There are many ways to improve your hiking; stretching after a hike is one of them. Why stretch? Stretching is a fundamental method that improves your overall health and fitness.
Hiking and Stretching
Unlike most physical activities, which last an hour or so, hiking can last up to eight hours or more. You put your body through a lot of stress and your muscles tighten. This is especially true if you are rock scrambling to a peak. Think of all the ways you contort your body on hikes like Holiday Peak or Turtlehead Jr., the Double Slot route. After the hike we do the worst thing: we sit in a car. Sitting is not good. It's almost the opposite of stretching.
Stretching is especially beneficial if you are older or it's cold outside. We need to keep our muscles and joints flexible. It will improve our hiking and mornings will feel better. Some of you know that feeling of getting out of bed in the morning. I also believe it tightens your muscles if you sleep for more than six hours continuously.
When to Stretch?
For me it's easiest to stretch immediately after the hike. I drive to the gym, take a shower, go into the Jacuzzi, then stretch. I believe the Jacuzzi helps loosen my muscles. By going to the gym right after the hike, I can't blow it off. You know how once your at home it's hard to go back out again.
If you stretch in the morning or before you are warm, do gentle stretches. Why? It's much easier to pull a muscle when your muscles are not warmed up.
How to Stretch
Which stretches you do is really dependent on where you are tight. If you do a lot of hiking or rock scrambling, your quads, hamstrings, gluts and calves are probably tight. If you go to a gym, they probably have lots of stretching machines. Some important principles to follow are:
Besides the normal stretches you can use foam rollers. They are actually more of a massage technique than a stretch and they are very effective to relieve muscle soreness and trigger points.
I stretch everyday regardless if I hike. I also stretch a few times a day. Give it a try. I think you will feel better and enjoy hiking more.
Branch Whitney is the author of Hiking Las Vegas and creator of the 52 Peak Club where members hike to the best 52 Peaks around Las Vegas, NV