Mariko has spent the last 10 years writing about travel, outdoor adventures and humanitarianism. When she's not travelling, you can find her on a local hiking trail, exploring the Canadian Rockies, or researching her next exotic destination.
If your legs are tired, you know you’ve had a good day on the trail. But if you’re experiencing sore glutes, tight hammies or muscle fatigue for days on end, it’s time to consider a post-hike recovery routine.
Cool down before you sit down
While most of us know it’s good to warm up before any physical exertion, it’s just as important to gradually cool down after any physical activity.
Instead of ending your hike by suddenly slumping down by the campfire, as tempting as this may be, aim to gradually transition instead. When you do, you’ll give your heart rate, body temperature and muscles more time to adjust to their natural resting state.
A staggered transition from a walking pace to a complete stop can prevent blood from pooling in your legs and ultimately help reduce dizziness and cramping. If the route allows for it, taper your finish with a relaxed pace on a flat trail. If not, spend five to ten minutes walking out your legs by your campsite or in the carpark.
Take time to stretch
Tempted to skip the post-hike stretch? Don’t be. Stretching is commonly reported as one of the most helpful exercises to reduce muscle tension and pain.
For the best results, focus on the muscle areas you use most in hiking, like hamstrings, quads, glutes and hip flexors. For those carrying a pack, incorporate gentle stretches for your lower back, chest, shoulders and neck. Lean into the stretch until you feel a gentle to moderate tension for around 30 seconds.
Stretching on a regular basis can improve your flexibility, range of motion, and may even improve your circulation. Increased blood flow to painful areas can aid your recovery time, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and help with overall muscle tension.
If the thought of stretching bores you to tears, a time-based goal will help you keep motivated. Set up a timer for at least 15 minutes and work your way through a set of established exercises.
Ideal stretches for post-hikes:
- Standing Hamstring Stretch
- Figure Four Stretch
- 90/90 Stretch
- Lunging Hip Flexor
- Standing Quad Stretch
- Ankle Stretches
Eat within 45 minutes
Eating as soon as you can after a hike has multiple benefits; you’ll help repair your muscles, rebuild vital glycogen stores, and boost your mood.
During a long or intense hike, your body will rely on your glycogen stores for fuel. As part of physical activity, it’s natural that some of the proteins in your muscles will also break down or become damaged.
The sooner we eat, the sooner we recover, according to some studies. This is because our bodies are enhanced to rebuild glycogen and muscle protein directly after physical activity.
To get the most out of your post-hike meal, incorporate both protein and carbohydrates for muscle repair and to restore your glycogen levels. Glycogen is a form of long-term energy storage in the body, so restoring its levels will help you maintain your energy and enjoyment of multi-day hikes.
If you’re eating at home, prepare a meal that includes lean protein like beans, eggs, fish, tofu, quinoa, or turkey. If you’re camping overnight, opt for nut butters, beef jerky, quick oats or sachets of tuna. More than 45 minutes from home? Pack some food in the car or pop some protein bars in your hiking pack to reap the benefits.
Don't let blisters ruin your recovery or your hike
One common but preventable thing that compromises your post-hike recovery is the blister. Not only will it be a major cause of discomfort and even pain during a hike, but it will see you hobbling around for a week after your hike.
Make sure you follow these steps to prevent blisters when hiking, while also cleaning and maintaining the condition (and water-resistance) of your shoes post-hike.