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Hiking in Waterton National Park: Three Training Tips

Hey WILDR folks, we’re talking all about how to get ready for a hike in Waterton Lakes National Park.


Living about 40 kilometres north of Waterton, I go there as much as I can. It is stunning because it's this place where the prairies meet the Rockies. The same topography that makes this park absolutely gorgeous can make it quite steep at times.


Taking a moment to enjoy the topography of Waterton Lakes National Park


If you want to go up onto the tops of the mountains in Waterton National Park, you are going to be dealing with the steep trails that challenge even the most experienced of hikers.


But I've got three fitness tips for you that you can implement to make those trails feel easier. The last one is one you can implement even if your hike is tomorrow!



Tip 1: Start Your Hiking Cardio Training About 8 Weeks Before Going


You're definitely going to want to start 8 to 12 weeks before you get out into Waterton to hike.


When you're going up a really steep hill, you're lifting your body weight, plus your pack, and all that, your body isn't going to be able to make enough energy using just the aerobic pathways.


It's going to rely a little bit on your anaerobic pathways as well.


All that means is that when you're doing cardio training to get ready for hiking season, you shouldn't just be doing slow, easy cardio. You should also incorporate some more intense, shorter intervals.

Now, my clients are often surprised to learn that cardio is super transferable. Work that you do on the bike or the rower is actually going to translate pretty well to when you're out on the trails.


Whether you're cycling or rucking around your neighborhood with your hiking backpack on, you want to make sure that you're spending 30 to 60 seconds working hard and then incorporating longer recovery periods of low intensity Zone 2 work.


Now, if you don't know what zones are, I've got a video all about that below. Essentially you just want to make sure that for your hard intervals you're working at a high intensity to work on that anaerobic capacity.




If you are just getting back into activity and you're starting to think about spring and summer hikes, now is the time to start and we actually have a free resource that you can use to get yourself started.



Couch to Summit 30 Day Free Hiking Program | Great for getting ready for hiking in Waterton


You also want to make sure you’re incorporating strength training with your cardio. Those steep climbs we love aren't just demanding more oxygen. They're also putting more force through your bones, your joints, your ligaments and your tendons.


Now, this added force is not a bad thing. In fact, it can increase your longevity as you get older. But you want to make sure that you're spreading out those forces through your body and that your body is ready for those force increases.


Don’t Forget About Ankle Mobility


There's one joint in particular I like to focus on with hikers—your ankle joints.


When walking on those steeper trails, your ankle mobility is going to be tested on your way up and on your way down.


If your ankles are mobile and strong, it basically means that your gait going up a steep hill is going to look more similar to your gait on a flat ground.


You’re giving the other joints in your body more space to work in a range of motion that's comfortable for them.


Ankle mobility can be part of the solution if you deal with hiking pain in your knees.


Start with calf raises in a bent knee and a straight knee orientation, and work through the entire range of motion.


Reason being is that one of the muscles in your calf works most when you're in a bent knee position and the other works most when you're in a straight knee position.


Working on balancing and challenging that strength and mobility in the controlled environment of the gym or your home before you hit the trails, can be really helpful for building up that ankle mobility and strength.


Tip 2: The Quickest Tip to Get Ready for Hiking in Waterton


My quickest tip for getting people ready to hike in Waterton is to use poles.


I know it sounds so simple. But poles are actually a hiker's best friend when it comes to longevity because they're helping share the load between the upper and lower body.


Hiking Downhill


They allow you to lean slightly forward in an athletic stance when you're hiking downhill, this makes sure that your hip is not totally straight, which would put more load through your ankles and knees.


The hips are our biggest joint, and so using the muscles around them to absorb that load is going to mean that you feel more spry at the end of the day.


Don't just move straight downhill. Incorporate a little bit of lateral movement as you hike downhill. This is going to change where those forces are hitting you and it is going to mean that you've done less repetitive movement by the end of the day.


Hiking Uphill


And then on the way up, I've got two quick tips.


The first one is to make sure you are getting full hip extension. Squeeze the glutes a little bit on every couple of steps and make sure that your hips are fully extended.


The second one has to do with ankles again. When I'm hiking uphill, I will look for rocks or something on the trail to elevate my heel because at a certain steepness you can't have your heel planted without hyperextending your knee, we want to avoid hyperextending our knees.


When your heels are planted, you're actually able to use your glutes more effectively, which is the biggest muscle in your body to propel you uphill. Planting our heel also reduces the work of our calf muscles, sparing them from overuse.


Look for roots or rocks that are on the established trail that help you plant your heel as you're walking uphill. You are going to thank me for that tip at the end of a high vertical day!


Tip 3: Delay Soreness with a Dip in Waterton Lake!


Now, trust me, a day out in Waterton is made even better by hiring a local guide who knows lots about the area and from jumping into a lake after your hike.



Taking a dip in one of the many lakes after hiking in Waterton


We have so many lakes in Waterton. They are very cold and that cold exposure is shown to dampen DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.


When you jump in a lake, your recovery is going to start sooner and be quicker. But, if you don't want to worry about soreness when you're out on a hike, I would suggest you start with that 30 day free Couch to Summit program.


If you're a little more advanced hiker and you're looking to really accomplish some dream hikes, then check out our eight-week dumbbell based pre-hiking program. It has helped so many people have adventures of a lifetime. And I would love to work directly with you to make that happen for you as well.


If you have experience hiking one of these amazing mountains in Waterton, then I want to hear about it. Comment below and I hope you have a WILDR week!


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