Whether you’re planning to hike all winter or are preparing to hit the trail this spring, Dr. Sam Martino is here to keep you on the trail as long as possible with injury prevention exercises.

Lets start with the basics.

Here are a few things to consider when preparing to hike in the winter. While some of these tips apply specifically to winter hiking, many of these tips apply year-round here in Utah.

Footwear – Micro spikes, like these from Hillsound Equipment, easily slip over your hiking boots or shoes and are important for icy trail conditions to prevent falls. Wool socks, like these from Darn Tough, are a must for warmth and to wick moisture. Avoid doubling up socks to prevent sheer forces that cause blisters. Always carry an extra pair of socks in case yours get wet.

Trekking polesTrekking poles help with balance, especially on uneven terrain, and assist with preventing falls. We always recommend them on our hiking events.

Layer Up – It is best to wear multiple layers in order to accommodate for your ever-changing body temperature. When hiking in the winter, early spring, or even cold summer mornings, you want to keep your muscles warm and flexible and avoid sweating or getting wet!

Dynamic Warm-up – A dynamic warm-up incorporates active movement with stretching in order to increase blood flow and oxygen to muscles, improves range of motion, and prepares for specific movements performed during your athletic activity. Dynamic stretching has been found to be more beneficial for injury prevention compared to static stretching, in which poses are held for a longer duration of time.

On to the nerdy stuff…

Our overall quality of movement and physical well-being are influenced by many different factors. In terms of injury prevention, we are going to focus on 3 things:

  • Mobility
  • Stability
  • Strength

It is important to understand these terms in order to incorporate them in our fitness routines.

Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through it’s range of motion.  This involves the area where bones meet, muscles that cross that joint, the joint capsule, and ligaments. Mobility also involves the flexibility of our muscles and our ability for them to lengthen and move.

Stability is the ability to control and resist forces in a joint including external forces from the environment.

Strength is the force you can generate and apply against a load or resistance.

It is important to incorporate and think about all 3 of these factors when we are considering cross training and our fitness routines. For example, someone who participates in strength training and is performing the same repetitive lifts or movements during their workouts will increase their strength but may not necessarily enhance their mobility or ability to stabilize a joint. 

Another thing to consider is the chain reaction and how our body is connected. When we are hiking and encounter external forces, whether small such as simply walking over rocky paths or larger forces that cause a reaction such as tripping, all of our joints are involved.

The reaction starts with our feet and all the small joints composing our feet and ankles and then moves up towards our knees, hips, and spine. If we have had a history of any injuries in our joints, this is why we might feel pain or changes in other parts of our body simply due to compensation.

Since our feet and ankles are closest to the ground and at the base of the chain, I like to check on ankle and foot mobility on most of my patients, even if they may not be having pain or problems in this area.

Ankle mobility can be overlooked, but being deficient in this area can have a negative effect on our body mechanics while performing functional movements such as squatting. I will outline below a few stretches for ankle mobility, stability exercise, and ankle strengthening exercises.

Keep in mind that every body is different and has a different history, so there is no cookie-cutter approach. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort while performing these movements, you may want to get a referral from your medical provider and visit a physical therapist ☺

Lower Body Warm-up

Here’s a lower body warm-up you can do to prime your muscles, joints, tissues, and ligaments for hiking.

Alternating Lunges with Trunk Rotation

Alternating Butt Kicks

Alternating Hamstring Stretch Kicks

This is an example of a static stretch but is great for stretching the hip flexor/calf of your back leg, as well as the glutes on your leading leg.

  1. Place one leg up on a rock, stair, any raised surface, or an incline.
  2. Lunge forward while keeping your back leg straight
  3. Drive your heel towards the ground.
  4. Then switch the stance.

Stability Exercises

Here are 2 stability exercises you can do to prepare your body for the uneven surfaces you’ll encounter on the trail.

Balance Training

Balance training, especially progressing to single leg stance,  is great for improving ankle stability. There are many different types of balance boards available on Amazon, like this one I’m using in the picture.

You can easily incorporate stability into your workout routines. For example, perform your standing upper body exercises with dumbbells while standing on the balance board for added challenge and recruitment of stabilizing muscles, or perform a forearm plank with your arms rested on the balance board rather than on flat ground.

Pistol Squat

This movement is a little more advanced. Stand on one leg with your toes and knee maintaining forward positioning. Slowly with control attempt to squat down towards the ground while keeping your opposite leg elevated. Then drive back up through your stance leg.

Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Here are some ways you can strengthen your ankles and the muscles in your feet with bands and even just a towel from your home. These exercises will also prepare you for snowy trails this winter and rocky, uneven trails this spring into summer.

Theraband Exercises

These are simple strengthening exercises for your ankle with use of a resistance band. Here are the ones I like to use.

Towel Scrunch

This is an easy way to strengthen small intrinsic muscles in your foot that also help support the arch of the foot. All you need is a wash cloth or hand towel!

Sit in a chair with your heel positioned under your knee. Rest your foot on a small towel. Keeping your heel still, extend all your toes and attempt to ball/scrunch up the towel repeatedly.

I hope this was helpful! Comment below with any questions you have!

Sam Martino

Sam Martino

Salt Lake County Ambassador

Dr. Sam Martino completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science and a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York.

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