Hikers tend to get good at hiking by hiking, you just get more accustomed to it over time. However, for anyone who’s ever struggled through a hike that was above their capacities or who doesn’t have the opportunity to hike as often as they would like to, strength training for hiking offers you a way to improve your capability away from the trail.
While you may think that you need to go to a gym to start hitting the weights, that isn’t the case. You can do a lot of very effective strength training using your own body weight.
Before continuing, it’s worth stating that for many reading this who are regular gym bunnies, all the stuff discussed will be nothing new to you. However, if you have never done any strength and conditioning training before, please do take the appropriate precautions and discuss it with your health professional if required.
Please also note, that getting a personal trainer or signing up to a course in a gym that teaches you how to exercise properly, is a really good idea. Learning how to do body-weight exercises properly will not only make them more effective, but will also help ensure you don’t injure yourself from bad form.
I know they say ‘no pain no gain’, but keep that in context. Always remember, if you feel real pain, stop! It ain’t worth the risk of injuring yourself long term. OK, so with the health and safety piece out of the way 🙂 lets crack on!
Why Strength Training for Hiking?
There are many reasons you may benefit from strength training as a hiker. For a start, not everyone is lucky enough to live near a state park. Big city dwellers may wish to improve their stamina for hiking while on vacation, but be unable to get to the great outdoors for regular sojourns into the hills. Relying upon hiking alone could leave them sorely out of shape and ill prepared.
Improving overall fitness and in particular cardiovascular endurance, alongside balance will enable you to safely take on more extreme terrain with confidence. Strength training can also improve joint integrity, essential for those difficult descents.
It can also improve confidence, balance and coordination. If you’re out of shape but are planning on a vacation with plenty of walking and hiking involved, strength training can really help you to get out there so you can experience the beauty and peace of nature with confidence.
Whilst, as referenced above, it’s true that there is nothing better than hiking itself, to train you for hiking, as nothing can replace experience, strength training combined with hiking can help you to really make the most of your time out on the trail.
It can help to push your boundaries further and condition you for challenging thru-hikes or for taking on one of the 58 14ers. Strength training will also make you feel great in general, helping you to get in shape and build up your core. You’ll also be much less likely to get injured or take a tumble when out on the trail if you have a good level of core strength.
In addition to any strength training that you do for hiking, it’s important to also do a moderately intense activity 3-4 times per week for at least 30 minutes. This will help to build up your stamina.
You could go swimming, biking, running, as well as hiking. Variety will help you to stick it out and will engage different muscles. To combine strength training with cardiovascular, make two of your four weekly activities hikes or brisk walks with a lightly weighted backpack. You can add more weight to your pack over time so that you’ll be able to carry your pack with ease out on the trail.
Exercises for Hiking
In this section we look at some exercises which are not only great for general fitness, but will also help with prepping for hiking trips.
Pull-ups work out your core and abdominal muscles. They improve general strength and will help you to support a heavy backpack.
Make no mistake, these are hard! you may not be able to get one in the first time out. Don’t worry, you can build up using the support of a resistance band to get you there.
Basically you use a pull up bar and using your abs, raise your knees upwards towards your chest until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
It’s a really good idea to get help from a professional trainer if these are new to you.
If you can get to doing a few pull-up reps, you can nicely compliment these with a few push-ups to have a push pull thing going on, which is very effective.
Doing this, you will help you build up excellent strength!
The trusty Squat is a great exercise, well known for it’s help in building core strength and strengthening leg muscles.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. You can place your hands behind your head or out front. This is your starting position. Begin by flexing your knees and hips, sitting back with your hips. Continue down to full depth and then reverse the motion until you return to the starting position. As you squat, keep your alignment good and push your knees out.
Mountain climbers are a great all-body workout that will improve your core, back, arms and legs. This will improve your core and leg strength, making pack carrying and ascents easier.
Adopt a push-up position with your hands flat to the ground. Bring your left foot forward until it’s is just off touching your elbow. As you go to place your foot back, at the same time, all in one movement, bring forward your right foot so it nearly touches your right elbow. Repeat and slowly increase your time limit.
Lunges are excellent for hikers, as they work out the quads. Strong quads are essential for those tricky descents. Lunges also work out all of your lower body, improve balance and coordination.
For a thorough workout complete 50 yards of lunges, then progress to doing it wearing a weighted pack, or incorporate lunges into your hikes for on-the-go strength training.
Find a gentle downhill slope and stand with your legs slightly apart. Take a large step forward with your right leg and make a 90-degree angle with your knee whilst almost bringing your left knee to the ground. Straighten up and bring your left leg forward to return to your starting position.
Step-ups primarily work out the quads and glutes which will greatly assist your ascents, descents and anywhere where the going is tough. They are also great for balance and coordination.
Using a sturdy box or bench, place your right foot on it. Then using your muscles in your right leg, bring up your left leg so you’re now standing on your box or bench. Step down with your right leg then your left. You can do 8 to 10 reps on one leg and switch, or continue alternating.
Balance is extremely important for hiking, so why not slip a few balancing exercises into your routine. These exercises will help improve your ankles and lower legs.
For optimum results, practice them out on the trail if you get out often or else work them into a walk, anywhere where the terrain is soft or uneven will add difficulty and greater efficacy. You might get a few raised eyebrows, but the results will be worth it.
These are great for warming up and loosening out, as well as helping with balance.
Standing on your left leg, raise your right one a few inches off the ground. Swing your right foot forward then backwards, then to the right side, using your left arm for balance if necessary. Repeat with your right leg. You can experiment doing these side to side as well.
These are a complimentary exercise for squats. Do these sparingly, definitely not every day! If you have any issues with them at all, stick with basic squats.
It might help to think of doing a slow-motion frog impression. Start with your feet apart in a squatting position, with thighs parallel to the ground. Keep your knees above your toes and chest up. Come up out of the squat and in doing so push up and jump. Land softly, regain your squat position and continue.
Strength training for hiking is an invaluable way to build up your muscles so you can really make the most of your time on the trail. It is simple, easy and free to do, and can also help to greatly improve your coordination and balance, minimizing the risk of injury.
Whether you want to get more out of your hikes or are planning for a thru-hike or long expedition, strength exercises will definitely improve your experience, confidence and ability.