The Skeletal Muscles are the prime movers of all movement, keeping them stretched before, during and after a hike;
- Improves Muscle flexibility and range of movement
- Reduces aches and pains later (re lengthening the muscle)
- Improves blood flow and waste removal from muscle
- Reduce risk of soft tissue injuries, joint pain, stiffness and discomfort at rest.
- Improves overall performance, requiring less energy
How Skeletal Muscles Work
Having a basic understanding of how Skeletal Muscles work, and how they move your body, (in particularly your limbs) helps you stretch effectively, (even when you are not sure of the muscle involved.)
Skeletal muscles are attached to bone via Tendons. depending on the function of the muscle, one end is attached to an unmoving skeletal anchor point, (Origin) while the other attaches across a pivot point (joint) to the bone it moves.(Insertion)
All Muscles are only able to contract, as a result each movement requires another Muscle group(*1) doing the complete opposite to the contracting group.
- Bending the arm, (flexing) The muscle group on the top of the upper arm contracts and pulls the forearm towards the origin around the elbow Joint. At the same time the opposite muscle group underneath the arm are being pulled out to full length once again.
Straightening the arm (Extending) reverses the process, with the muscle group underneath the arm now contracting and pulling the arm down straight around the around the elbow joint, while lengthening the opposite(upper) muscle group.
Every time we move one leg in a single step, it takes a staggering 200 individual Skeletal muscles, to make it happen! It’s no wonder we get tired at the end of a long day’s hike!
There are 5 things muscles hate most of all;
- Sudden prolonged changes in activity from muscle working hard to static.) (i.e.: walking stopping for a lunch and snooze)
- In equality of movement, that is not getting the chance to contract and relax to their full range. (*2) (Causing contraction and restriction to movement.)
- Dehydration: water is used in transport of oxyen and fuel,(blood) waste removal,(blood and lymphatic) and energy production.(oxygen + Glucose=Energy)
- Being held still in one position for long periods(static), particularly holding a heavy weight like your body(i.e.: holding on for dear life after you fell off a bank,,,)
- Restrictions to the fuel supply: Muscle working hard need plenty of energy, to keep up movment.
Basic Warm up and Stretches
Before I put my pack on at the start of a hike, I will spend 5 minutes walking up to a good pace in the carpark before stopping and spending 5 minutes stretching my pick of the major muscle groups;
- Calves (Gastrocnemius, Soleus )
- Thigh (Quadriceps, Hamstrings)
- Buttocks (Gluteus)
- Hip (Flexors)
- Waist (Latissimus/ Abdominals) and Back (Erectors)
While you might find muscles in common that everyone stretches, it is a good idea to visit a Muscle professional like a Massage Therapist, Physiotherapist or Personal Trainer to find out if there are any other specific muscle you need to also target for your body..
When applying a stretch, do so slowly and gently until you just start to feel the target muscle pulling and hold it there.
Each successive stretch you may be able to go a little further but don’t push it as you don’t want to feel the pain of a tear!
Stretching an unknown Muscle
When you suffer a gradual onset of aching, tightness or pain while hiking, (without a traumatic cause (*3)) stop and stretch the related muscle groups. Even if you don’t the muscle source, it is often possible to devise a helpful stretch by;
- Identifying the area and movement that makes it painful
- Look above /before that area to define the area to stretch(eg: above the knee is the thigh – Muscles on top and underneath)
- The stretch is then as simple as applying the opposite movement as far as it will go until you feel a gentle pull
Arriving at your destination the last thing on your mind is probably stretching, but spending 5 minutes stretching helps your muscle to relax and recover. (*4) The other useful tip, is to keep drinking water for a few more hours, to help flush the muscles clean from a days hiking.
(*1) Individual Muscles fibers of similar function are described as a Muscle group I.e.: Quadriceps (Quads) 4 muscles lifting the lower legs
(*2) A common example often mistaken for an actual injury, that occurs when hiking down a long hill, is a gradually increasing pain around the knee, to the point where becomes uncomfortable to walk. Is usually caused by inequality between Hamstring and Quadriceps muscle groups (in the absence of acute traumatic injury(*3)) can is easily resolved with a Hamstring stretch.
(*3) Traumatic injury usually occurs suddenly from a trip, slip, fall or blow to the body with obvious injury (deformity /swelling) and immediate onset of pain.
(*4) Almost with out exception, the days that I have not done my warm down stretches, getting out of the car at home, or getting up and walking the next day is never fun – with stiffness and restriction present. Days when I stretch before during and after, and keep drinking – no problems at all.
- Muscles, testing and function with Posture and Pain, Kendall, McCreary, Provance Et al.
- Bicep’s /Tricep’s: Pearson Education inc., 2011.
- Berkhamsted, Hip Abductor and Adductor stretches
- James Dunne, Muscle stretch demonstrations
- Alter, Sports Stretches.
- Anderson, Stretching
- Biel, Trail Guide to the Body