Simple exercises to ensure you keep tramping all weekend
When I arrive at the hut after a long day of tramping, I drop my pack, strip off my boots and socks, and sit down. Usually the next priority is getting the billy on for a cuppa or two. Waiting for the billy to boil or the stove to warm the hut, is the perfect time to stretch and loosen your muscles.
On a recent wander into the Tararuas, I stopped for lunch at Atiwhakatu Hut and tried these recovery stretches with my companions.
Standing thigh and shoulder stretch
As soon as you arrive at the hut, grab a post and try these two stretches to target thighs and shoulders that are often sore after tramping.
Thigh stretch: Hold on to a post or wall to help balance – unless you want the extra balancing challenge. Reach down with your left hand, bend your left knee, and catch hold of your foot or ankle with your hand. Before you pull with your hand, gently activate or tighten your thigh muscle (or quadriceps) – think of pointing your knee towards the ground. If you need a deeper stretch, gently pull your foot towards your buttocks but keep the knees aligned – don’t let the left knee move backwards. Stretch both sides.
Shoulder stretch: Put your right palm on the wall or post at or below the height of your shoulder. Stand upright and just far enough away from the post that your arm is almost straight. Gently press into your right palm. If you already find a stretch, stay here. To find a deeper stretch, start to turn your feet, hips and whole body to the left, away from your right arm, while maintaining a little pressure on the wall. You should feel a strong stretch through your right shoulder all the way down your arm to your wrist. Switch sides.
Legs up the wall
The name is just like it sounds: lie down and throw your legs up the wall. This pose is known for its restorative effects. In particular, changing the direction of blood flow can cue your body’s relaxation response: slowing down your heart rate, activating the digestive system and calming your mind. While you’re resting, try some of these variations to stretch the muscles in your legs. Try each one for 30 seconds up to a couple of minutes.
For all stretches, start sitting down sideways to the wall with about 20-30cm between your hips and the wall. Then lie on your back and swing your legs up the wall. These variations can be particularly accessible when a tight back prevents you from bending forward. Your spine stays flat and the stretch is controlled by how you position your legs. In all variations, keep your hips and buttocks on the ground and if that’s difficult, move further away from the wall. If you are flexible you might be able to move your hips closer to the wall.
Hip and groin stretch: Sometimes people call this pose the butterfly stretch. Bring the insides of your soles together with the outside edges of your feet on the wall. Then slide your heels towards your groin until you find a comfortable moderate stretch in your hips and groin. You can deepen the stretch by gently pressing on your knees.
Hip and buttock stretch: Cross your right ankle bone on top of your left thigh (just below your knee). Then gently slide your left heel down the wall until you find a comfortable stretch in the outside of your left hip or buttock. Keep your hips equally pointing at the wall and on the ground. Stretch both legs.
Wide leg variation: With your legs straight or almost straight up the wall, let your heels slide apart until you find a comfortable stretch in your groin and hamstrings (back of your thighs). To lessen the stretch, bend your knees. To deepen the stretch, try flexing your toes towards you.
Reclining stretch for chest, shoulders and back
Sometimes all you want to do is lie flat on the ground, and this variation of lying down offers a deep stretch for your chest, shoulders and back.
Lie down with a rolled sleeping mat laid lengthwise down your spine. If you are tall and your head does not rest on the mat, move it up so it’s beneath your head or support your head with some spare clothes.
Relax your shoulders and gently move your arms out to the sides in a T-shape, about the height of your shoulders. Keep the back of your hands on the floor, elbows and wrists relaxed. If this is too intense, move your hands closer to your sides.
If you have current shoulder injuries, be careful to avoid straining your shoulder by keeping your hands closer to your body. If you have spinal injuries, avoid this pose.
Standing hip stretch
This is another option for stretching the outside of your hips and buttocks. You’ll need to find a flat surface that is at or below the height of your hips, such as a table or bench. The tighter your hips, the lower the surface.
Start by placing your left ankle on the table. Flex your toes, so you’re resting on the edge of your left foot. Gently lower your knee towards the table. If you feel any strain in your knee, don’t go further. Stand directly over the standing leg and keep your hips level and pointing straight ahead. You should feel a strong stretch in the outside of your hip or buttocks.
You may need to slightly lean forward to deepen the stretch. Use your hands on the table to help you balance. Switch sides.
This pose looks like the name sounds: you make a box with your body.
Place your hands on the wall at the height of your hips. You can also put your hands on a table or kitchen bench if it’s tall enough. Then walk your feet back until they are under your hips. Feet should be about hip-width apart. Try to find a position with your back that is straight or neutral, not curved. You may need to bend your knees to do this, especially if your hamstrings are tight. This should give your hamstrings and calves a strong stretch. To add a shoulder, chest and back stretch, press your hands into the wall and then gently press your chest down.
This stretch can feel particularly good if you can hold on to something and lean back slightly.
How many and which to do?
You don’t need to do all of these stretches. Try a few options and pick a couple that stretch the areas of your body that are most noticeably tight. Be gentle: muscles don’t need to be overstretched, often just a gentle release of tension will ward off injuries and make the next day’s tramp much more enjoyable.