Preparation for Oxfam Trailwalker


Trail walking is tough, especially on your hips, knees and ankles.

The following article addresses some of the issues that could prevent you from getting over that finish line.

Some general tips for strengthening, improving flexibility and preventing injury:

1. My general recommendations for everyone

Some information specific to a few conditions renowned as trailwalking injuries:

2. Blister prevention
3. Outside knee – ITB friction syndrome prevention
4. Anterior Knee – patellofemoral pain prevention
5. Hip – Gluteal bursitis or tendinopathy prevention
6 Foot and ankle – Plantar fasciitis, tibialis posterior tendinopathy, achilles tendinopathy prevention
7. Ankle and knee sprains prevention

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My general recommendations for Everyone:

As well as your walking training, you need to be doing daily strengthening drills to prevent injuries due to repetitive small movements of walking.

I have chosen three exercises that will give key muscles a baseline of strength to keep your joints better aligned even when your body tires:

(All strengthening exercises should be 3 sets of at least 8, with approximately one minute between sets.)

1.   Unilateral squats –  These target your gluts and quads.  They are best done with a slight lean forward – this engages your gluts more. Keep your hip knee and ankle in as best alignment as possible. (as shown by line ‘a’ in the second image).  If you’re not able to maintain this alignment, either support yourself with your hands on a table edge or start your squats on both legs.

fitness, sport, people, exercising and lifestyle concept - close up of couple couple doing lunge exercise on city street


2.  Unilateral Heel raises – These are important for strengthening your ankles to try prevent rolling and spraining during the walk.  Slow controlled lifts and drops can be done off the edge of a step.  They can be done with a straight knee or with a bent knee, as the two positions target different calf and ankle muscles.  As above, it is important to exercise in good alignment of hip, knee and ankle, and within the ankle itself- ie no twisting the heel inwards or outwards.  Start on both feet and then when it feels too easy, exercise one leg at a time.Beautiful sporty fit yogini woman practices yoga asana setu band

These can be progressed to jumps and hops, and can involve jumping or hopping onto a step.

3.  Unilateral bridges – These exercises target your gluts and hamstrings.  The image shows a bilateral leg bridge, which is a good starting position.  Once in this position, one foot can be lifted off the ground while ensuring the pelvis stays level (imagine a tray of drinks across the top of your pelvis – dont let any drinks spill!) and keep breathing.  This can be alternated with the other foot.  Do 10 lifts of each foot, and repeat each set 3 times. The next progression (when that becomes easy) is to lift up and down using only one leg. (and keeping that imaginary tray of drinks level on your pelvis) Many people cramp in the hamstrings when progressing too fast.  As the hamstrings strengthen, this will stop happening.

To make these exercises specific to your needs have a physio assessment.  They can be progressed or regressed depending on your level of strength and stability.

Collage of beautiful sports couple training in gym
As well as walking, you need to be doing cross training to increase your fitness and endurance while giving your ‘walking’ muscles a break.  Your upper body is very important for walking so keep your arms and upper torso strong.  If you are using walking poles this becomes especially important.  Swimming, arm weights and the crosstrainer are all good alternative exercises.

Athletic Man In Side Planking Using Foam Roller
Use your roller at least three times a week.  General areas to keep loosened are 1 your outer thigh 2 your mid thigh 3 your calves.  Use a golf ball under your feet.

Use a tennis ball to release your glut tightness. Lie on the floor with the ball on the glut muscle you are targeting.  Increase your body weight onto the tennis ball either lying on your back or on your side or half way between the two.  Hold the pressure on the painful muscle point until it subsides.  Then move the ball to a new point and repeat.

Your body will have certain muscles which tend to tighten more than others.  Stretch these areas after rolling. (gentle and slow stretch – 3 x 30 seconds)

Sports Massage - Massaging LegsGet sports/remedial massages – the therapist will be able to locate tight areas that you’re not aware of and will be able to get a longer lasting release than what you can with the roller/ball.  They re not a luxury, they’re a preventative measure!

Read the Blister prevention section below  – and during your training leading up to the event, evaluate what technique or combination of techniques work best for you.  Everyone blisters differently!

Get the right shoes for the job.  (trail runners are my pick) And the right fit!

If you think you may need custom orthotics made,  have your feet assessed by a podiatrist.

Only increase your training by maximum of 10% per week, and do hill training at least once per week.

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Some information specific to a few conditions renowned as trailwalking injuries:

Blister Prevention:

A hiker is inspecting a foot blister.

