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Backpacking Fitness

Hike Pain-Free With These 5 Simple Hip Exercises

Your hips keep you hiking. Treat them right with this workout.

Your hip muscles work hard with every step you take. If they’re weak, they’ll have a hard time keeping your joints aligned properly, resulting in hip or knee pain. Adding hip strength exercises to your regular workout routine can improve the motion of this joint and reduce or prevent pain. One common cause of hip pain is an ill-fitting pack. Make sure your pack fit is correct, then add some hip strength exercises to your weekly training.

Note: Some pains should not be self-treated. See a doctor if you feel sharp pain, pain that lingers, numbness, tingling, or swelling that you cannot explain. These may be signs of a larger problem. When in doubt, seek medical advice.

Weighted Bridges

Don’t let the simplicity of weighted bridges fool you. This exercise does wonders for hip and low back strength. To perform, lay on your back with a loaded backpack, dumbbell, or kettlebell that weighs between 25 and 45 pounds placed in the middle of your pelvis. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Stabilizing the weight with your hands, keep your stomach engaged as you contract your glutes to raise your hips. Hold for a second, then slowly lower your hips back toward the floor. During this exercise, you should feel your glutes working the most. Perform three to four sets of 15 to 20 repetitions two to three times weekly.

Mini-Band Walks

Using a mini resistance band loop for these next couple of exercises will target the hip muscles directly. As you get stronger, you can progress the difficulty of these exercises by adjusting the band position. Start these exercises by placing the band just above your knees. To increase the difficulty, move the band to just above the ankles. For one last progression, place the band around the outside of your feet at the widest part of the toes. This last position adds an additional benefit to the lower leg muscles that help control the foot and ankle.

Perform the following banded exercises as part of a warm-up series, in between larger exercise sets, or to finish a workout.

Zig-Zag Walks

This exercise will emphasize two separate leg motions resulting in a diagonal step backward. Begin by standing tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and a resistance band in place. Move your right leg out to the side 12 to 18 inches then, without touching your right foot the floor, move your right leg behind you at a 45 degree angle to complete the step backward. Resist the band tension as you move the left leg diagonally toward the right foot with control. Repeat this out and then back motion, leading with the left foot this time. Alternate steps in a zig-zag pattern until you’ve covered 20 feet. Repeat two more times. You should feel the glutes and the muscles on the sides of your hips working during this exercise.

Side Steps

With a resistance band in place, start by bending your knees and pushing your hips backward like you’re about to sit down on a chair. From this half-squat position, take a medium step to the left. Aim to keep your feet pointed straight ahead. You should feel this exercise working the muscles on the sides of your hips.

Control the motion of the right foot working against the resistance of the band as you bring your right foot toward the left foot. Once you’ve covered 20 feet to the left, repeat the side steps to the right, returning to your start position. Repeat twice more.

Tip: Try these on a slightly inclined surface like the driveway or a treadmill for an added challenge.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in Southeast Idaho. He thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and has trekked through the Dolomites in Italy. He can typically be found hiking and exploring the trails in Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos, and resources from Welton, visit trailsidefitness.com.