So you’ve decided to go on a hike? Good for you! You are sure to benefit from the journey which awaits you. Don’t forget to stretch though. Your body is going to need it. Even though I do not call myself a Yogi, I still find the stretches helpful. You do not have to be a master yoga instructor to benefit. You can start out today and have a better time on your adventure. Without further ado, I give you The Best Anti-Back Pain Yoga Poses for Hiking and Backpacking. Yoga is one of the best ways to deal with any back problems you encounter on the trail.
Before we start though, you should be aware of two key points. One, a few of these stretches require you to touch the ground with your hands and knees. But if your trail is muddy and dirty, you are not going to want to put your knees in the dirt. Most of these stretches can otherwise be done standing up.
Second, pay attention to your breathing for all these stretches. The effectiveness of these yoga poses comes from your breath. Inhale when you need more energy and exhale when you want a deeper stretch.
Take these at a slow and steady pace.
Let’s get started.
Why Should You Stretch in the First Place?
Stretching takes time you could otherwise spend hiking. I get that. When I was into lifting weights, I never spent any time stretching. As a result, I did not get as big as I could have been. It only takes ten to fifteen minutes, but it makes all the difference in the world in terms of performance.
When you stretch, you keep your muscles strong, flexible, and healthy. In other words, if you want to go on a hike again in your eighties, then stretch now. On a similar note, stretching increases the range of motion for your joints. You can go farther and do more after stretching.
You also reduce muscle tightness and pain. On a hike and backpacking trip you are going to be really working your muscles. The heavy pack weighs down on your shoulders. The steep slope may cause your legs to give way from underneath you. And the fast moving stream may sweep you off your feet. You are going to encounter all manner of natural obstacles and your body needs to be stable and steady to handle them all.
Stretching increases blood flow. Let’s take the alternative for a moment. Tight muscles restrict blood flow. You cannot move as fast and probably end up as the weakest link in the chain of hikers. Stretching, however, loosens up your muscles. Your red blood cells can then bring more oxygen to your muscles. Stretching fills you with life and vitality. In other words, you perform better on your outdoor adventure.
Yoga Poses Aren’t Just for Yogis
I want to make another point clear. You don’t have to be a world champ yoga instructor to do these poses. The stretches below are easy for a reason. I do not recommend a stretch I cannot do myself. You are not going to have to perform the splits jumping up and down on one leg to only then swing your body around backwards while hyperventilating.
No, you will not have to do that at all. You are going get a lot out of what are really easy stretches that do not take more than ten minutes in total if you do them all.
The Low Lunge – Best Done at Home
If you want to strengthen your hip flexors, then this stretch works quite well for them. Also, this one and the two afterwards work best at home. You’d look a little odd to do this stretch on a muddy trail.
Step 1: start in the downward dog position like a tabletop with your hands in front on the ground and your legs behind you shoulder width apart.
Step 2: bring one knee skyward in front of you.
Step 3: place your skyward knee in front.
Step 3: interlace your fingers from both hands and place them on your lead leg.
Step 4: thrust your hips forward and make sure your knee doesn’t go over your ankle.
Step 5: hold for 7 – 9 breaths on each side.
Bonus step 6: with your hands on your knees, slowly bring your hands skyward until they meet straight above.
The Cat Cow, I Hope You’re Ready to Yowl at the Moon
Step 1: get on your hands and knees in the tabletop position.
Step 2: inhale deep, lift your chest like a professional body builder, chin up and forward, and arch your back.
Step 3: exhale slowly, round your back to the sky, and drop your chin for the cat pose.
Step 4: hold each pose for 7 – 8 breaths.
If you are ever on the trail taking a break with your backpack off, you can do the standing version of this stretch. Place your hands on your lower back where your kidneys are. Just arch backwards and look towards the sky. It’s as simple as pie.
Half Split – (I Would Never Ask You to Do a Full One)
I probably haven’t done a full split since I was a baby. It is just too difficult and I am too big now. It isn’t going to happen, so I opt for the half split yoga pose instead. This stretch helps your hamstrings, calves, groin, and back.
Step 1: from the low lunge (the first one), lean back onto your rear leg.
Step 2: tuck your rear leg toes until they are flat on the ground.
Step 3: flex your front foot until it is perpendicular to your leg and tilts towards your body.
Step 4: straighten your lead leg as comfortably as you can with your hips square and stacked over your rear knee.
Step 5: lengthen your spine and fold over your lead leg.
Step 6: hold for 7 – 9 breathes.
Step 7: don’t do the full split like the photo above.
Step 8: repeat the steps for your other leg.
The stretches after this one can be done on the trail.
The Pyramid Pose, You Don’t Need to Fly to Egypt
Step 1: start in standing mountain pose with your feet as wide apart as a foot less than your arm wingspan.
Step 2: angle your toes at a 45° in one direction parallel to each other.
Step 3: inhale and bring your hands to a clasp above your head.
Step 4: exhale slowly and fold over in the direction of your 45° onto one leg.