Blisters are caused by shearing between the bone and the overlying layers of skin.

Abrasions are caused by the sock/shoe rubbing on the skin repetitively.

And deroofed blisters are a combination of the two.

Moisture around the feet ie sweat increases the likelihood of blisters.


1:  Footwear that fits well and has been ‘worn in’.

2:  Good shoe lacing techniques :

3:  Moisture wicking socks – (NB shoe uppers must be breathable to allow the evapouration of moisture, not the case in some waterproof materials)

4.  Engo shoe patches –  these are adhesive  polytetrafluoroethyline patches which allow targeted friction management to the problematic areas – they are attached to the shoe inner, not the foot, therefore not affected by sweat.  This is a great explanatory video

5.  Taping – to try prevent abrasions heel and toe taping can be done:

6.  Allow your skin to adapt to the new frictions by doing walking training at least three times a week for six weeks at least. Try to use the shoes and same type socks you will be wearing for the event. This will make the skin and upper layers of tissue on your feet more specifically robust for trailwalking.

– For more info visit:

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Outside Knee – ITB Friction Syndrome Prevention:

Itb friction syndrome is caused by excessive tightness of the outer band of fascia of the thigh. The pain is located on the outer side of the knee and it can often worsen on downhills.

  • Use the roller to roll out tightness of the Iliotibial band (torture!) and the TFL (tensor fascia lata)(the front pocket muscle)
  • Strengthen your glut max and glut med and possibly ankle muscles. (see exercises in general section above)  Stretch your thigh and ITB, as long as it is painfree.
  • Use walking polesYoung woman exercising and stretching muscles before sport activity in park
  • Have an assessment to check ankle, knee, hip, pelvis alignment. And possibly factors in your upper body that may be altering your lower limb alignment.
  • Check footwear – do you need more support?

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Anterior Knee – Patellofemoral pain Prevention:

Anterior knee pain : The tissue around the knee cap can become inflamed if the forces around it are not balanced.  Instead of gliding smoothely within a groove in the femur bone, it rubs against structures below it, causing pain.

  • Use the roller to roll out you mid and lateral thigh muscles. Stretch these muscles as long as it is painfree.
  • Strap your kneecap to equalise the forces around it (have a physio teach you)
  • Strengthen your hip, knee and ankle muscles in good alignment (see exercises in general section above)– this will help your medial (inner) quads to strengthen

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Hip – Gluteal bursitis Prevention:

Group of people silhouettes walking toward mountain summit with backpacks hiking trekking gear meeting uprising sun sunbeams and blue sky of background

If the glut muscles are not strong enough,  they can be overloaded and tighten.  This leads to the tightened tendons rubbing over the bursa, causing irritation and inflammation.  Or the tendons themselves becoming injured.

  • Use a tennis ball/massage ball under your gluts to do ‘trigger point’ massage on the glut muscles (lie on the floor with the ball on the glut muscle you are targeting.  Increase your body weight onto the ball either lying on your back or on your side or half way between the two.  Hold the pressure on the painful point until it subsides.  Then move the ball to a new point and repeat.)
  • Strengthen your hip knee and ankle in good alignment. (see exercises in general section above)
  • Use walking poles

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Foot and Ankle – Plantar fasciitis, tibialis posterior tendinopathy, achilles tendinopathy prevention:

  • The area of the calf that is needed to be rolled out may vary between people. It may be the inner, middle, outer calf or outer side of the shin. Feel for what seems tightest while using the roller or get an assessment done by a physio. The sole of the foot may also need to be rolled out using a golf ball on the floor under the foot.
  • Ankle strengthening exercises can be done – heel raises (progress from bilateral to unilateral). These should be done in good alignment from hip to ankle, as well as good alignment between the ankle bones themselves.  This can be checked by a physio.
  • Hips and knees should be strengthened in good alignment (see exercises in general section above)
  • Check your shoes – do you need more support?

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Sprained knee or ankle prevention:

Rocky and uneven terrain makes us more vulnerable to ankle or knee ‘twists’ which can sprain ligaments and muscles.

To try prevent this, strengthen your ankle, knee and hip muscles as explained in the ‘general’ section of exercises above.

If a pre existing condition exists (ie your have sprained your ankle more than once in your life), it may be wise to strap your ankle or use an ankle brace – this is something you can discuss with your physio.

These recommendations are to try prevent the above conditions – If however you already have a pre existing condition or pain, get professional treatment as soon as possible to prepare you for your walk.  Contact us if you need any advice.

Good Luck!