Honestly, I don't think I really consider myself a "yogi", I feel like for that you have to be able to do the splits and hold a stretch for 10 minutes, both of which are not in my practice. What I can say is that I have been practicing yoga daily for about a year and a half now and doing 20 minutes every morning has changed my life by waking up new muscle groups and helping me perform my best for my other favorite activities like hiking and backpacking. So I couldn't help but share what I've learned and used to up my hiking game for the last year.
I want to preface with not to feel overwhelmed by the word "yoga", it's not something that has to be perfect or even takes a lot of learning, time, or flexibility. It's simply a way of moving and stretching that gets you and your muscles ready for any activity you have in front of you. It helps prevent injury and can help with those aches and pains from climbing uphill or carrying a heavy pack. Whether it's a casual day at the office or hiking up an entire mountain I believe a few fun and simple yoga poses and movements can really make a difference in your health and wellness. So if you're ready to take your outdoor adventures to the next level, then let's dive in.
Table of Contents
Calf and Hamstrings Stretches
Probably the most important section of the body for any hiker or backpacker, since our calves and hamstrings are what keep up moving up that trail. Here are a couple stretches to combat those tight leg muscles when hiking uphill. Keep in mind that all of the stretches should hit both major areas, so sink lower if you can't quite feel them.
This is one of the deepest calf stretches you can do which is why I try to do it before practically every hike. You go down on your knees and then stretch one leg out straight in front of you, flexing the toes back toward you. From there, you can lean forward with a straight back and attempt to pull your toes back toward you at the same time.
This simple yoga pose often gets overlooked, but it actually helps stretch so many areas of the body, from your back to your shoulders, to your hamstrings, and is the easiest pose to accomplish.
Stand up nice and tall, then bend down at the hips reaching your arms forward towards your toes. A couple of things to keep track of, make sure not to arch your back too much, but try to keep a straight spine. And don’t be discouraged if you can’t actually touch your toes, you still get all of the benefits by simply bending over and reaching towards them.
This is another simple stretch that you can do just about anywhere on the trail. Flex one foot at a time against anything such as a rock, tree, or another person’s hiking boot. Usually just doing that much already gives you a stretch, but if you need more than that you can reach down and try to touch your flexed toes to go even deeper.
Hiker Quad Stretches
Your quad muscles are the powerhouse of your legs, that thick section of the front of your thighs that really gives you that push you need. They also hold a lot of the weight when you’re backpacking, meaning you’ll need to take extra care of them. So try a couple of these stretches regularly to take care of them.
This is an easy pose that will get both quads at once, just be careful if you have bad knees, this stretch might be difficult for you. To do this pose simply sit on your knees and then lower your torso back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thighs.
Don’t feel like you have to lay all the way back, just keep your hands behind you to support you as you lean back.
Dancer or Standing Quad Stretch
These are stretches for each leg individually and are easy to accomplish while on the trail. For the dancer pose, you’ll have to find a bit of balance. You’ll start standing and pulling one foot to your butt in a standing quad stretch, you can stop here and enjoy the stretch, but if you want to push yourself you can pull the foot up behind you, bending your back and adding a bit of a shoulder stretch.
The dancer is a bit more advanced and intense, so don’t feel like you have to push past the standing quad stretch. But sometimes it’s fun to get a little extra yoga-ish about your stretches.
The low lung pose is a great one for hips and thighs and is rather gentle as long as you can kneel. For this pose, you kneel on one leg, place your hands on your hips and push your hips forward. Just make sure your knee stays over your ankle and doesn’t push too far over.
Yoga Poses for Hips
Your hips are especially important for backpacking or for steep inclines when hiking. It’s a part that is often forgotten about unless you’re trying to accomplish the splits, but your hips carry most of your weight and healthy mobility of them can drastically improve your hiking performance.
This is basically a very low lunge, and it feels so nice (I love all hip stretches). To accomplish this yoga pose, you’ll kneel on the ground with one leg bent in front of you. Place that front foot slightly to one side (if it’s your right foot push it slightly to the right side, same for your left), then lean forward as far as you can toward the ground next to your bent leg.
If you want you can push your bent knee out to the side and stay up on your other hand or go down to your elbows, whatever feels best for your body.
Here’s one you probably already know from any gym class you’ve ever taken, but it is a seriously effective stretch. While standing, take one large step back with one foot leaving the other leg bent in front of you. This is also an easy stretch to do on the trail during a quick snack break.
I really like this hip-opening stretch; I use it every day in my practice because I just feel like it really works. This pose is accomplished by standing with your feet hip-width apart (or slightly wider depending on your flexibility), then squatting all the way down until your butt is below your knees.
Try to make sure both heels are on the ground by spreading your feet wide enough until they lay flat. You can also put your hands together in a prayer-type position so that your elbows dig into your knees for a deeper stretch.
Back Stretches for Hikers
These poses are especially important for backpacking because as the name implies, you’ll be packing a lot on your back. And if you want to keep going for a couple days you really need to preemptively take care of it, before any pains become an issue.