Step 5: drop your hands to the ground if you can.
Step 6: if flexible enough, rest your chest onto your lead thigh.
Step 7: bring your forehead onto your front knee.
Step 8: hold for 6 – 8 breaths and repeat for the other side.
Wide Leg Forward Fold Pose
This stretch works well for your calves, hamstrings, and glutes. If you are carrying a backpacking, then you should do the optional part. The bonus section works your back, chest, and shoulders, muscles which need to be strong and limber for the weight you carry.
Step 1: start in the mountain pose (like the previous first step) and extend your arms outward parallel to the ground.
Step 2: shuffle step your feet until you reach your wingspan.
Step 3: rotate your toes inward to a 45° angle; your heels should face outwards and backwards.
Step 4: interlace your fingers behind you.
Step 5: breathe in deep, arch your back, and look towards the sky.
Step 6: as you exhale, tuck your chin and fall slowly with your hands forward until they touch the ground.
Bonus step 7: after step 5, place one arm behind your lower back.
Bonus step 8: bring the other hand to your opposite knee; (for example, the right-hand goes to the left side of your left knee while your left hand is behind your lower back).
Bonus step 9: breathing out, twist your spine and look upwards (your line of sight should be able to reach vertical).
Bonus step 10: hold for 5 – 6 breaths and repeat for the other side.
Jive Squats – You Don’t Max Out on These
Step 1: stand with your feet a little less than shoulder width apart.
Step 2: lift one leg back behind you as high as you can and touch the ground with your fingers to balance in front.
Step 3: inhale on the extension and when you bring your back leg back.
Step 4: exhale slowly, bend your knees, and bring your legs back to the starting position.
Step 5: keep the lead heel down and forward for the entire stretch.
Step 6: repeat 5 – 10 times for each side.
Bonus step 7: bring the crown of your head forward onto the ground in front and balance with your hands on the ground.
The Thigh Stretch is the Most Common
These next two stretches work well if you don’t want to put your hands or knees on the ground.
Step 1: stand on one leg and grab a tree if you need balance.
Step 2: with your right hand (unlike the photo above), grab the top of the left leg foot and pull towards your glute.
Step 3: lengthen your standing leg and stand tall.
Step 4: you can keep your balance better if you stare at a single point while doing this pose.
Step 5: hold for 8 – 10 breaths and repeat for the other side.
Bonus step 6: alternate between beding and extending your standing leg every now and again.
The Standing Calf Stretch
This stretch works well on your calves while on the trail.
Step 1: find a rock, log, bridge, or anything slightly higher than level ground.
Step 2: place one bottom your leg’s toes on what you found in the previous step.
Step 3: keep this leg straight and lean forward (you should feel the extension stretch in your calf).
Step 4: hold for 3 – 4 breaths and repeat for the other leg.
Bonus step 5: do the steps above for both legs at the same time.You can also do this stretch on a set of stairs or an object with a perpendicular edge like in the photo above.
Massage Your Sore Gams
Step 1: sit down in the butterfly or lotus position (pictured above).
Step 2: interlace your fingers and toes.
Step 3: gently push forward and pull back.
Step 4: rotate your foot clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
Step 5: massage your foot with your hands.
Step 6: do this 2 – 3 times for one foot and repeat for the other one.
Lift Your Legs onto the Couch, Wall, or Bed and Unwind
This is a nice and easy stretch, the lazy man’s stretch so speak. I find it quite enjoyable when I am tired, however long and grueling the day was. This stretch reverses blood flow and pooling from your legs and recirculates the blood throughout your entire body. Your heart has a tendency to pump a lot of blood and oxygen to your legs on a hike. This stretch rebalances your body.
Step 1: find a chair or an object where you can place your legs above your body.
Step 2: lay on your back with your feet facing this object and lift your legs above you.
Step 3: let the back of your calves fall on the object.
Don’t Forget to Stretch After Your Outdoor Adventure
It might seem tempting after a hike to just collapse on your bed from all the struggles and challenges of the day. If you do so, I would not blame you. I have done the exact same thing before too. You should instead stretch once again.
Why you might ask? Hiking takes a toll on your muscles, wearing them down and pushing them in ways you never thought possible. They are tired and tight. Post hike stretching reduces your muscle soreness. If you stretch and follow the advice here, you won’t be reaming from soreness and maybe even pain on rare occasions the next day. You might be a little sore and tired, but you will be much sharper and ready to face the day.
Are You Looking for a Backpack?
You should now be all set to go. I can tell you are looser already. Enjoy your hike. Nature has a way of loosening you up and brightening your life.
If you didn’t know this already, one of the causes of back pain is a poor fitting backpack. You can fix this issue quite fast though. In one of my previous articles, I wrote about the Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019 (do not fret if it’s 2058, this paragraph still reads 2019, and we still don’t have flying cars yet. I update my ‘best of’ articles on an annual basis :)). If you want to take a load off your back, then you should check it out.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!