There are some seriously good benefits of hiking for your mental and physical health, but if you’ve had a seriously difficult outing, you could find yourself extremely sore for days after. Here, we are going to explain why that happens and give you some tips on how you can reduce that soreness through pre and post exercise habits.
Muscle soreness is extremely common, and it often is at its worst 1-2 days after your activity. This is a normal bodily process that indicates you did some hard work, so don’t get too worried.
Soreness, often called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) occurs when your muscles work harder than they are used to, and is believed to be from microscopic damage to your muscle fibres. This damage results in soreness.
This soreness can last from 3-5 days, and can widely vary in severity as well.
It is thought that eccentric exercise (tensing a muscle while lengthening it) especially increases muscle soreness. Hiking downhill is one of the easiest ways to do a lot of eccentric motion as you are contracting your quads as you are lengthening them. It is therefore very common to be pretty sore after hiking!
Knowing what this is, how can you reduce your odds of being sore, or minimize the overall soreness you are feeling? Here, we have some tips.
Sleep is an underappreciated, yet essential component of your health and wellbeing, and it is essential for recovery. Therefore, having an adequate night of sleep is an important component in your muscles recovering from a big hike, which will help prevent or help reduce the degree of DOMS. Aim to sleep for 7-9 hours, and establish a habit of waking up and going to sleep at roughly the same time everyday. If you have trouble sleeping, try lowering the room temperature, meditating, and staying away from screens for the hour or two before going to bed.
You’ll probably find a whole bunch of non scientific articles with false information if you try to look up “foods that reduce soreness.” That doesn’t mean your diet doesn’t matter; it just means that there is a lot of speculation and false information out there.
You’ll find many people not fueling properly, but the science states that you should attempt to have full carbohydrate stores before you begin exercising, and likely should be intaking more carbs (like gels, or bars) to keep processing carbs throughout your workout. This will improve your performance. You’ll also want to have enough protein after exercise which is essential for muscle recovery. Your protein intake will depend upon your bodyweight. The recommended protein intake is 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight per day.
It is essential to be eating enough after your exercise. On a hike, you could be burning a couple thousand calories. You need to replenish your calories. Your body needs those calories to recover.
Having the proper nutrition for your exercise should help your overall performance, and should help aid in recovery. What helps aid in recovery will help reduce muscle soreness.
And don’t forget to hydrate properly! Staying hydrated is crucial to your performance and recovery. On long or intense hikes, it may be good to intake an electrolyte blend as well.
Active recovery is simply doing some light exercise to help loosen things up and reduce soreness. Inevitably, once you start your active recovery, it is probably going to hurt even worse, but generally, after warming up, your soreness will reduce significantly.
While this may not directly reduce your soreness levels, it can possibly aid in your recovery. Just be sure to exercise at very low intensities for your active recovery. This could be walking, cycling, slowly jogging, or even arm circles to just get some movement in.
To be honest, studies are conflicting if ice or heat significantly reduces muscle soreness. Ice baths do show promise in terms of reducing inflammation, and therefore can help any achey joints that are common occurrences with hiking, and still can potentially help your soreness. You will find thousands of people swearing on ice baths though, and you’ll often find athletes hopping in baths after practice. Should you?
Our answer would be: “why not?”. There is no reason that either of these would be detrimental to your recovery, so if it feels good, then go for it. Many believe that it is just a placebo effect, but if it makes you feel better, then that’s all that matters. If you do have inflammation, then ice might be a really great option for you.
Some people also swear by stretching. Once again, this likely is only just reducing your perception of soreness, while not actually affecting much. With that being said, if stretching reduces the feeling of soreness after your exercise, absolutely go for it.
Massage either by hand, or with a massage gun can be a great way to temporarily reduce soreness. In addition, massage is shown to improve blood flow. Increased blood flow in an area can potentially lead to a faster recovery. Both stretching and massage can be beneficial options to reduce soreness. Overall, these are far less important than eating, sleeping, and hydrating.
This tip is a pretty obvious one. The more in shape you are, the more likely your body will be used to a hike, and the less likely you’ll experience DOMS. If you gradually increase your activity level (start with small hikes, and work slowly into larger hikes over a couple of months), you’ll likely be able to reduce muscle soreness after a bigger hike. You may also recover faster.
This one is pretty simple. Don’t be sore when you go on your big hike. Your muscles need recovery. So don’t be squatting two days before your hike, go on a long run, or really do any activity that is heavily working your lower half. Doing so may result in DOMS, or tiredness before your hike, only exacerbating your muscle soreness post hike. Be sure to take enough recovery time before your hike.
With these tips in mind, we hope you have a little extra info to reduce soreness. While we have several tips here, the most essential items for your recovery and reducing DOMS are simple: eat healthy, hydrate, and get enough sleep.
This post was written by Max DesMarais.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com, a resource to help those experience the great outdoors. He is an avid outdoorsman, trail runner, and hiking guide with years of experience on the trails, and training.