Ep. 57 – Getting in Shape for the Smokies

SHOW #57  March 22, 2015


This week on Episode 57 Smoky Mountains Radio, Getting into shape for the Smokies! Let’s go!


It is Sunday, March 22, 2015 and this is Episode 57 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  Welcome back to the show.  As, always, I am your host Mike, and I am here to bring my nearly forty years of experience in and around the Smoky Mountains help you have the best possible time on your next trip to the Smokies.  Whether you plan on going for a walk, hike, trek, or pilgrimage in the Smokies, you have come to the right place for all the information that you need.

I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com to get all the information you need about your trip to the Smokies. You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on SMR.com.  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com

And now, let’s get on with the show.

Getting into Shape

It is that time of year.  The sun is out and the temperatures are rising.  We are all thinking about that new year’s resolution to get in shape that hasn’t yet materialized.  Yep, i’ve been there too.  But as you start planning your trips this spring and summer to the Smokies, being in shape should be number one on your checklist.

Let’s say that when you come to the Smokies, you have no intention of hiking.  Fair enough.  Are you going shopping?  Just going to the tanger outlets in Pigeon Forge can have you walking over a mile going from store to store and that is if you do no backtracking.  I have seen people out of breath sitting on the benches outside stores just tired, out of breath, and exhausted.  They weren’t ready for that amount of walking.  If you simply plan on walking the strip in Gatlinburg, be ready for an average of three miles per day if you go up and down the strip.  Yes, you won’t lose any weight with the chocolate shops, pancake houses, and restaurants and bars along the way, but the walking is enough to wear down the body and the joints.  Are you going tubing or rafting.  The muscles you will use on that hike will have you incredibly sore the next day if you aren’t in decent shape.  And if you plan to hike, you better get ready or you won’t get far.

There’s a ton of different ways to get ready for your trip.  The number one thing no matter what your activity is is to get off the couch and move at least a little every day.  And no, I don’t mean walking from the fridge to the computer or the couch.  Yeah, I just did that too.  I mean get the blood pumping, move the joints, and prepare for what you are getting ready to do.  Even if it is just a walk for 20 minutes each day, that will help.  After all, who wants to come to a place so exciting only to be miserable due to being out of shape?  Every extra pound of weight we carry on our guys puts an extra 5-8 pounds of pressure on our legs and every ten pounds extra we weigh makes our respiratory system work 15 percent higher.  So, slimming down is goal number one.

When we are slimmer, we breathe easier, we move faster, and just as importantly we get tired much slower.  Our bodies also recover much faster, so after a long day of walking or hiking, you won’t be exhausted or horribly sore the next day.  This is more important than you might realize if you haven’t been out here before.  This episode is not to get you sold on a diet plan.  Far from it.  Diet plans are stupid.  I don’t care what it is.  Nutrisystem, Adkins, pills, or anything else.  It’s all a gimmick, and if it is helpful, it is nearly always a very temporary fix.  There is one way to get in shape and one way only.  Proper diet and exercise.  That’s it.  End of story.  I am going to write a book that is one page long and that will be the advice.  That’s it. Perhaps i’ll make the New York Times Best Seller list.

Before you go thinking i’m hating on the 60-something percent of us that are overweight….notice that I said US…are overweight.  The majority of us could lose a few pounds.  You can have a great time in the Smokies and be overweight.  A ton of people do it every year….no pun intended.  I’m simply saying that you will feel much better if you slim down before the journey.  Being more comfortable lets you focus on what’s around you.  And let’s face it, when you are in as beautiful of a place as the Smokies, it’s good to be able to focus on what is around you instead of your hurting body.

But let’s say that your overall goal is not just to be decent shape, but to be in HIKING shape.  It may sound strange, but they are actually a little different.  I have been in terrific shape and bad hiking shape at the same time.  And conversely, I have been a little pudgy around the edges and in great hiking shape.  To some degree, it is because hiking is different from most of the activities we do on a day to day basis.

Our workout routines usually revolve around weight training and cardio.  These all help us for sure when we’re out on the trails, but they don’t usually get to what you need to be a successful hiker.  If I look at a cross-section of hikers that I have seen on my longer hikes, they tend to come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are tall, some are short, some are thin, some are round, some are men, some are women, some are young, some are old.  You get the point.  But most of them have very specific things that are the same.  They have strong legs, developed calves, large quads, and walk tall with a rhythmic and even gate.  So let’s get into hiking shape.

Leg’s drive the machine in hiking, so that is the best place to start.  Even someone in shape will leave a hiking trail sore.  The reason is because hiking uses a lot of muscles….and by a lot, I mean all of them.  Yes, that is my scientific explanation.  Basic workouts target some muscles and not others, which leaves some muscles weak when you hit the trails.  It’s almost like trying to hike with one leg longer than the other.

