Have you ever shied away from an adventurous hike because you didn’t know if you could do it? Maybe you thought you’d slow everybody down. Maybe the idea of a 1,000 foot elevation gain made you think, That’s what we have airplanes for. Maybe, like me, you’ve had the frustrating experience of following a faster hiking buddy. They repeatedly have to stop to wait for me. While they’re watching me huff and puff my way up the trail, they’re getting a nice rest. Then, when I finally reach them, they continue, and I haven’t even felt my heart disappear from my throat yet!
I’ve got the trick to these hiking specters, and it even comes with treats!
I call it “Rock n Roll Hiking.” It’s a method of hiking that I developed while climbing out of Crystal Lake in Montana’s Mission Mountain Wilderness. This lake slumbers at the base of a mountainous bowl. Getting in feels easy; it’s all downhill and dandelions. Coming out, however, is all back up. When I first started the return ascent, I became dismayed at how hard I had to work. Also, because conventional hiking mimics climbing a flight of stairs, I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace. My steps were normal-size steps – I just lifted my leg a little higher to accommodate the incline – and I had to suck wind just to keep up with my long-legged hubby. Not fun.
For heavier people like me, long hills become increasingly challenging. The longer the hill, the longer I have to drag my weight up it. As my muscles fatigue, so does my resolve. Every step over a tree root feels heavier; every work-around feels sloppier. It behooves me, then, to become as efficient as possible if I’m going to enjoy a hike in the woods.
Rock n Roll Hiking is all about efficiency. It’s a change in pace and stride that doesn’t reduce speed. Here’s how it works… Strategy one: slow your pace. Yep, you read that right. Slower leg turnover creates just enough extra time for lungs to draw another ounce of air. More oxygen slows your heart rate to a comfortable beat and keeps your muscles from burning too much. For me, an efficient pace feels half as fast as a normal step. I take one step in the time it takes for two.
Strategy two: widen your stride. This strategy makes up for the slower pace. A wider stride starts with lengthening out your leading leg until you land on your heel. As you move forward through your stride, your foot will roll smoothly from heel to toe. Getting that extra push off your toe keeps the spring in your step, too. You know you’re doing it right when your torso wants to rock back and forth as you move forward, hence, the Rock n Roll. For added benefit, you can rest your hands on your hips. This opens up your diaphragm and allows your lungs even more space for drawing air.
The slower pace, combined with a wider stride, can cover as much ground as regular hiking, but you expend less energy, move more oxygen through your body, and use more muscles. Plus, this hiking style comes with added benefits. First, because you are striding farther out in front, you’re engaging hamstrings, buttocks, and lower back; not just your calves and quads. Using more muscle burns more calories and improves overall fitness. Second, striding heel-first strengthens your shins, preventing shin splints. Third, the long stride tends to focus your feet straight forward, naturally aligning hips. For anyone who’s ever spotted a “lazy foot” angling outward as they walk or hike, you know what I’m talking about. Most of us tend to walk with one toe facing slightly out. That small rotation can lead to big problems as we age because it weakens hips. Rock n Roll Hiking can help. Last, the slower pace keeps our heart rate lower, which – over a long hike – means we burn more fat. Keeping efforts within the aerobic zone allows muscles to draw energy from stored fat instead of pure oxygen (Read Why I’ll Never Be a Runner Again for more info on this.) Powered by this super-rich mix of fat and oxygen, we’ll go farther, longer. We get an awesome sweat, too!
Next time someone invites you along for a hike, tell them, “No sweat!” Try the Rock n Roll Hiking method, and you’re sure to enjoy the trail more than ever.
P.S. In answer to Monday’s blog, my knicker-knocker activity to bump me out of my stuckness was – you guessed it – hiking to Ch-Paa-Qn Peak (A.K.A. Sleeping Woman Peak) near Missoula.
Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet: to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year. She began on Thanksgiving 2011. Will she make it? Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind. Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.