What are the essential components of a bushwalking training session? Why are warm ups and cool down important? What types of stretching should be used and when?
Disclaimer: I have no training in sports medicine nor am I an elite athletics coach, so the advice given below should be discussed with a professional and modified to suit your age and fitness, or you can read the links to the research I have provided and decide for yourself.
This post is to alert bushwalkers to recent changes in the advice given by sports coaches and researchers and to offer some safe alternatives, which can be incorporated in training sessions for bushwalkers, leading to more enjoyable bushwalking.
In the 80’s, coaches and sports medicine practitioners were recommending static stretches before exercise as a way of preventing injuries and muscles soreness. Unfortunately, this incorrect advice is now incorporated into the pre-walk routines of many bushwalkers.
Recent research has shown that static stretches before exercise don’t prevent muscle soreness or injuries and can actually be counter-productive by reducing the explosive power of major muscles, for as long as several hours after the stretching.
If you wish to reduce muscle soreness and injuries, the most important thing you should do before exercise is to warm up fully and only once this has been done, attempt some dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretching increases range of movement, blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion. Increasingly coaches and sports trainers are aware of the role in dynamic stretching in improving performance and reducing the risk of injury. (Wikipedia)
Traditionally stretching before exercise has been static (ie held for 10 – 60 seconds at maximum contraction), but more recently dynamic stretches, typically swings and lunges, have become favored, as they mimic more closely the actions which occur naturally in the activity and can be considered part of the warm-up. During the controlled swing, the maximum stretch is reached but is not held and this is then repeated in a fluid motion. These are the sorts of activities you see Olympic runners and swimmers doing just before they reach the starting blocks.
After strenuous exercise, low intensity cool down exercises, involving the muscles just used, such as slow walking, are essential to remove metabolic products such as lactic acid from the muscles, to return the body to a pre-exercise levels, to reduce muscle soreness and aid in quick recovery.
Static stretching can be used as part of the cool down as it stretches tightened and contracted muscles back to original size, and in so doing produces a feeling of relaxation. For those over 65 years, this is the ideal opportunity to increase flexibility, without the risk of injury, as the body is already warm.
Example of a Training Program for Bushwalking (Thanks Jarrad)
- 5 min Low intensity walk, slowly increasing the pace
- 5 Min Dynamic Stretches (eg http://youtu.be/E7ghNKOH9To or www.brianmac.co.uk/dynamic.htm)
This may take more than 5 minutes initially, but this will soon decrease with familiarity. Once you have completed the dynamic warm up, try some light repetitive exercise eg walking up and down stairs 10 times just prior to stepping off for your walk. Alternatively, commence your training session at a slow pace and low intensity for the first few hundred metres.
Your training walks
Logically, your training sessions should exercise all the muscles you will be using on your walk. In a gym environment, it is difficult to know which muscles to exercise and upon which to give more focus, but when actually walking this all happens automatically.
If your aim is to walk off-track with a heavy pack, in hilly, rough terrain then that’s the training you should do. If you intend walking on the flat with a light day pack then that’s how you should exercise. Training off-track has the additional benefits of developing balance, and adding interest to what can be repetitive and boring. Balance is an often ignored attribute of a good walker, and can have a major impact on speed of movement and safety.
Don’t forget to build up slowly: increasing either distance or speed a little each day, beginning on the flat and increasing the steepness of the terrain, and adding weight to your backpack at regular intervals, when you feel you have reached your maximum speed.
Unfortunately not everybody has access to a suitable training environment, so your gym programme will need to exercise all the muscle groups you will be using, developing the balance and strength that climbing on rough terrain automatically produces. I highly recommend that you incorporate a Pilates or yoga class or two, as they incorporate stretches which focus on the core muscles so essential for balance and carrying a backpack.
- 3 -5 min slow walk
- 5 -10 min Static Stretches (eg www.brianmac.co.uk/stretch.htm)
- Refuel: both fluid and easily digestible food (eg fruit or sport drink)
Once, again Brian Mac has a number of very good stretches that should be conducted after exercising. The longer you can hold a stretch for, without bouncing, the more benefit you will gain. To start with hold a stretch for about 20-30 sec and conduct each stretch twice. Those over 65 years, may need to hold for 60 seconds to get maximum benefit.
Another site which is also very helpful is:
It has pretty much the same stretches as the Brian Mac site, and maybe a few alternatives if you find that some of the stretches are hurting etc.
- Warm up and Cool down
- Body Control Pilates
- Mobility and Flexibility
- Dynamic Stretching and Mobility Exercises
- Conditioning- How Does Static Stretching Affect Athlete’s Performance
- When to Stretch – Experts Recommend Static Stretching After Exercise
- Understand the Different Types of Stretching
- Benefits of stretching
- Warm up Stretches for Walkers
- Warming up before training and competition
- Warming up: the latest research into stretching
- Stretching, Performance and Injury Prevention
- Warming up: Does stretching actually hinder performance?
- Warming up: the dynamic alternative to static stretching
- Warm ups: mobility exercises will prepare the body to move quickly and efficiently
- Warm up drills
- Active warm ups
- Warming up
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