Yoga coach Gwen Lawrence demonstrates the top five poses designed to keep athletes in the game. Here, the focus is on hiking.
Hiking is a sport accessible to a vast demographic because you can choose your terrain, hills, tracks, flats and mountains. Yet the needs of hikers are the same no matter what their level and plan.
Hikers need to make sure the following parts of the body are clear, open and strong:
Ankles: Flexible ankles will help hikers have more power to push onward with ease.
Glutes: The key muscle of forceful extension. For the most part, hiking isn't straightforward. The muscles that you would use for climbing stairs need to be in tip-top shape.
Spine: We often ignore the spine, but it's so important. A hiker's posture can start to round forward, collapsing the anterior spine and inhibiting organ function and breathing. It can also overstretch the posterior spine, taxing the back.
Neck: In alignment with the needs and duty of the spine, pay attention to the neck and keep it in proper placement. Better breathing and posture will follow.
Legs: Legs must be in shape to tackle even the simplest hikes, so we will focus on opening the hips to allow the legs to do what they need to.
Check out these poses to improve gate and posture on your hikes. And as always, consult a doctor before you begin any new exercise program.
Toe balance: Holding this pose will accomplish many goals at once. It will open the toes, plantar fascia, Achilles tendon and calves, as well as strengthen the legs and core and improve balance. This pose is a slam dunk for all people who hit the trails. Hold the balance for one to two minutes and add lifts to standing if you are more advanced. Do 25 to 50 reps.
On your marks: Hold your yoga lunge position, and maintain a 90-degree angle with the front knee. In this move you are not going up and down, you are moving forward and back. It will help open ankles, calves and the Achilles, but you are adding deep glute work and quad strengthening. Hold the lunge for one minute on each side and push forward and back up. Do 50 reps on each side.
Camel pose: Camel pose is the clear winner to open the front spine and undo poor posture habits. It will stretch the chest and front shoulder as well start to elongate the front neck. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then rest in child's pose and repeat several times until you start to feel the ease in your back. A bonus here is quad and hip flexor stretching.
Supported fish pose: One of my top-five favorite poses, this is a nice, long hold. Put a soft block in the middle of your back, positioning it so that your butt stays grounded. Arms out and relaxed, palms facing up. Sit and hold this pose for three to five minutes. Do focused breathing and feel the release. You will get improved posture, and therefore better and more efficient breathing, an open chest and a sense of overall ease of tension.
Pigeon pose: Whether you are a runner, hiker or walker, pigeon pose rules supreme. It will open the hips like no other, releasing tight muscles so the legs can work as they should. Deep glute stretches take the pressure off of the piriformis muscle, which is deep in the butt. When this is tight, you experience sciatic pain and problems. Do this pose for two to five minutes on each side.
Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer, as well as with Olympians and collegiate champions. Follow her on twitter @gwenlawrence and www.gwenlawrence.com.