On a recent scramble up the side of one of the many epic slopes in my big backyard here in Vancouver, BC, I was reminded of why hiking is one of my favourite activities outside of the rink.
1. Your skin is becoming translucent.
For starters, just getting outside is key – with hours a week spent at practice, haven’t you had enough of your own pasty skin (and your teammates’) in the ever-so-flattering fluorescent arena lighting? Getting some Vitamin D and some fresh air invigorates, and provides healthful benefits all by itself. Stunning views don’t hurt either when it comes to restoring perspective and sanity in the middle of a tough week.
2. Trick your brain into exercising.
Hiking in my area generally involves an incredibly steep mountainside to climb – meaning there is a destination to shoot for. Unlike jogging, which for some can feel like just slogging through it to complete a loop, hiking to a peak provides that target for your brain to focus on. You know without a doubt there will be a reward at the top, usually involving a view, some photos, a sit-down and a snack. It keeps you motivated on the way up when your legs and lungs are burning, and you can maintain a heightened pace and exertion level that would be extremely difficult to manage while jogging. Naturally, on the way down the reward is getting back to the car and slipping into some flip-flops…
3. Trick your friends into exercising.
Are you one of those rare birds that still have friends who don’t participate in roller derby? Hiking with a small group is a fantastic way to sneak in a cross-training session while you hang out with your friends or family. I’ll never tell.
4. Get a better workout
Hiking is a vastly better workout for roller derby athletes than jogging is. If you’re on a hilly hike, then you’re getting a lower-body strength workout the whole way up – something jogging doesn’t provide nearly as much of. While you descend, the decelerating action your muscles take to arrest your momentum with every step is actually helping strengthen key muscles involved in protecting against knee injuries. Working on your speed and footwork? Taking the downhill at a quick but safe pace is excellent agility training. Take small, light steps, never let your momentum be out of your control, and be ready for any rock or root you step on to potentially move under your feet. BOOM. What better jammer training is there?
5. Zone out.
Eyes constantly scanning the ground for the right place to step, your brain begins to shed stresses and aggravations like the warm long-sleeve layers you’re now removing, and you get in the Zone. Many of us experience something similar at derby practice – all the workaday worries recede once you start to focus on your skating, skills and track awareness at practice. If roller derby itself should happen to be one of your stressors, hiking might provide the alternative avenue for a weekly brain-melting session. Nothing left but heavy breathing, burning legs, and chirping birds to contemplate.
6. Laser focus.
Mental endurance training is widely underutilized in roller derby. Our sport involves split second decisions, intricate strategies, and requires intense track awareness. Deep focus in the first 3 jams of a bout can fall apart completely towards the end of the second half if you haven’t trained your brain to focus when you’re tired. Having zoned out on the ascent of your hike, the downhill route is your chance to work out your brain muscle. Your body is tired, and prone to making mistakes at this point. Unless you enjoy sprained ankles, you will need to actively engage your focus, dedicating it to the task of locating safe stepping spots all the way down. Do take breaks – we often take pauses on the way up to catch our breath, but because the descent doesn’t tax our lungs, we forget to take them on the way down. Your eyes and brain need moments of rest as much as your legs and lungs do. Take a moment to look off into the distance to give your eyeballs a rest too. If you feel your mind wandering, gently remind it to focus on the task at hand – just like you would on game day.
I’ll admit – it’s an embarassment of riches where I live, as far as range, number, proximity, and sheer beauty of hikes is concerned… But unless you live in the Netherlands or Saskatoon, I’ll bet there’s a little hill and a trail somewhere not too far that you can get out and make the most of. Kick your boring old jog or gym routine to the curb every once in a while and get out there!
Got another great alternative workout to share? Post below in the comments!