Set Your Compass to Pilates, Then Back to the Trail
Nothing beats the smell of warm pine trees, the crunch of the trail beneath your boots, and the tranquil silence of escaping the city for a wilderness hike. We want you to enjoy your outdoor adventures as much as possible this summer, so naturally we recommend Pilates.
1) Keep your balance
It’s funny how something as routine as walking can be so challenging! When hiking on rough trails and rocky terrain, ankle injuries are one misstep away. Good hiking boots with solid ankle support are a must, but so is Pilates. We start class with footwork, which strengthens your ankles, preventing them from rolling when you’re hiking on a backcountry trail. We also keep a close eye on your knees to make sure they are tracking properly. This strengthens your knee joint and decreases your risk of injury.
Even though California is in a drought, cold mountain streams still trickle their way across trails. And while many well-maintained trails have bridges to help you cross the gap, many don’t. Time to play frogger! If you find yourself hopping from one rock to the next, you’ll want your balance to be on point. Hiking poles make performing these tricky balancing acts easier, but you need strong arms to assist you. Luckily, Pilates can help with that, too.
2) Conquer hills
Northern California is not known for being flat. Get out in the woods and you’ll be hard pressed to find a trail that doesn’t take you up and down and up again. We wouldn’t change that for the world, though! Hilly trails provide incredible views — and an incredible workout.
The physical challenges of climbing uphill are quite obvious: your quads burn like crazy. You may also feel that your back is working overtime, especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack. Engaging your abdominals will help you climb the mountain like a champ. And with that view, it will totally be worth it.
However, going downhill is no walk in the park, either (unless, of course, you’re in a national park). Your hamstrings and abs help you fight gravity so you can descend with control and not like a ragdoll.
3) Combat stiffness
If you’re backpacking (that is, carrying all of your camping gear as you hike), you’ll immediately notice the difference compared to hiking without any gear. Tiny muscles called multifidi are lined up and down your spine helping to stabilize. When you’re carrying a heavy pack and walking on an uneven trail, these little guys have to work hard to support your spine. After a long day of hiking, you may feel soreness all up and down your back. Pilates exercises are all about mobilizing the spine, helping you to relieve that stiffness.
Sleeping in the great outdoors has many wonderful perks, but discovering that your luxurious mattress has spoiled you is not necessarily one of them. In the morning, try doing some small Pilates movements to alleviate stiffness. You can lie down on your back and do pelvic tilts, pelvic circles, or bridges, focusing on articulating through the spine. Cat/cow is another favorite of mine for clearing out the morning creaks.
4) Breathe, please!
One of the main goals of Pilates is incorporating breath in an intentional and focused way. We’re specific about when to inhale and exhale, which affords us more control over our breathing and can even increase lung capacity over time. You can feel the benefits of Pilates breathing in any aerobic exercise you do, hiking included.
My recent explorations into the Colorado wilderness have brought a brand new challenge to outdoor adventures: hiking at altitude. Being in shape and able-bodied, I wasn’t expecting the altitude to be much of an issue. Boy, was I wrong! I learned that exercising at altitude affects everyone differently, and doesn’t necessarily correlate with physical fitness.
When working my way up to a mountain peak at 12,000 feet, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was light-headed, felt waves of nausea, and at times, thought I was on the verge of fainting. Because I have years of practice with Pilates—and Pilates breathing—I was able to pause and focus on regaining my breath.
This summer (and always!), we want to help you build yourself with any physical activity you enjoy. Feel free to ask our instructors about exercises specific to your preferred sport, or email us with questions. Happy Summer!
Author: Ali Weeks