Gentle Pre-Hike Stretches for the Whole Family

One great benefit to being a Trail Family is that you get much needed exercise. As 21st century people living in a first world country, it is incredibly easy to live a sedentary lifestyle without realizing how little we move. I recently heard of one study that showed the average kindergarten boy only engages in vigorous movement for about twelve minutes a day. That is crazy to think about!

There are some guidelines that go along with getting more active, such as proper footwear, hydration, etc. Here I’d like to focus on stretching before and after physical activity. The practice of stretching is an often neglected, but oh so beneficial part of exercise. 

The Warm Up

Before your hike, you should get your muscles ready. First, walk a little ways at a gentle pace to warm up the long muscles of your legs. You may just take a few laps around the parking lot if your trail is aggressive from the get go. But it is safer to stretch warm muscles than cold. That’s why it’s called a “warm up”. Never jump right into vigorous exercise. 

Standing forward bend: take a deep breath and gently lean forward letting your arms hang down. Only go as far as you feel comfortable. You’ll feel a little stretch in your lower back and along your hamstrings. Carefully roll back up to as standing position one vertebrae at a time.

Two girls in a park demonstrating the standing forward bend stretch
Standing forward bend

Side stretch to each side: take a deep breath and lift your arms overhead. Gently lean to your left for a few seconds. You will stretch along the side of your body. Exhale as you bring your arms down. Then repeat on the other side.

Two children in a park demonstrating side stretches
Gentle side stretch

Hamstring and calf: step one foot forward putting your heel on the ground and bend at the other knee and at your hips. Hold something for balance if you need to. You will feel a gentle stretch along the whole back of your leg. Hold about 60 seconds and repeat on the other side. 

Two children in a park demonstrating a calf and hamstring stretch
Calf and hamstring stretch

Quads (front of your thigh): Hold your left foot with your left hand behind you. Steady yourself on something for balance if you need. Gently pull back and you will feel the stretch along the front of your thigh. Hold about 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Two children in a park demonstrating a quad stretch
Quad stretches. Hold onto something for balance if you need it.

The Cool Down

After your hike, you should stretch again. On a molecular level, your muscles stay active long after you have stopped exercising. If you jump right in the car or plop down in your camp chair right off the trail, you will likely feel stiff and sore when you get up again. You have just doused your muscles in lactic acid and they need time for recovery. 

Repeat the same series of stretches after getting off the trail. You will likely notice that you can stretch a little deeper in each pose. Be cautious not to overdo it. You can still pull a muscle even when you are very warm. Keep moving at a moderate pace for several minutes more before you drive home or sit down around the campfire. Your legs will thank you later! 

We hope this article was helpful for your Trail Family. What other stretches do you do before a hike or run? 

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