The first thing you need are strong quad muscles.  The knees take a bigger beating than anything else, and the quads are your first line of defense.  They will absorb the repeated shock of step after step with a bunch of weight on your back along uneven ground.  If these are weak, expect knee pain early in your journey.  Leg lifts are very good for quads as are squats.  Both target the muscles well.

Calf muscles are a close second.  Hikers will often have monster calves.  The obvious exercise for calves are calf raises.  You can do these anywhere.  In a gym, at home, it doesn’t matter.  stand on your toes and watch how quickly your calves burn.  When calves are weak, the load on the legs moves around the legs and one of the hikers worst nightmares starts to come true…shin splints.   No bueno.  Gotta get those strong.

We hear it all the time with athletes, somebody pulls a hammie. Hamstrings are an often overlooked part of the legs.  Maybe its because they’re on the back of the legs.  I don’t know.  Regardless, they need to be strong.  When one muscle group is strong and another is weak, you increase the chances of pain or injury.  So strong quads on front and weak hamstrings on back can be a problem.  Reverse Leg lifts and again….squats are really good for this muscle group.

There are actually more than 40 muscles in the legs.  But we will just focus on the main groups here, since most of these exercises will cover you on them all.  By far the biggest oversight in our hiking muscles is our hip muscles.  Inner and outer hips are almost never thought of until they hurt.  And the exercises are often overlooked at home and in the gym.  Hip induction and abduction machines target those muscles really well.  You can also work them out doing lunges.  Another way to go is side leg lifts with weights tied to your ankles.  Any of those things will help.

The most common things we do to get in shape with our legs is walking or running on treadmills.  This gets us in good cardiovascular shape and helps strengthen our legs, but it really does little for hiking shape where legs are concerned.  Elliptical machines work a little better for this, but they are designed to be low impact.  While that certainly is beneficial for us, it does not simulate hiking in the “real world” and so the new stress from the trail can shock the legs and actually make them atrophy more quickly.  So all this adds up to more real world conditions.

Stair steppers or stairmasters are really good for this.  Those steps use more muscle groups at once and can build up the hiking legs really quick.  And yes, stairs at work also help you out, so forgo the elevator, and take the stairs.  Treadmills can be helpful if you vary the incline.  I’ve seen hikers wear their full packs as they walk a 20 percent incline on the treadmills and it helps.  That might be good for you as well.  I think the main thing is to vary it up.  Do as much different as you can.  Every exercise will work things out a little differently, so changing up the routine can be really helpful.

But despite what you do, there is no substitute for the real thing.  Nothing helps build the legs than actually hiking.  But it doesn’t always have to be in the Smokies.  Head to the woods near you and put your pack on and go for a walk.  Call it exercise, call it a training hike, call it whatever.  Just go out there and do it.

If you have mobility issues, this becomes even more important.  Nothing fights the effects of bad bones and joints like movement.  Do as much as you can stand and stop.  This will help build fluidity in the joints and allow you to do more over time with less pain.  I’ve mentioned my knees on the show several times. With four knee surgeries under my belt, they will never be what they were before the surgery.  It’s just not gonna happen.  I’ve accepted this and moved on.  What I can do is keep moving so that they do not further deteriorate.  After my final surgery, my orthopedic surgeon told me that I needed to exercise for the rest of my life to keep my knees working properly.  And he was right.  During the periods that I have not done so, I have more pain and stiffness than I do when I am working out regularly.  It’s just a fact of life.

Prior to my ACL and cartilage tears, I was in great shape.  I played basketball for about three to six hours each day, and was an active person in general.  But I never really worked out specific muscles.  This led to weak spots in my legs which I am convinced helped bring about the injuries from rather mundane circumstances.  So don’t discount a little targeted exercise.  One thing that I like to do before doing a longer distance hike, which for me is a few days usually, is to load my pack with twice the weight I will carry.  It forces the body to adjust to the hard weight and when the real hike comes, you are lighter on your feet than you would be normally.

As i’ve said numerous times over the previous months and years, hike your own hike.  My approach is not a one size fits all approach.  Your situation will likely need to be tailored to your needs.  But all of this is good for all of us to keep in mind as the weather warms up and the itch to get to the mountains becomes greater.  Hope that will help you have an even better time during your next trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on SmokyMountainsRadio.com

Fishing in the Smokies


I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com


We are getting close to the end of our show, but before we go I do invite you to check out our website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com for all your Smokies needs.  My intention for next week’s show is to get the kid’s perspective on the Smokies, so I will be inviting my nephew on the show with us to tell us about his Smokies experience and how it looks through a child’s eyes.  So that will be our inaugural interview show here on SMR, with many more to come.  I’ve also got several emails to get caught up with both on and off the air, so stick around for more of your listener feedback.  I’ve got brand new show topics, new Spotlight Hikes, and much more, so I hope you will stay with us in the coming weeks and months.  But for now, our time is running short, so thanks to everyone for joining us this week my friends.  I hope everyone has a great week and gets out to enjoy the changing seasons.  So until next time….Go Take A Hike!




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