Save Your Knees: Hiking Tutorial

Does hiking or taking stairs hurt your knees? I get asked, a lot, about gait. Gait is a blanket term for walking, but since the physics of walking change depending on the terrain, so do gait parameters.

I’ve presented walking on flat ground, which has a specific set of mechanical parameters. Here is a video on uphill and downhill hiking that can save. your. knees.

Most of us use more muscles on the front of the body than on the back, due to years and years of excessive sitting and positive-heeled footwear use.

This is a quick hiking makeover that will help you shift the work from your knees to your hips!

P.S. You can apply most of this to stair-walking. The only issue is, the size of the stair forces you into a gait pattern that is not natural.

Going Upstairs: Maintain the vertical shin on the front leg. This uses the glutes of the front leg and calf of the back leg, instead of the quads (and knee cartilage) of the front leg.

Going Downstairs: Let the pelvis toggle to drop your foot closer to the step below. Don’t force the knees to bend excessively to make up for pelvic immobility. Dig?

Want more on walking? Check our our “Walk This Way” Alignment Snack.

Want more on knees? Read this book, and watch these two videos below:

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14 Comments

  1. CathyN says:

    Thanks for this. We hike all the time, and I have been wondering about this very topic for some time. I forwarded it to my bestie, who loves to hike and has bad knees.

    Perfect timing.

  2. Kerry W. says:

    Ah! Your kid is so cute!

  3. ArianaR says:

    This is very helpful and super clear. Thank you!

  4. susie says:

    Great post with excellent cues. Thank you Katie.

  5. Liz says:

    Great timing because my knees are killing me and it just might be because I’ve added a climb and descent to my daily walk.

  6. Andrea says:

    I just went outside and walked the stairs. I go down the way you talk about. Going back up is a different story. It feels like retraining that would take a long time.

  7. Terry says:

    Impeccable timing Katy, thanks. I’ll be rolling up some 13′ers in the Sierra in a couple months, and not losing cartilage is on the priority list. :-)

  8. Sian says:

    Hi Katy (my first post…:-)). Thank you. I did a long hike up and down some local Welsh mountains last year. My quads were frazzled and I could barely walk the next day without extreme discomfort. One of my knees then started playing up. My neutrally balanced partner (well he never seems to have any problems with knees, ankles, hips) only complained of sore glutes and annoyingly, I mean, promptly, recovered. I’ve been trying to work out how to take the pressure off my knees going down hill ever since and I have just walked up and down my stairs using your horse analgy. Love it. Thank you.

  9. michelle says:

    So this is really good stuff but I have the opposite problem, I think. When I hike or walk for longer periods I have intense pain in my hips (feels like my hip socket) and my IT bands (which are always tight) seem to tighten up even more. My knees, no problem but the hip pain keeps me from walking longer distances or hiking. My glutes are pretty tight as well. This didn’t seem to be a problem until after the birth of my first child, and then two more came there after;-) Do you have an article that already addresses this? Thanks!!! Just discovered your site and LOVE it!

  10. carrie says:

    Thank you for this video!
    What do you think of skiing and snowboarding? The style of the boots force the knee over the ankle! Is it better to avoid skiing?

  11. carrie says:

    Thank you for the video!
    Speaking of downhill…What DO you think of skiing and snowboarding? The boots force the knees over the ankles! Is is better to avoid skiing?

  12. Oneuncoolmom says:

    Can anyone comment on why knees can ache during casual bicycle riding, and what to do about it? Thank you

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