5 exercises for better balance and stronger knees on the trail

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No matter what type of workout you have planned, you can complement it with exercises that make you a stronger, more injury-proof hiker. The tips below are great for hikers who have little time to train but want to address common issues like knee pain or poor balance, or add a boost of low-impact cardio before their next adventure.

Two women doing step ups on a log in an outdoor park
You could do step-ups anywhere, even at the park after a walk.(Photo: Koh Sze Kiat via Getty Images)


Take 5 to 10 minutes to do step-up boxes after a workout. This short routine will provide an extra dose of exercise for both your legs and lungs. Select a box height that is from mid-shin to about knee height. Don’t have a box handy? A park bench will do the trick. For an added challenge, you can do it in a weight vest or while holding dumbbells. Alternatively, these can be performed as up-and-down side steps.

Lateral decreases

Side steps are an excellent option for hikers who experience knee pain when hiking downhill. This exercise requires you to step 6 to 8 inches tall. If there is pain with exercising at this height, lower the height 2 to 4 inches and try again.

To perform a side step down, start by standing with your left foot on the step and your right foot next to the side of the step. Bending his left knee, he slowly lowers his right foot towards the floor and taps his heel. Make sure you keep your left knee in line with your left foot and behind your toes as you bend over. Also, the lowering motion should come from the left leg, not the right foot reaching the floor.

Push through the left foot to return to the starting position. Slow and controlled is key here; fast reps won’t do you any good. Aim for a 3-second low and a 1-second raise. Start by performing three sets of 15 per leg and build up to four sets.

Running on an incline treadmill
Working out at the gym? Hop on the treadmill for 10 minutes to keep your muscles sharp for the heights ahead.(Photo: microgen via Getty Images)

Inclines of the treadmill

The treadmill is a great tool to prepare for climbs, especially if you have little time to train. This workout finisher is simple and useful for building aerobic capacity for hill climbs. Set the treadmill to an incline level of between 3 and 6 percent and set a pace to keep you moving steadily for 10 to 15 minutes. Focus on nasal breathing during your session to mimic climbing a hill while hiking. Nose breathing will help maintain intensity where it is most beneficial for hikers and optimize training times. To progress, add a weighted backpack and increase the incline or speed while maintaining nasal breathing.

Row or bicycle

Using the rowing machine or bicycle as an exercise tool can be beneficial, especially if there is a history of joint pain. These machines are low impact and excellent for building aerobic conditioning for hiking.

For the rower, a low to moderate effort of 1,000-2,000 meters focused on nasal breathing will provide a great complement to the cardio workout while targeting some of the larger muscle groups that rowers need. On the bike, pedal for 10 to 15 minutes with low to moderate effort to maintain a consistent cadence or watts. Also focus on nasal breathing for this workout.

Senior couple hiking together outdoors on a coastal path near the sea
Being able to stand during water crossings or while jumping from one boulder to another is a test of one’s balance. (Photo: Alistair Berg via Getty Images)


Good balance can be the difference between staying dry while crossing a creek or ending up with wet feet. Not to mention, the balance also increases ankle stability, which is helpful on a technical course. This often overlooked component of training also serves us well in life beyond the trail.

Some balance exercises are easy to fit into a daily routine, fit between larger exercise groups, or practice at the end of a workout. There are two types of balance: static and dynamic. Static balance is performed on a hard surface with no further movement. Dynamic balance typically incorporates less stable surfaces and/or adds movement to further challenge balance.

Static balance at home might feel like standing on one foot while your coffee or tea is being brewed, food is reheating in the microwave, or while you are brushing your teeth.

At the gym, add dynamic balance with a weighted pass. Stand on one leg and hinge at the hips so your torso is slightly forward. Transfer a 10-pound weight from one hand to the other while maintaining balance. Balance for 20 seconds on each leg and repeat three times.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in southeast Idaho. He rode the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and crossed the Dolomites in Italy. He can typically be found hiking and exploring the trails of Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos and resources from Welton, visit trailsidefitness.com.

#exercises #balance #stronger #knees #trail
Image Source : www.backpacker.com

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