8 Stretches for After Your Next Hike
Ever been so stiff you've almost fallen over getting out of your car after a long drive back from the trailhead? It's probably because you didn't stretch after your hike. Taking 5 to 10 minutes at the trailhead to stretch a little bit will promote blood flow back into your muscles and reduces your heart rate back to normal. Stretching before and after your hike can increase your flexibility and range of motion and can even protect you from injury. Below are several stretches you can do at the trailhead post-hike.
No matter what muscle you're stretching, there's a right way to do it. Here are some tips for stretching correctly.
- Don't bounce, especially if you're stretching pre-hike when your muscles are cold — you can tear a muscle.
- Keep stretches gentle and slow and breathe through them. If you feel pain or a sharp tightness, back off your stretch.
- Hold a stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat them 2 to 4 times and be sure to do both sides of your body.
Quadriceps: (Quad) Stretch
Your quadriceps muscles run along the front of your thigh and are used for stability and strength hiking up and downhill. These might be tight after a steep trail, or even one where you're just moving quickly.
- Stand near a vehicle or an information kiosk in case you need support.
- Shift your weight to one foot, and lift the other ankle. Catch your ankle with the hand on the same side of your body and gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
- Engage your stomach muscles to prevent your stomach from sagging outward, and keep your knees close together.
Hamstrings: Forward Fold
You've almost certainly done this one after taking off your pack. It's very effective, good for both the backs of your legs as well as your lower back, and it feels really good after a hike.
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly and slowly hinge forward from your hips to reach your hands towards your toes.
- Straighten your legs, keeping your hands reaching towards your feet.
- If you can, place your hands on your shins, toes, or the ground depending on your flexibility
Hips, hamstrings and more: Straddle stretch
This stretch is similar to the forward fold but also incorporates your inner thigh muscles and hips.
- Take a wide stance (feet wider than hip-width), and slowly bend forward at the waist with straight legs. Don't lock your knees.
- Grasp your elbows with your hands and dangle your head between your legs.
- As the hamstrings and back relax, shift over to one side (pictured above), reaching toward your knee, shin or toes, bending at the hips and stretching the chest toward the thigh.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat to the other side.
To get out of the stretch, come back to center, place both hands on the thighs, bend your knees slightly, and slowly and smoothly round-up through your spine, exhaling as you stand up.
Hips: Figure Four
Stretching out your hips at the trailhead without having to sit down in the parking lot can be hard. Try the figure four to stretch your hips and also work on your balance. This one requires standing on one foot, so have something nearby (a car, a trailhead sign, a hiking friend) to balance.
- You can do this by supporting yourself with a trekking pole! But if you want to test your balance, try doing it standing on one leg.
- Stand on one leg, putting most of your weight on it.
- Raise the other leg up and place the outside of your ankle on top of the knee of your standing leg.
- Bend the supporting leg as much as you can while keeping the other leg on the knee.
- Sit back if you can to deepen the stretch.
Calves: Calf Stretch
If you're a fan of steep trails, you'll want to be sure to stretch your calves after a long day. Your calf muscle runs along the back of your lower leg.
- Stand at arm's length from a vehicle or a kiosk at the trailhead.
- Place your right foot behind your left foot.
- Slowly bend your left leg forward, keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor.
- Hold your back straight and your hips forward. Don't rotate your feet inward or outward.
- Hold for about 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- To deepen the stretch, slightly bend your right knee as you bend your left leg forward.
Arms and Torso
Shoulders and upper back: Shoulder stretch
Carrying a pack all day can be tiring. Keep your shoulders flexible with this easy stretch.
- Bring your left arm across your body and hold it in the crook of your right arm, either above or below the elbow.
- Hold for about 30 seconds.
- Switch arms and repeat.
Upper Arms: Tricep Stretch
This works nicely with the shoulder stretch above to cover your entire upper arm.
- Raise an arm straight up, so it's next to your ear.
- Bend your arm at the elbow, trying to get the palm of your hand on your shoulder blade.
- Hold the elbow of the arm that is raised with your opposite hand, pulling it gently back and towards your ear.
Finish it all up with this last one. It'll help you get back into a neutral, upright posture after carrying a pack all day.
- Reach your hands behind you and clasp your fingers.
- Straighten your arms out, slowly trying to raise them away from your lower back
Note: If you have difficulty touching hands behind your back, just place your palms on your butt and pull your elbows together, looking up toward the sky.
Bonus! IT Band Stretch
From standing, cross one foot over the other and gradually move your weight into the foot most of your weight is on. Raise your arms up and swing your hips to the side so both soles of your feet are flat on the ground. Your body should be curved like a half-moon, and you should feel the stretch in the outside of the leg that is crossed over your standing leg.