Even though I live in the sprawling city of Los Angeles, I still love to hike. Two or three times a week I find myself driving to the local trails with my dog to tackle some climbs. Hiking is a great way to connect with nature as I’m getting a workout. Every time I get back from a long trek, I feel strong and accomplished, but my muscles tend to tighten up.
Yoga is an excellent way to relieve that muscle tightness. It is also perfect for stabilizing and strengthening the muscles that can make you a stronger hiker. Every hiker wants legs of steel and the balance of a mountain goat, right? A solid yoga practice can get you there.
Here are six yoga poses that can help you reach that mountain peak! Many of these poses can be done at the trailhead—or even at the top of a mountain while you’re soaking in a beautiful view—but if you enjoy hiking on a regular basis, I suggest incorporating these poses into your regular yoga practice.
6 Yoga Poses for Hikers
1. Chair pose
Hey guess what? Nobody is going to carry you up that mountain. The work will be done by the muscles in your legs and back. This pose is perfect to get strong in some of the largest muscles in the body that will be doing the lion’s share of the work when you hike, such as your quads, glutes and low back.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet together, arms by your sides. Take an inhale, then exhale as you bend your knees and lower your hips—as if you’re about to sit in a chair—and bring arms straight up, palms facing each other. Making sure your knees stay just above your ankles, drop your hips a bit more so that the thighs are almost parallel to the ground. Reach up high with the arms while keeping the shoulders down and away from the ears. Hold for 5 deep breaths, rest by standing up and bringing the arms to the sides, then repeat 2 more times.
Improving balance while strengthening your inner thighs and ankles are just a few of the things this pose will help you accomplish. Pushing off of one leg with those big strides when you hike means that each leg needs to be able to handle all of your body weight over and over again. Practicing eagle pose with long holds regularly will strengthen the right muscles for you to feel powerful all the way up the hill.
How to do it: From a standing position, bring hands to hips and shift your weight onto your right foot. Lift the left leg up and over the right thigh. If you can, hook the left toes behind the right calf; if that is not possible, point your left toes toward the ground. Balance on your right foot and lift arms out to the sides. Cross the right arm over your left in front of the chest, then bend the elbows. Bring the right forearm forward and around the left forearm and bring the palms of the hands together. Take an inhale and on the exhale sink your hips a bit deeper and lift the arms up and off of your chest. To help keep your balance, look at one unmoving spot on the ground. Take 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
3. Half moon
This is another one-legged pose that will help you build balance and strength on each leg. But as opposed to eagle pose where you bring your limbs toward your midline, half moon opens up the body. Specifically, this pose stretches the hips and inner hamstrings while strengthening the standing leg.
How to do it: From a standing position at the front of your mat, bring your hands to the hips. Keep your right foot pointed forward as you step your left foot back and at a 45 degree angle. Bend knees slightly and shift your weight onto your right foot lifting your left leg up as your right hand reaches for the floor (or a block). When you find stability with your right hand, lift the left hip and left shoulder so that your torso opens up to the side, and lift the left leg so that it is parallel to the floor. You can keep a slight bend in the right leg, but straighten the left leg and flex the left ankle. Draw the navel back slightly to help lengthen the lower back. To help keep your balance, look at one unmoving spot on the ground. If you feel balanced, lift your left hand up to the sky to experience the full expansion of the pose. Take 5 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
4. Spread legged fold
Finally, some real stretching. This is a great forward fold to release tension in the backs of the legs and in the low back. Also, with this arm variation, you will be able to get a nice opening in the shoulders as well. Be sure to keep some stability in this pose by leaning forward in the feet a little bit.
How to do it: Standing at the front of your mat with your hands on your hips, step your right foot back three feet then turn to face the side wall so that your feet are parallel with the short edges of the mat. Clasp your hands behind you, take an inhale and try to straighten the arms and squeeze together the shoulder blades to open up the chest. If you aren’t able to straighten your arms, hold onto a strap or towel. On the exhale bring your torso forward folding from the hips (not the waist), grounding your feet into the mat and engaging your leg muscles for stability. To add more stretch in the shoulders, bring your hands away from your waist. Take 5 deep breaths.
5. Low lunge
The front of your legs and groins will thank you after this big stretch. Each time you take a big step forward on the hiking trail, your hip flexors work hard to lift your knee up. When these muscles get tight, they can easily pull on your lower back and create discomfort. I highly recommend a nice long hold in this pose to help release post-hike tightness and maintain mobility in your hips and back. Grabbing the back foot is optional if you would like a deeper stretch to the hip flexor, as well as a stretch to the quadriceps of the back leg.
How to do it: From downward facing dog, bring the right foot in between the hands and bring the left knee to the floor. With both palms on the mat, shift your weight slightly forward so that your right knee is directly above your right ankle. You should feel the stretch in the left hip flexor, which is just below your hip bone. For a deeper stretch, bend your left leg and reach back with your right hand to pull your left foot gently toward your butt. Gently twist the spine by turning the chest to the right and looking over your right shoulder. Take 5 deep breaths, repeat on other side.
6. Hero’s pose
The quads deserve some love after a big hike. This massive muscle group will be thoroughly lengthened in this pose. Also, because most of us tend to turn our legs out a little bit when we walk for long periods, this internal rotation will feel really sweet and bring balance to the legs. If you have knee injuries I do not recommend this stretch, and everyone should be gentle and not push too hard as you move slowly in and out of this posture.
How to do it: From a kneeling position, bring your knees directly under your hips and shins parallel to each other and toes pointing straight back. Place a yoga block in between your feet and sit down, bringing your hands to your thighs. If you want a deeper stretch, remove the block, externally rotate the calf muscle on both legs, and sit down onto the mat. If this stretch is too intense, another option is to stretch one leg at a time by sitting on a block and extending one leg straight in front of you. Take 5 deep breaths.
Try these moves, and join me on 3 Week Yoga Retreat for more yoga poses that will help tone and strengthen all the muscles of the body.