Getting in Shape with Workouts for Hiking
So you’re getting ready to hit the trails. You’ve made your packing list and bought all your gear (and read our beginner’s guide ;), but don’t forget to get your body ready, too. Whether you’re gearing up for your first hike or you’ve finally decided to take that multi-day backpacking trip, you want to make sure your body is fit enough to make it wherever you’re going before you set out. The last thing you want is to get half way up the mountain, only to realize you won’t be able to make it to the top.
Hiking, especially on an incline, uses leg, butt, and core muscles, so stick to exercises and stretches that target those areas. Hiking also requires endurance. You’ll be walking or climbing most of the day (especially if you’re doing a multi-day trip), so you need do plenty of aerobic exercise that will get your heart rate up and keep it up – strengthening vital cardiac muscle. This article looks at how to get in shape for hiking, and what workouts will increase your performance and enjoyment of your trip.
Aerobic Exercises for Hiking
Basically, aerobic exercise is any exercise that requires your heart to pump oxygenated blood to your muscles. The amount of aerobic exercise (or cardio exercise) you need to do will depend on the amount of time you plan on spending hiking. If you’re going on a day hike, you should do aerobic exercise at least two or three days a week for a minimum of thirty minutes each. If you’re going on a multi-day hike then endurance will probably be more of an issue so going for regular longer runs will help to get you in shape.
Your aerobic exercise could be a combination of walking, running, cycling, and elliptical exercise to avoid injury. At the gym you can probably find stair climbers or even a step aerobic class that will help. Setting the treadmill onto an incline will also activate the muscles more involved with hiking. You should also alternate days of interval and steady state cardio. Regardless of how often or what exercise you do, continue it for 30-60 minutes, and make sure your heart rate stays up the whole time. If your heart rate is somewhere in the region of the 55-80% zone of your maximum heart rate then this is best for cardio (you can calculate your target zones here).
Strength Exercises for Hiking
Benefits: There’s a reason this is a staple in most exercise regimes. The squat is a simple move that you can do with little or no equipment. On top of that, it’s super effective. While it’s mostly considered a leg exercise, you’re actually working most of your muscle groups, especially those in your butt, back and core. Muscles include the erector spinae (back), gluteus maximus, hamstrings and quadriceps
How: For a body weight squat you’ll stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart. Your toes should point out slightly. Then you’ll bend at the knees as if to sit in a chair, keeping your back straight. Bend until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Be sure not to let your knees come forward past your toes. To rise up, keep your core engaged and your back straight, and push up through the heels of your feet.
Advanced Version: When you can easily do 3 sets of 30 reps then try holding dumbbells whilst doing the squats (just make sure you keep your back straight to avoid injuries!).
Benefits: These are another staple in the exercise world. Lunges are great training for a hike because they work your butt muscles while mimicking the natural motion of hiking up an incline. Muscles worked include the glutes, hamstring, quadriceps and calf.
How: Stand with your feet shoulder-with apart. Step one leg forward and bend at the knee until both knees are at a 90 degree angle. Keep your toes facing forward, and be sure not to let your knee go past your toes. Keep your back straight and your gaze forward during the entire motion. Then push up with your front foot to come back to standing. Repeat with the opposite foot.
Advanced Version: Traveling lunges are where you progress from one lunge directly into another. These are great for being a more dynamic and fluid motion, working more core muscles. You could even hold a few dumbbells to enhance the effects of the lunge.
Benefits: Like lunges, step ups are good for hikers because they work the lower body while mimicking natural hiking movements. They improve symmetry of your leg muscles and enhance balance as they work each leg one at a time.
How: For this exercise you’ll need something to step onto. You can use a small step stool, a bottom step, a bench, or a curb. You can start as low as you’d like and work your way up to larger steps.
Start standing in front of your step with both feet on the ground, hip distance apart. Place your lead foot on the step and bring your other foot to tap on the step. You have the option to bring your non-lead leg up to a 90 degree angle for added balance work. Step back to the ground. Keep your back tall and your face looking forward. Alternate your leading foot.
Advanced Version: There are a few variations of the humble step up. Firstly you can try raising the step height which will enhance your balance. Secondly you can add dumbbells or even barbells into the mix. Finally another advanced variation is the reverse step up, where you basically do the step up whilst facing away from the step. According to T-Nation “This is an advanced option that heavily targets the quadriceps muscle of the thigh, particularly the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) fibers.”
One Legged Calf Raises
Benefits: This exercise targets the muscles on the back of your legs. It also allows you to work on your balance, which will strengthen the muscles around your ankle and lower leg (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles), helping to prevent injuries.
How: This is a simple movement that’s easy to do anywhere. Stand tall with most or all of your weight on one foot. Rise up onto the ball of your standing leg and then lower down with control. Repeat several times, and then switch legs.
Advanced Version: It’s a bit of a simple one this one, however you could always move onto holding dumbbells whilst doing the one leg calf raise.
Benefits: This is a core workout that’s simple and effective. Unlike with sit ups and crunches, you don’t have to worry about putting stress on your neck. They build core strength and work key muscles such as the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, external oblique and the glutes.
How: Get in a pushup position. Your feet should be hip distance apart, and you hands should be directly under your shoulders. You can also put your weight on your forearms if that feels more comfortable. You core muscles should be engaged and your body in a straight line – no sagging or lifting of the hips. Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.
Advanced version: If you’re finding this too easy then you can keep increasing the duration of each plank, and try raising an arm or leg (or both!) for extra difficulty.
Vertical Leg Crunch
Benefits: This core workout is very similar to a regular crunch, but is better for your neck and also gives your abdominals quite a bit more work.
How: Lay flat on your back with your legs in the air. They can be bent slightly or straight, and you have the option to cross your ankles. You also have the option to either reach your hands up towards your feet or interlace your fingers behind your head. Contract your abdominal muscles to raise your head and shoulders off the ground while keeping your neck relaxed.
Advanced Version: When you raise your head and shoulders off the floor, try holding it for 5 to 10 seconds at a time to increase the workout.
Stretches for Hiking
It’s always important to stretch before and after a workout or hike. It will help your muscles warm up and recover for your next session. If you’re into yoga, there are lots of short, pre- and post-workout videos out there, but here are a few simple poses. Don’t attempt any stretches that feel painful.
Hero pose – Kneel on the ground with your knees slightly wider than hip distance. Lower your butt to the ground, with your hips between your legs. For comfort you can sit on a blanket. If you want a deeper stretch, lean back or lay down.
Caterpillar – Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Reach your arms to the sky and hinge forward at the hips. Grab your toes, ankles, or calves. If you open out your legs at a 90º angle then you can also lean over one leg at a time for a more specific stretch.
Cobbler pose – This is also known as a butterfly stretch. Sit on the ground with your knees up and your feet touching. Allow your knees to fall open, keeping the soles of your feet touching. Sit up with a straight back, and then hinge forward at the hips.
I hope you have found this hiking workout article useful to help you get in shape for your next adventure. If you have any comments or extra exercises you would like to add then just let me know in the comments below.