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How to Walk

Yes, there's a better way to put one foot in front of the other. Improve your stride, trek farther, and end leg and back pain with our guide to the new science of healthy hiking.
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Strength and Balance
Build the physical tools you need to sustain good walking form throughout a long trail day with a pack. Do these exercises—no gym required—three times per week, once your muscles and joints are warm.

Calf Raises

Why Strengthens calf and ankle muscles, which provide power during uphill hiking and improve stability on uneven terrain, preventing ankle sprains and Achilles tendonitis.
How Stand with feet pointing straight forward and shoulder width apart. Bend one leg behind so it forms a 90-degree right angle and raise up on the toes of the other foot (hold on to the back of a chair for balance if needed, but keep body weight on engaged foot). Hold in raised position for two seconds and slowly lower, bringing both feet back to the ground. Rest two seconds, then switch to the other leg. Start with two sets of 12 on each leg, and over a period of several weeks, gradually build up to two sets of 15 raises, then two sets of 20.
Advanced Work up to three sets without strain, then increase intensity by raising up on a one- or two-inch-tall platform, such as a gym stepper or a patio paving block.


Running Man
Why Trains legs (especially quads and hamstrings) and hips for the strength and balance you need to carry a backpack. It also increases overall body stability during the single-leg phase of your gait (when your weight is on one leg and the other is swinging forward).
How Slowly raise one leg and the opposite arm in right angles, with raised foot level with the opposite knee and hand of raised arm level with forehead. Hold pose for two seconds. Without letting raised leg touch the ground, slowly swing it back, tilting torso forward and bringing opposite arm backward. Bend opposite knee slightly for stability. Leg in back should be bent at a right angle, with thigh, torso, and neck forming a straight line that is diagonal to the ground. Hold pose for two seconds, then swing leg back to place both feet flat on the ground. Repeat five times on each side.
Advanced Do it on a pillow, or uneven ground with good traction.

Single-Leg Balance 
Why Strengthens feet, legs, and hips, and improves balance when you’re striding with a pack.
How Barefooted, stand on one leg with hands on hips and raised leg bent at a 90-degree angle. Spread toes to help stabilize. Hold for 30 seconds, once on each side.
Advanced Stand on uneven ground.

Lateral Step
Why Improves balance and strengthens calves and thighs so lower legs can provide maximum stabilization during mid-phase (pronation/supination) of a healthy gait.
How Stand on a stable step that is one to two inches tall. Place hands on hips, with feet flat and pointing ahead. Slowly tilt your torso forward, bending at the hips while extending one leg straight out with flexed foot. Lower heel to the ground with the other leg bent as needed. Stick your butt out with spine straight. Don’t let your weighted knee drift inward or outward. Slowly return foot to neutral position on step. Do two more, then switch to other leg. Do five sets of three reps on each side, alternating left and right.
Advanced Gradually increase height of step, up to eight inches.

Hip Flexor
Why Strengthens hip muscles to improve their ability to function under a load and to take strain off the knees and ankles.
How Hang from a chin-up bar with your legs dangling straight down. Bend your knees and lift them toward your chest while crossing your knees to your left side. Lower back down over a three count. Lift your knees again, this time crossing them toward the right. Do three sets of eight.
Advanced Hold a basketball (or even harder, a medicine ball) between your knees.

Lunges
Why Improves quad strength and leg stability, which helps protect knees from strain on steep downhills with a backpack.
How Step forward (about three feet) with one leg, bending both knees to 90 degrees and toeing off the back foot. Keep feet, knees, and hips facing straight ahead. Perform 20 lunges on each side.
Advanced As you lunge, swing both arms straight up. Harder: Add a backpack.

Glutes
Why Strengthens gluteus maximus—the body’s largest muscle—to power you up hills and take strain off the quads and calves.
How Stand with feet pointing straight ahead and shoulder width apart. Resistance band* should be around both legs, above the ankles and lightly tensioned. Place hands on chair back and lean into chair, keeping spine straight, bending forward 90 degrees from the hips. With both knees straight, slowly raise one leg behind so it’s in line with your torso. Hold for two seconds, then slowly return leg. Repeat nine more times. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.

Lunges
Why Improves quad strength and leg stability, which helps protect knees from strain on steep downhills with a backpack.
How Step forward (about three feet) with one leg, bending both knees to 90 degrees and toeing off the back foot. Keep feet, knees, and hips facing straight ahead. Perform 20 lunges on each side.
Advanced As you lunge, swing both arms straight up. Harder: Add a backpack.

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