Lay Down Twist
This is my favorite way to relieve back pressure and increase back flexibility (another pose I use daily). For this stretch you will lay on your back, then pull one knee to your chest. Then, take that knee and cross it over the opposite side of your body and try to let your knee and shin lay on the floor. From there, you can either lay both arms straight out, bend your elbows or use one arm to push on that knee while the other arm lays out.
This stretch will hit deep in your lower back and should be taken slowly because of how intense it can be for some people. Lay on your stomach with your hands underneath your shoulders, then push up only your torso until your hips come off the ground.
If that is too much you can do a baby cobra and only push halfway up, or a sphinx pose where you stay on your elbows, either are still great back stretches for backpackers.
Shoulder Stretches for Backpacking
Another preemptive stretch to keep up your shoulder strength for carrying either your hiking or backpacking bag long distances. You’re going to want to do these before your hike to help ease the pain in your shoulders from carrying a heavy pack, luckily, these also help your back so you get a 2 in 1!
This is a great simple pose for your shoulders that doesn’t put too much strain on anything. For this hiker’s yoga pose you’ll want to get on your knees then put both hands on the ground in front of you. From there, walk your hands out so your torso reaches toward the ground and stop once your face is close to the ground, and you feel a stretch in both shoulder blades.
Thread the Needle
Another personal favorite, this move gives your body a nice spinal twist along with your shoulder blade stretch which just feels amazing! It is actually something you can add on to your puppy pose to stretch your shoulders a little deeper.
To practice this great yoga move get down on your knees and reach your arms forward (just like puppy pose) but then reach one arm through the space between your opposite hand and knee (thread the needle) until that arm's shoulder blade is rested on the ground. At the end, you should have your butt in the air, your face, and one shoulder blade on the ground, with one arm under the other perpendicularly. I guess it’s easier to just look at the picture.
Yoga Movements for a Healthy Hiking Body
Half split - Low lunge
This is everything you need for calves, hamstrings, quads, and hips! All of those important leg groups get what they need with this super simple movement.
First, get down on one knee in a low lunge shifting your hips forward into the stretch. Then, push your butt back and stretch out your front leg so it’s straight, and lean over that leg to reach for your toes.
Repeat this movement as much as you want and as slow as you want, remembering to breathe in at the lunge and out at the split. Also, try to keep a straight back as much as possible (it’s better for your spine’s health).
This lovely classic movement gets everything in your body awake and alive for the day. Honestly, if you only do one move out of all of this, this would be the one. It will help with your alertness, coordination, blood flow and give you a good stretch.
To accomplish sun salutation, you start by standing nice and tall, then a deep breath in, and raise your arms above your head. From there, exhale and reach down in a forward fold, then inhale and lift your chest slightly, then come back down into the full fold. After, you’ll place both hands on the ground and step back into a high plank, then you bring your body all the way down to the ground so you’re now laying on your belly. From there, you push your chest up into a cobra pose, then release the cobra back down and push up and back into a downward dog by pushing your hips up so your body makes a triangle shape. Then, you step both feet forward to your hands, then raise your but up, keeping your hands at your toes for another forward fold. Lastly, stand up tall while swinging your arms up to the sky with a big inhale, then release your arms and breath down to a prayer position with your hands at your chest.
Whew, That was a long one! Let’s break that down:
Stand, hands stretched above head
Create space by lifting the chest slightly
Place hands down, high plank
Lower to belly
Push up to Cobra
Lower to belly
Push up to plank
Push hips back to downward dog
Jump feet to hands
Stand up with arms above head
Bring arms into prayer position
Hopefully that all made sense, if not, my video should make it more clear for you.
Plow- Happy Baby
This is an amazing movement for your hips, back, shoulders, neck, calves, and hamstrings, it’s actually quite relaxing and another favorite move of mine.
Laying on your back you’ll put both feet together, then shoot your legs over your head with your feet staying together, then grab your toes (if you can) or slightly bend your knees to grab them. This is a plow pose, and it can seem very uncomfortable the first few times you try it, but it gets easier the more you get used to it.
For the Happy Baby pose you’ll separate your legs and take them as wide as you can, then bend your knees with your hands still pulling on your toes. With your legs wide and bent, try to pull your feet down so your knees get closer to the ground, you should feel this stretch in your hips. Feel free to rock side to side and switch between the two poses as much as you want.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of every yoga pose I use to keep my body healthy for regular hiking, but it is a great start. I highly suggest starting with at least a couple of stretches every morning or evening to keep your tendons and muscles open and flexible. But if all you can do is at least a few before every hike, you'll still see some benefits of reduced pain and less injury due to stiff muscles.
I would love to hear what you think of the poses and movements I showed you today! I'm also curious if you practice some sort of yoga to help with your hiking or backpacking adventures? Please let me know in the comments below, or by DMing me on Instagram or Email!
Until Next Time,