The title says it all! This article is about minimizing muscle soreness when you hike - key word, MINIMIZE. So don't go following the advice of this article and whine that your muscles were sore yet you did everything I said. Minimize is not the same as eliminate. And bear in mind that any advertisement that says eliminate is a lie. I guarantee you that no product can eliminate the odor that will fester in your underwear after multiple days wearing the same pair hiking in 100 degree heat. You throw them puppies out! Enough for the disclaimer. Point is, when is comes to hiking - especially long, challenging hikes with uneven terrain and wicked elevation gains and losses like those you will encounter hiking Grand Canyon and Yosemite - muscle pain is part of the fun. But too much fun can be painful (i.e. hangovers and STDs). So here are some tips to help you MINIMIZE hiking muscle soreness.
1. Train Your Muscles - You cannot go from zero to hero in the matter of 5 minutes. Getting ready to hike Grand Canyon cannot be done to a catchy song in a montage. You have to put in time, effort and get your muscles ready for the stresses hiking puts on them - especially if the hike has ascents and descents. And I am not going to give you specifics here because I have written a lot of articles with specifics on how to train. And yes, they are long articles because it is a long process to train enough to minimize the soreness you will feel from your hike, let alone make it out of the backcountry wanting to go again.
2. Gain Flexibility - This means stretching. And not that 5 second quad stretch you do after a run. I am talking about actually holding a stretch to the point of discomfort - repeatedly. Yoga is great way to gain the flexibility you need but you can also stretch while sitting around texting or binging on Netflix. Oh, and if you say "Well, I don't do yoga because I'm not flexible," then I say, "well duh!" But why flexibility you ask? Because muscles that are flexible tend to feel less sore, but more importantly, flexibility can ward off injury during your hike. And as you fatigue, that chance of injuring yourself increases.
3 - Stay Hydrated - Your body NEEDS water and even more when you are hiking. It is the universal solvent because it washes away toxins, contributes to the building of energy molecules and "lubricates" your muscles. When your muscle fibers contract, they stick together. Water prevents this, allowing them to glide and allow for more efficient movement. So water is a lubricant and whatever you may use a lubricant for, try it without and that is how your muscles feel.
4 - Eat - With water, you need food. Have you ever hiked or ran or just participated in physical activities for a long period of time (like a few hours) and not eaten anything? Your muscles will completely give out, keeping you from moving another step. This is called hitting a wall. So aside from being virtually immobile, recovery time for you muscles will increase and soreness will set in immediately. Carbs - yes carbs - are the key to sustained energy. And then after, consume protein to rebuild and recover - super easy.
5 - Use Trekking Poles - Still sore and not too proud to have a little assistance? Trekking poles are a great option. They take load off your knees and supporting muscles and allow your upper body to take on some of the work so that your legs don't get the full effect for 6 hours hiking downhill. Trust me, when hiking Grand Canyon, the hiking downhill thing gets old. Too many people worry about the up - nope, down sucks just as much - and that comes first so when your muscles are screaming from the downhill, you still have to get out! If you are carrying a 35 lb pack, trekking poles will help take some of that extra load of your legs as well. Don't believe me - rent or barrow a pair and try them out on your next hike and see what you think! Don't like them? Then you had a real cool set of swords for your trip.
6 - Wear Proper Footwear - Hiking footwear is your most important piece of equipment. If you have the wrong shoe - whether type, fit, style, etc, - your hiking trip will be ruined. Blisters are the biggest issue. And once you have a blister, you will change the way you hike - throwing off your normal gait and posture, thus adding stress to your joints and muscles. Also, footwear is made for specific activities so if you are hiking, wear shoes made for hiking. You wouldn't run in hiking shoes. Or maybe you would. But not advised. And improper and/or ill-fitting footwear wreaks havoc on shins, calves, knees and hips as well. Here is an article we wrote about choosing proper footwear.
It is going to take some work, research and dedication to make your hike more enjoyable. But that dedication will pay off in the long run - not just for your hike, but your general fitness and well-being. If that is not enough, how about the well-being of everyone around you not having to hear you complain about your legs hurting?
Want more backpacking and hiking tips? Visit our blog! We also offer guided backpacking trips in Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Olympic and other amazing locations. So if you don't want to take your lumps all by yourself, come along with us!