3 Exercises To Avoid Looking Like a Hunched Over HikerPosted on February 3, 2017
If you tried out the Hiking Strength Training Workout you know that most of the exercises focused on building your leg strength but it’s important not to completely forget about strengthening your upper body for hiking performance. Today’s post is going to dive a little deeper into examining your upper body posture while hiking and provide a progression of exercises to incorporate into your strength training program.
There are countless reasons why posture is important including proper muscle use, joint alignment, decrease stress on the spine, abnormal wearing of joints that can lead to arthritis, address muscle imbalances, prevent fatigue and reduce strain and overuse injuries to name just a few. Specific to hiking, maintaining good upper body posture helps with the efficiency of your stride, getting the most out of using trekking poles and reduces fatigue on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders when carrying a backpack.
When examining your posture you want to look at the alignment of your entire spine as everything else attaches to it. The position of rib cage, shoulders, pelvis, hips, knees, etc., as it is all interconnected to the position of your spine. You want to look at your body as a whole instead of individual parts. That being said, this post is just going to look at the muscles required for maintaining optimal upper body posture and will discuss lower body alignment with the next post to put it all together.
To avoid the “hunched over hiker” look and the stiff muscles that comes with that, start with these cues to set yourself up with optimal posture. Optimal posture refers to when all major joints are stacked on top of the other to reduce the load on your muscles due to gravity. Start by lifting your shoulders all the way up to your ears. Now roll them backwards and down as much as you can, think of your shoulders being roughly in line with your ears. In order to hold this position the muscles of your upper back (rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and trapezius) need to be strong to hold and move your shoulder blades (scapula). This is the position that you really should be in all the time, whether you are sitting, standing or hiking up a mountain. If this is difficult for you to do there can be a number of different reasons why but most commonly due to weak posterior postural muscles that I just mentioned and/or anteriorly rotated shoulders and tight pectoral (chest) muscles. This muscle imbalance is largely responsible for the majority of kyphotic (hunched) postures that is becoming more and more common as sedentary culture and increased screen time is on the rise.
Going back to upper back posture and hiking you want to try and keep your shoulder blades rolled down and back while walking. To maintain this position the strength of your rhomboids, and trapezius muscles is going to be a main factor. These muscles directly act on each scapula to retract and depress the shoulder girdle. If your upper back is weak it is going to be difficult to maintain this posture for longer periods of time. Not to worry, by simply adding in a pull movement into your workout you can begin working towards better posture right away.
The video below demonstrates three basic exercises that you can do at home using just your body weight, a band and/or a dumbbell. Watch to find out how to correctly progress through the exercises strengthening your back for optimal posture.
In addition to working on your upper back strength here are a few quick tips to assist you in maintaining optimal posture on the trail.
Adjust your trekking poles to the correct height to maintain proper shoulder placement and to maximize the efficiency of your stride. Check out the video on how to do this here.
Adjust the shoulder straps on your backpack so that they are not carrying the majority of the pack weight. You should use the
hip and sternum straps to even out the load of the pack and ensure optimal posture.
Avoid always looking down at your feet. You do need to pay attention to the trail terrain but try to look a few feet ahead of you in order to maintain a more upright posture while walking.
Get biweekly hiking tips just like this delivered to your inbox every week, because hiking is more than just walking in the forest!