It can be a never-ending cycle. You want to hike, but you don’t feel “fit” enough to hike. Yet you feel you aren’t fit enough because you don’t ever hike. Here’s the thing: Hiking is an “everybody” sport. The mental and physical benefits of hiking are too numerous to ignore. Therefore, here are some suggestions for how to start hiking regardless of your current fitness status so that you can get out there and reap the many benefits that walking in nature has to offer.
Let go of preconceptions of what makes someone a “hiker”
This is the best place to start, and it is huge. Ignore the advertisements for hiking and outdoor gear that show ridiculously fit or slim women modeling clothing and equipment for hiking. The truth is that hiking is for everyone. All shapes, sizes, ages, gender affiliations, abilities, everybody. Numerous studies have shown that getting out in nature has restorative effects for the body and mind for all people. These benefits go beyond just simply “getting exercise,” and these benefits apply regardless of the weather conditions. You can read more about the benefits in the Hike it Baby blog here. So let go of what you envision a hiker should be and embrace the hiker you are going to be!
I would encourage them to just get out there. If they wait until they are already fit, it may never happen. Sure, climbing a mountain may not be reasonable right now, but hikes come in all ability levels. I am 350 pounds with asthma, a bad knee and hip, etc. … but I’ve routinely strapped 50 pounds of toddler and gear to my back and gone hiking for the last two years. Start small and push further and further and they will develop the strength for bigger and bigger hikes. They may be the slowest on the trail, but that still means they are infinitely faster than everyone who didn’t try. ~ Jennifer from Snohomish, WA
Start slow and strive for progress, not perfection
I recently sat down to watch an episode of my toddler’s favorite show with him, and one particular line really stood out to me: “Go slow until you know.” I find that to be true with most things in life. It is particularly important when first starting to hike. You can’t expect to climb mountains without first hiking a few hills. Start out with some short, flat trails to get some dirt on your boots. Then gradually increase your mileage and elevation gain over time. Those first few steps are the hardest, but they get easier with every hike!
I learned this the hard way years ago when I was laid up in the hospital for a few months due to an illness. I lost most of my muscle mass, and it was really hard for me to cope with the fact that I had to completely build myself back up again, both in strength and confidence. My family kept reminding me, “One step at a time; it’ll come back.” And that’s exactly what happened! I gradually built back my muscle by first walking the hospital halls, then walking the neighborhood, and finally walking some trails. I suggest you “go slow until you know,” and you’re almost guaranteed to make progress!
Something I learned from our wonderful guide when we were climbing Kilimanjaro: Pole, Pole (pronounced po-LE). It’s Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” That has stuck with me ever since, especially when there is something hard or that I don’t think I can do. Get out there and take the first step, and go slowly. You don’t have to go far or fast. It’s not a race, but get out there and take that first step. It’s not about the distance or the time, but the journey and always putting one foot in front of the other, pole, pole. ~ Keira from Lexington, KY
Progress, not perfection. I think sometimes we think we have to be able to hike five miles and keep up with everyone right from the get-go. Hike 10 minutes if that’s what your schedule/fitness level allows. Next time, hike 15 minutes. Just hike. ~ Cathy from Wishart, Saskatchewan
Set goals and invite others to join you
What is it you want to accomplish with hiking? Do you want to aim for hiking a few times a month or once a week? Build yourself up to hike three miles, five miles, or even 10 miles? Work toward reaching the top of a nearby mountain? Whatever it is, write down your goal and maybe even some smaller milestones to hit along the way. Find ways to stick to these goals, whether it be posting motivational sticky notes where you can see them or always having your hiking gear ready to go near the front door.
My favorite way to stay motivated is to invite others to join me on hikes. That might be by posting the hike on the Hike it Baby calendar or asking some women in my neighborhood to join me in hiking a nearby trail. When I post my own hikes and invite others to tag along, I feel as though I am reducing the pressure of trying to meet the expectations of others since I choose the time, place, distance, etc. It also means that I can’t back out!
Another great way to stay motivated toward reaching a goal is to join a challenge. My family signed up for the 365-mile challenge for 2018, and we convinced members of our extended family to join us. Not only will we have the family motivation (and competition, of course), but we will also have the motivation of others on the 365-mile challenge Facebook page to keep us going.
Check out a list of fun outdoor challenges to try for 2019 here.
Make an “appointment” with yourself
One of the biggest setbacks for many people is trying to find the time. Here’s what I suggest: Schedule it in. Make it an “appointment” with yourself and write it in your planner or in the calendar on your phone. Make it alert you when it’s time to start! This could be anything from scheduling a weekly hike with some friends to setting an alert to wake up 30 minutes earlier to get a quick workout in before the day gets busy. Commit to taking a walk on your lunch breaks or a morning/evening stroll with your kids. When you have it written down, you are much more likely to follow through!
I try to schedule one or two “Solo-Saturday” hikes a month with my Hike it Baby branch. I leave my little dude to have some one-on-one daddy time and take a much-needed “mental re-charge” break in nature with some of my fellow moms. Those one or two “appointments” each month can make a huge difference in my mental health, and physically scheduling them means that I have committed to not backing out.
I used to get up at 4 a.m. to get exercise in because it was the only time I could block out an hour that I could almost guarantee wouldn’t get interrupted (I say “almost” because sick kids happen and often at 4 a.m.). Sometimes it’s a 20-minute walk outside in between meetings or at lunch. Or breakfast or dinner in the stroller for the kiddos so I can walk while they’re somewhat occupied and we can still have that time together. ~ Susanne from Tulsa, OK
Exercising to help improve your “hiking game”
While we can generally agree that the best exercise to get into hiking shape is to hike, sometimes it’s not feasible to go for a hike in the time you have available. For example, you may only have the time (and energy) for a quick workout while your little one is napping or before they wake up, or a 15-minute time slot in between work meetings. This is a great time to exercise some of the main muscles used in hiking: the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes (your legs and backside), the hip muscles and the abdominals. You can do this simply by taking the stairs whenever possible or doing some lunges, squats or planks. When I was a teacher, I would take the long way to the copy machine or do some squats or lunges at my desk during break times.
Now that I have my little dude, though I still may walk up and down the stairs while he naps, I prefer the calming effects of a short yoga routine. (He’s two; need I say more?) Yoga increases strength and flexibility while also improving balance and stability, all of which you can benefit from while hiking.
Is the gym more your forte? Spending time on a StairMaster, climbing machine, elliptical, or incline treadmill can really work those muscles used for hiking. There are tons of options here. As long as you are moving, you can do whatever works best for you! Just be sure to warm up and stretch before the workout and cool down afterwards to prevent injury.
Planks, as much as they suck … I struggled with diastasis recti after twins, and doing planks helped a lot. Also yoga!! I loved power yoga before babies, but now gentle yoga is all I need to feel like I got a great workout. It works the entire body, not to mention it really does help with the mind (which is over half the battle to getting out the door and joining hikes, at least for me!). ~ Lindsey from Atlanta, GA
Regardless how you do it, we hope you get on the trails and enjoy the benefits that come with taking a walk in nature. Curious about what to take with you on the trail? Check out our suggestions of what to pack here.
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Bradwin and Rebecca Hosley.
How did you first get into hiking? Let us know in the comments below!