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Stretching For Hikers
At The Trailhead

By Diane Spicer

I always keep an eye out for hikers who are stretching at the trail head.

Why do I bother?

Because I like to share the trail with strong savvy hikers, those who are willing to invest a few minutes in preparing their muscles before demanding hours and hours of work from them.

Think of it this way: warming up your muscles prior to charging down the trail is a free insurance policy.

And if you've never tried it?

Ah! It feels great.

You've gotta start

As with all new habits, you've got to start somewhere.

And that's the entire point:



No worries! The best stretches for hikers can be easy peasy.

Try this easy approach:

  • Write yourself a sticky note and put it on your hiking gear in the back seat or trunk. Guess what it says!
  • Once you get out of the car, you'll see the note and hopefully decide to start this new habit, or at least give it a try.

Here's another easy introduction to best practices at the trailhead:

  • Grab hold of the car (I use the hatch or trunk when it's open) with one hand.
  • Bend your opposite knee and use your other hand to grab that ankle; pull it back toward your thigh (gently).
  • Hold it for the count of 20.
  • Feel that elongating muscle? If not, a bit more "oomph" in the pulling will do the trick.

Now do the other leg.

And shake it out.

Another easy one to try

Reach for the sky with both hands entwined, and then reach for the ground and pull downward on your wrists to loosen your upper body.

Other fast warm ups

  • Slowly bend over and touch your toes, or at least attempt to. This will "even out" the opposing muscles.
  • Wiggle your toes before you cram them into your boots.
  • Walk around on your tip toes, then on your heels.
  • Doing a few ankle rolls, both directions, feels good, too.

Stretch at your lunch spot

Don't neglect your muscles once your pack is off at your lunch stop.

Roll those shoulders, try to touch your shoulder blades (scapulae) with your fingertips, repeat the leg stretches outlined above... give those hard working muscles some oxygen!

Once back at the trail head, or at your destination for the evening, be sure to do some more muscle loving moves.

And maybe a few anti inflammatory moves, too.

Learn some stretches
from an expert

The best book for getting started on your new habit that I've ever seen is this one by Bob Anderson.

I bet you can predict the name of it!

And I'm willing to bet that you can learn some great warm ups for the trail.

  • Your limber body will make your hike an enjoyable experience.

Stretching = silly?

Afraid you'll look silly?

Who cares?

You won't look silly when you blow past the non-stretchers as they slowly (perhaps painfully) lumber their way uphill!

These quick "insurance policies" both before and after a hike really do make a difference in diminishing next day soreness and in enhancing hiking performance - at least that's been my experience.

Please believe me when I tell you that good muscle care before, during, and after a hike really pays off.

Your muscles can stay as soft and supple as these lupines if you're willing to make a little time for trailhead preventive maintenance!

Tall white lupine with purple lupine for contrast on a mountain hiking trailWhite lupine - stretching toward the sun!

And to stay as juicy as these flowers, pay attention to your hydration levels.

Water + a dedication to your muscles = happy trails

More great self care tips here!

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