Once you’ve caught the hiking bug, that quarter-mile nature trail from the Visitor Center is no longer enough. You want to get out on the big trails and get (comfortably) lost. Or maybe you just want to explore further. The further that we venture from the many manmade structures that surround us in everyday life, the easier it is to slow down the frantic thoughts ping-ponging around in your brain and get in touch with nature.
Even if you’re not into the whole “connect with nature” thing, you might just enjoy hiking as an excellent form of exercise in the warmer months. If you want to know how to hike farther and longer, here are five exercises you can use to get in great hiking shape.
You don’t have to go from zero to 60 when it comes to any of these exercises. With box step ups, it doesn’t matter if you start with a six-inch step or an 18-inch box. The important thing is that you put box steps ups into your regular workout routine if you want to get in better hiking shape. Including a few sets of these every time you workout will improve strength in your quads, hamstrings, and gluts.
When you do your step ups, pay close attention to your form. Make sure you’re driving upward through the ball of your foot, instead of through your heel. Also, be careful and gentle with yourself as you step back down. When you’re preparing for hiking, in particular, it’s not about how fast you can step up and down. Instead, focus on building functional strength with the correct form. As you get stronger, either step higher or increase the number of repetitions you do in each set. After a while, you’ll be able to do these steps with weights, or when carrying your full pack on your back.
It doesn’t take Olympic-style squats with a barbell on your back to firm up your gluts and add strength to your quads and hamstrings. In fact, if you’re not properly trained in Olympic-style lifting, you’re more likely to cause more harm than good. There are way too many examples of folks attempting workout recommendations without proper training. The good news with bodyweight squats is that your risk of injury is considerably less because your body (at least to a degree) is already used to carrying your weight around.
When doing bodyweight squats, make sure you’re keeping your back straight, engaging your core muscles, unlocking your hips, and squatting until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground. You don’t need to squat too low, as there’s definitely a point of diminishing returns that you don’t want to go past. When starting out, go slow and focus on your form. There are many great videos online for you to check your form against as you get used to this exercise.
When you think of getting into hiking shape, core strength probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But our core strength plays a vital role in any movement we do throughout our day. If you’ve ever experienced an injury to your core muscles (either in your abs or lower back), you’ve realized just how much we rely on core strength throughout our day. There’s almost no functional movement that doesn’t rely, in some way, on our core.
One of the most fun and effective core exercises is oblique twists. When starting out, you can do these without any weights. This will allow you to get used to the exercise before adding weight. Sit on the ground and start by raising your feet about six inches off the ground. Work on keeping your feet together as you lean back slightly. Your goal is to achieve a 45-degree angle between the floor and your back. Then, gently twist from side-to-side, touching your hands to the floor on either side of your hips.
As you get used to this exercise and your core strength improves, find a light medicine ball to hold as you twist. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the weight on the medicine ball in order to get the desired effect. Like the two exercises mentioned above, the priority here is on more repetitions versus more weight.
Hiking tests the fitness of your entire lower body and core, not just your hamstrings, quads, and gluts. Although they are certainly the largest muscles responsible for propelling your body from peak to valley and back up to peak, your calves need some attention too. If you want to get in great hiking shape so that you can go farther and longer, one of the easiest exercises you can do is calf raises.
For starters, stand flat on the floor and then rise up onto your toes. It’s as simple as that! But once you repeat this exercise, say, 50 times, your calves will be burning and you’ll be on your way to improving your calf strength. Over time, you can go to the next level by standing on the edge of a box or platform. With your heels hanging off the edge, rise up onto your toes and then slowly lower down.
With calf raises, the process of gently lowering down is just as important as rising up. As a hiker, your legs need to be prepared for descents just as much as climbing up to that epic pass. Don’t neglect this part of this exercise! One of the best things about calf raises is that they are super easy to work into your daily routine. Even if you can’t get to the gym, do your calf raises while cooking, working at your standing desk, or enjoying an extra 60 seconds in the shower!
This article wouldn’t be complete without including a cardio exercise. You can focus on building functional strength all day, but improving your cardiovascular fitness is equally as important if you want to hike farther and longer. Running on flat land is a great cardio workout in and of itself, but running stairs will also help to prepare your joints and ligaments for the impacts that come with hiking.
Find a stadium or large staircase somewhere in your neighborhood that you can hit once or twice a week. If you can’t run the stairs when starting out, just walk them! It’ll still be a great workout and you’re still simulating the climbing and descending that you’ll be doing on longer hikes. Just like with box step ups, be mindful of your form when walking or running stairs. Make sure that you’re striking on the balls of your feet and not putting unnecessary impacts on your heels. As you feel your cardiovascular fitness improving, challenge yourselves by doing multiple stair runs in a row before taking a break, or increasing the length of time for which you run stairs before you head back home.
Whether you just want to extend the length of your weekend day hikes or you’re preparing for a multi-day backpacking journey, these exercises will help you get in great hiking shape. You might be surprised by how much more you enjoy hiking when your body doesn’t hate you for dragging it out of the house!
We hope you’ve enjoyed these exercise suggestions and we wish you the best of luck in your upcoming adventures. Here’s to seeing you out on the trails!