proprioception concept while strengthening your legs.  If you are going for straight up endurance, get on the stair climber.  If you don’t usually use the stair climber, you will get sore the next 1-2 days.  Start with something like 5 minutes to just introduce the activity.  Are you going on a backpacking trip?  Put your backpack on with weight in it while doing the stair climber.  I like front and side planks for core work.


These are just touching the basics of some of these concepts.  If you are interested in one of these topics more than the other, or if you have questions regarding something I didn’t mention, feel free to contact me.  My email is below.  If you have an injury that is preventing you from hiking, also feel free to e-mail me or call our office. I can get you moving in the write direction!