When you can't resist the urge to get outside, breathe fresh air and enjoy the wonders of nature, hiking is one of the best ways to experience the outdoors while getting an excellent cardiovascular and muscle-sculpting workout. Hiking requires stability and strength in the hip muscles -- primarily the hip flexors, adductors and abductors. Incorporating hip-conditioning exercises into your workout will make you a stronger and more competent hiker and provide the added benefit of sleek, powerful hips. Your excursions will also be safer because you will enhance your balance as you tone your hip muscles.
The Hips: A Basic Intro
Often attention is paid primarily to the larger muscles of the legs such as the quads and hamstrings when it comes to exercises such as hiking that require steady propulsion up steep inclines and careful balance on the downhill. But the hips, because of their position just below the abdominal core, make them crucial players in hiking success. Hiking requires not just strength but also finesse through balance -- and the hips combined with the presence of a developed core are the body's center of balance. Learning to navigate a rocky or slick trail with confidence is just as important as being able to climb up a steep switchback, thus conditioning the hip muscles will result in a better overall hiking experience.
Hip Flexor Exercises
The basic squat is excellent for strengthening the hip flexors, those muscles which are responsible for lifting the legs and knees up, forward and back. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and point your toes forward. For some, pointing the toes at a slight outward angle is more comfortable, so experiment with your stance to determine which is the best for your body. Move into the squat carefully, keeping your knees in front of your ankles. Lunges give the hip flexors a sculpting blast, as well. Stand as you would for a squat but with your feet in a narrower stance. Step forward with one leg, bending the knee while the back leg remains straight. Push back to standing and repeat on the other side. Another great hip flexor exercise is the knee raise. Stand as in the squat position. Instead of sinking into a squat, raise your leg with a bent knee, hold for a couple of seconds and then release. Repeat on the other side. If this exercise challenges your balance, hold your arms out to your sides. As your balance improves, allow your arms to rest at your sides.
Strengthening the Adductors
The adductors are designed to "pull" the legs toward the body. They reside in the inner thigh area and connect to the hip structure. One of the best ways to strengthen the adductors is with the ballet plie. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width and turn out your toes. Raise your arms out to your sides and hold them in a straight position but do not lock your elbows. To execute the plie, simply bend the knees and allow the body to drop into this modified squat position. Return to standing and repeat. Next, perform a "pulse" plie -- drop into the plie position and instead of standing back up right away, hold the position and pulse, keeping your back straight and continuing to hold your arms up.
Strengthening the Abductors
The abductors move the legs away from the midline of the body; targeting them requires exercises that hone in on them and which strengthen them through subtle but powerful moves. Pilates leg circles are excellent for toning the abductors. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms out to your sides. Raise your left leg and point your toe. Keeping your leg straight and moving with care and precision, circle your leg in a clockwise direction, returning to the initial starting point -- "noon" on your imaginary clock -- and then repeating. Do the same with your other leg. The stronger you get, the larger your circles will become, but be careful not to swing your hips or allow them to lift off the floor.
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
- Teaching Pilates For Postural Faults, Illness & Injury; Jane Paterson
- Ballet Beautiful; Mary Helen Bowers
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon Jr.
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.