Take a Hike!

Kendyl Comiskey BS, CPT

Kendyl Comiskey

If there is one outdoor activity that Bellinghamsters know how to do really well, it would be hiking.

Not only is Bellingham well known for its close proximity to scenic outdoor destinations like Canada and Mt. Baker, it boasts with its own diverse and beautiful hiking trails that cannot be found anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. And coming from a kid who grew up “hiking” on the East side of the state - I can tell you how much of a difference it makes when you discover that hiking can be so much more than suffering through un-shaded canyon trails and limited destinations.

The reason why Bellingham is such a sweet spot for hiking is due to the pure design that mother nature bestowed upon this area: lush greenery that is generously sprinkled from the Chuckanuts all the way up to Mt. Baker, glimmering bodies of water like Bellingham Bay, Fragrance Lake, and Race Horse Falls, and varying levels of difficulty that are suited for the beginning hiker to the most experienced.

So, before you start researching the most scenic hikes that Bellingham has to offer (don’t worry - I asked around the Club and made a list of some of our staff’s top picks!) you should consider this: can I make it up that hike?

Here’s the thing, even the most experienced hiker who enjoys the steep, 8-mile loop knows that it is just as demanding of the body as it is rewarding for it. So, someone who has not done much physical activity since last summer and is eager to make it to the top of Mount Pilchuck (one of my personal favorites) should highly consider making sure that their physical fitness is up to par with what the hike requires.

Being physically fit is not only something that we should keep in check for a better, longer, happier life, it also lets us know how our body’s components are functioning in relation to the activities and stress that we put it under. 

When it comes to hiking, areas of fitness that are important to check in on include: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, joint integrity (ankles and knees especially!), and even core stability. Ensuring that these areas of fitness are fine-tuned will decrease the likelihood of injuries like rolled ankles, falling on an outstretched arm, and strained muscles. On the other hand, it will increase your likelihood of being able to make it all the way to the top without stopping every 10 minutes for a break or ensuring that you are not the one in the group slowing everyone down! (I have been that person before...I really wish I would have known how hard the hike was going to be before I committed.)

When I train individuals who mention that they are hikers or who are preparing for a big hiking trip this summer, here are some of my go-to exercises that test some of the key components that most hikes require:

* Single-Leg Foam-Pad Balance - Being able to balance for 10-20 seconds without touching the ground with the other foot requires ankle stability and strength as well as good proprioception. If one ankle is weaker than the other, it may indicate a bigger chance of rolling it if you are hiking on unstable ground.

* The Stair Master - This fat burning piece of cardio equipment puts your hiking endurance to the test! See how long you can stay on at a moderate intensity until your legs start to fatigue or you reach your max heart rate. Increasing your endurance on this will benefit you even if you prefer the hikes that don’t require uphill climbs.

* Calf Raises - Either with the balls of the feet elevated on something like a plate or hanging off a stair, you can increase calf strength and endurance by rising up to your tip-toes and holding at the top for a couple of seconds. These are really great for ankle mobility, too!

* Ball Roll-Outs - This core drill is great either held in an isometric plank position or as a core stability exercise when shifting the ball forward by movement of the shoulder joint. Being able to hold for 30 seconds to a minute or complete 20 roll-outs will help build a great foundation for the core and even help strengthen your lower back (just be sure to do it in front of a mirror or with a buddy to ensure that the hips are not dropping or hiking up!)

Even if you are not into hiking, give these exercises a try and see if you are in “hiking shape” just in case you get invited out this summer! If you are unsure of where to hike or want a new hike to try, here are some favorites recommended by some of the BTTC staff:

* Triple Divide Pass in Glacier National Park (Matthew Iwersen, Tennis Director)
7.2 miles one way, elevation gain of 2,380 feet

* Skyline Divide in the North Cascades (Jenna Peth, MAG)
9.0 miles roundtrip, elevation gain of 2,500 feet

* Sehome Arboretum (Robin Robertson, Owner/Manager)
6.0 miles roundtrip, no elevation gain - great for those who don’t want to strain their knees!

* Oyster Dome (TJ Tipton, Tennis Pro)
5.0 miles roundtrip, elevation gain of 1050 feet

* Fragrance Lake (Michelle Fry, Front Desk Manager)
5.5 miles roundtrip, elevation gain of 950 feet

When you feel ready to take on one of these hikes, let us know what you think! Better yet, ask one of us if you want to go together - hiking in a group is always fun and it is always nice to take exercise outside of the gym every now and then.

Happy hiking!

Kendyl Comiskey