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A Good Walk Enriched
A hike gets only better with a little preparation

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Some special balance, strengthening and stretching exercises can help bodies handle the inclines and uneven surfaces typical of many hikes.
Most folks in these parts who might go hiking know that, like Boy Scouts, they should always be prepared.

Usually that indicates a readiness for emergencies or a change in weather, which calls for always carrying the "10 Essentials." But hikers can also prepare physically, to make outings more enjoyable and the days that follow less painful.

The very elements that can turn a simple walk into a hike — length, speed, natural trails, impressive views — point to the training that might help. While it may be obvious to gradually extend and quicken one's regular walks to get ready for longer hikes, accounting for uneven surfaces, inclines and declines can draw from a range of exercise options and resources.

One of the best guides I've seen for training for hiking, other outdoor activities (and life in general) remains the 1999 Mountaineers book "Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness" ($21.95), by David Musnick and Mark Pierce. Musnick, an M.D. formerly working in Seattle and Bellevue, is now practicing sports medicine and nutritional medicine in Boulder, Colo.; Pierce, an athletic trainer, is still at Sports Reaction Center, a performance-based physical-therapy clinic in Bellevue.

To prepare for hiking, Musnick recommends aerobic conditioning, strength training, stretching, balance and agility drills. You can find an abbreviated version of his hiking training program at

Fitness Notebook
Fitness news you can use
Treadmills and calories
Exercising on a treadmill burned more calories than workouts on stairclimber, rowing machine, stationary bike or cross-country ski simulator, according to a study in The Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Subjects exercised at fairly light, medium and hard intensities, and researchers measured oxygen uptake, heart rate and blood lactate during the final two minutes of each workout. Even at the easiest intensity, those on the treadmill burned the most calories. "Any of the machines could be used if the prime motivation for exercising is cardiovascular fitness," said researcher Niall A Moyna. "However, if burning calories is the main objective, the treadmill would be the exercise of choice for both men and women, followed closely by the skier."
Change of hands
Through a bankruptcy auction, Direct Focus of Vancouver, Wash., parent company for Bowflex, Nautilus and Schwinn Fitness Products, was the winning bidder — with approximately $25 million — to acquire most assets of StairMaster Sports/Medical of Kirkland, Inc.
Some of his advice:

• In training, try to achieve a distance and elevation gain within 60 to 75 percent of those expected during your hike.

• A StairMaster StepMill (the one with the escalator-style steps) is better hiking preparation than the StairClimber (which doesn't require you to pick up your feet).

• Do balance and agility exercises twice a week for 5 to 10 minutes to improve stability on boulders, logs, slopes and snow.

• If you plan to cross rivers or boulder fields, include hopping exercises — but do squats and lunges for four weeks before beginning hops.

• Even though going downhill can feel less taxing aerobically, your knees absorb a lot of force. To decrease the likelihood of kneecap or thigh muscle pain, while training do step-down exercises (off a step or stairs, starting with a 4-inch rise and increasing to 6 to 8 inches), and while hiking take breaks every 60 to 90 minutes.

In the new book "The Hiking Engine" ($13.95, Menasha Ridge Press), Long Island podiatrist Stuart Plotkin addresses the care and maintenance of feet and legs. Some of his tips:

• Long toenails colliding with the toe of a hiking boot can cause "black nail" (blood blisters under the nail), so trim toenails before beginning a hike.

• Because the back of the leg can be especially tight from walking and hiking, contributing to foot, ankle, knee and back problems, stretch hamstring and calf muscles regularly.

• To avoid shin splints (pain in the front of the lower leg), try this exercise: Sit so your feet dangle and drape a half-pound sand bag over the top of one foot. Flex your foot upward as high as you can, hold for five seconds, lower, repeat five times, then switch feet.

Another new entry for hiking preparation is the "All-Terrain Workout: Northern California" ($19.99; 1-877-469-4533, In this 50-minute video, marathon trail runner and triathlete Jennifer Varno makes the wilderness her gym, with scenic segments in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, Pinnacles National Monument, Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Pescadero State Beach. She does calf stretches against cypress trunks; simulates cross-country, slalom and mogul skiing on a rugged trail; and performs agility drills on and between giant boulders. Even the timing of some exercises integrates the outdoors, as she spots falcons while going through modified jumping jacks: "Let's do these until they fly out of sight."

Because Varno's workout includes quite a bit of jumping, it's probably suited to intermediate or advanced exercisers, though she offers constant modifications for doing the exercises at home. The biggest danger, though, might be not finishing the tape, being so inspired to go outside and try it yourself.

If you do, don't forget those 10 essentials:

1. Flashlight and extra batteries.

2. Map.

3. Compass.

4. Food and water (for a 5-mile trip, at least a quart of water).

5. Extra clothing and rain gear.

6. Sunglasses and sunscreen.

7. First-aid kit.

8. Pocket knife.

9. Waterproof matches.

10. Candle or fire starter.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached at 206-464-8243, or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

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