Stretching it Out

Warm-Ups for Hikers and Campers

In the field of sports, backpacking stands alone as the only endurance sport in which the participants do not regularly perform a warm-up. Distance cyclers and marathon runners have long benefited from a good stretching routine before exercising. Stretching gradually increases heart rate, temperature and circulation to your muscles. Basically, stretching is like warming up your car on a cold morning. After a night's rest, your muscles need warming. Stretching gets the body going and increases your flexibility.

"Muscles or joints that lack adequate flexibility are more susceptible to injury," says Dr. Frank C. McCue, III, Director of the Sports Medicine Division of the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center."Good flexibility can prevent injury and enhance performance."

How to Stretch

When beginning to stretch, pick a level spot free of stones and sticks. Your sleeping bag or pad makes a handy exercise mat. Each of the stretches described in this article should be held for at least 30 seconds at the point of tension, during which time the tension should begin to decrease. Exhale as you lean into the stretch. During the stretch, you should relax and breathe steadily. Do not bounce during the stretch. Bouncing can tear at the muscles and tendons, creating damage that won't be able to heal as you hike. Also, do not overstretch. That is, don't push yourself too far. A small burning feeling is all right, pain is not.

Any or all of the stretches listed are also helpful during the cool down period after a day of backpacking.

Calf Stretch

  • Find a flat rock or stump that offers enough room for you to stand several inches off the ground.
  • Stand on the rock and back your feet up so that your heels hang off the rock.
  • Lower both heels until you feel the stretch in your calves.
  • Raise both heels, then alternately lower your right then left heel, stretching each for 30 seconds.
  • If you have a hiking partner, he/she can help you keep balanced.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Sit on the ground, legs extended in front of you.
  • Pull the right leg in toward your body as you would to sit cross-legged.
  • Reach for your toes. Make sure to bend at the waist until you feel the stretch in the hamstring.
  • Extend your right leg and repeat the exercise with your left leg.

Standing Leg Stretch

  • Once again, you will need a rock or tree. If you use a rock, it needs to be at groin height.
  • Facing the rock or tree, lift your right leg and rest the heel on the rock or the flat of your foot against the tree.
  • Bend forward slowly from the waist and hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
  • Return to a standing position and repeat the stretch with your left leg.
  • Return to a standing position and repeat the exercise, this time with your body parallel to the tree or rock, and bending sideways at the waist.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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