***** This topic is being re written October 19 – missing pictures and illustrations – please check back in a couple of weeks******
Stretching a muscle is simply about applying a lenthening tension to a muscle in the opposite direction to which it contracts normally. Stretches should always be gentle, and as far is comfortable, repeated 1-3 times.
A warm up including stretching(*1) of hiking muscles is an effective way of’
- improving muscle flexibility
- Getting the blood flow moving, and warming up the muscle fibres
- Preventing soft tissue injuries and, joint pain
- Avoiding muscle stiffness and discomfort after a hike, and maintaining flexilibty.
How Skeletal Muscles do the Moving
While you really don’t need to know how skeletal muscle work to stretch them, a basic understanding can be of great assistance later when it comes to resolving muscle imbalances during your hike.
It is the skeletal muscles that are responsible for getting us moving, so named as it is their attachment to the skeleton that makes it all possible.
Using the leg as and example, movment is created by each skeletal muscle group(*2) being attached to a bone of the skeleton each side of a joint with in the limb
Because Muscles can only contract, for every movement there must be two separate groups of muscles arranged in direct opisition to each other, while one contracts and shorterns, the other relaxes and lenghtens.
To bend the knee,(flex) the group responsible contract and pull the lower leg up towards the Thigh around the knee joint, at the same time the contracting group are also pulling and lengtheing the relaxed opposing group.
To straighen the leg again, origionally relaxed and lenghtened group now contracts and pulls the leg straight as well as the group that bent the leg.
This works fine, if both oppising muscles are contracted and lengthened equally, but in situations like;
- Decending a long hill
- Stopping and sitting down in one position for lunch,
- Standing / or laying still for a long period
- Staritng walking before your muscles are warmed up
An imbalance can develop where one group doesn’t fully lenghten and the other doesnt fully contract.
Muscles are the most happy when they have;
- Movement: Try holding a muscle group in one position (static) for too long: you start to feel the burn!
- Rest and Equality of action: Muscles don’t like to be under hard labour all day(*3) nor do they like to work harder than their opposing muscle groups.
- Warmth: Muscles are most flexible when they are warm, nerve function is more effective as is blood supply.
- Water: Required for energy production, cooling, lubrication and waste removal.
As muscles get tired throughout your hike they become contracted and the range of movement can become restricted resulting in stiffness (*4) and pain, sometimes significant enough to be mistaken for an injury.(even in the absence of actual trauma(*5)
It is very common for the stiffness or pain to not be in the muscle at all, but rather closer to where the tendons below the muscle cross over the joint or attach to the bone below.(*6)
Often resolving the issue is as simple as stopping and working through the pre hike stretches again, associated with that area of your body.
A more targeted method is possible with basic knowledge of which muscle group(*7) lay above the painful area, then stretching that group in either direction(one direction will hurt, one will stretch.)
Basic Warm up and Stretches
When I am ready to start hiking, I first walk for around 5 – 10 minutes on the flat, gradually increasing my pace to warm up my leg muscles ( the prime movers of hiking) before stopping to work though my Stretch list of the major muscle groups ;
- Calves(Gastrop, Soleus )
- Thigh(Quads, Hamstrings)
- Waist(Lats / Abs) and Back (Erectors)
< rough drawing of muscle locations)
There are often several methods for stretching each muscle group, the best way to find out the one method that suits you best is to ask some one in the business of muscles to show you the moves. (Gym instructors, Massage therapist, Osteopath, Physio.)
How to apply the Stretch
To apply a stretch, take up the position and gently apply the stretch. Hold it for 5-10 seconds and then back off. I usually repeat the same stretch once or twice more depending on the muscle tension.
Usually you are able to go a little further with each stretch, but dont push it to far… and no sudden moves…to prevent an injury that will put you back in the car!
Arriving at your destination, drop your pack and run through your full stretch list again before any thing else.
Although not strictly stretching, another really easy method of avoiding muscle stiffness and restriction both during your hike and after your warm down, is keep sipping water to maintain < > link to au hydration chart< clear stream urine output to help the your body flush your muscle fibres.
(*1) Together with maintaining sufficient water intake to prevent dehydration and help the wastes products flush from the muscles and body.
(*2) Each Muscle group is made up of bundles of individual muscles in the same location working together to achieve the same goal in the same direction. I.e: Quadriceps(Quads) 4 muscles lifting the lower legs
(*3) Try shaking a bottle of water for 20 minutes… it wont take long to ache..( unless you happen to be a bottle shaking athlete!)
(*4) Just like when you sit down for a long lunch or rest, and then find when you go stand up your legs are stiff and its hard to walk properly…
(*5) A pain or ache that gradually becomes severe enough to stop you walking .. but was not preceded by an external force that obviously cause it: Twisting, rolling, falling, getting struck by a tree or rock.
(*6) A really good example of this that I often experience my self, particularly after walking up and down allot,(and often see other hikers suffering from unaware there is and easy fix!) Is pain on that feels like its inside or on the inside of the knee. The pain being caused by tight hamstring transferring their tension to the tendons attaching them to the lower leg. The tendons become inflamed and painful, A simple hamstring stretch releases the tension…
- 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