We all love a good hike once in a while, but the truth is sometimes it can leave you feeling really sore if you’re not in shape. So we’ve thought to help you feel the hiking experience at a max, by letting you know which workouts for hiking you can do.
We’ll start with some tips and tricks for working out, then we’ll talk about some exercises you can do in your own home. We’ll even throw in a couple of sample schedules, so read on.
Tips and tricks
If you’re new to working out, there are various things to take into account. Basically, we feel that all exercise is a good exercise for hiking because it builds up a good physical and mental condition. That’s because it lets you burn calories, as well as negative feelings.
So here’s what we recommend for all hiking newbies who want to get into shape for their next hike.
Start from the start
The start is your current physical condition. Since hiking means you need strong muscles, as well as good endurance, you should evaluate your stats from those points of view.
Evaluating cardiovascular endurance
- How much can you run?
- How fast can you complete a mile?
- Do you need to stop relatively often to take breaks?
- Do you need to walk, as well as run to complete that mile?
For an average physical condition, you should be able to:
- Run 1-2 miles in one sitting.
- Complete a mile in about 7-10 minutes.
- Take one small break maximum when running a mile’s distance.
- Not walk to get to that finish line.
If you can do better than the average, you’re good to go for prolonged, hardcore hikes. The average condition can still mean you’ll probably do just fine in most hikes too.
But if you’re below average and a newbie to working out, you need to increase cardio endurance. You can do that by incorporating more cardio into your daily routine:
- Start walking to and from work. If your workplace is too far away from home, park your car at a mile’s distance from it, and walk from there.
- Consider 30 minutes power walking during your work breaks.
- Do 10 minutes of light cardio every chance you get. You can even exercise in front of the TV.
- Stand instead of sitting. Watch your favorite TV show while standing up.
- Get a treadmill for your desk, if you have space.
If you already like working out, but don’t get too much cardio because it doesn’t seem fun, here’s what you can do:
- Do an activity you already like, that’s great for increasing cardiovascular endurance, such as swimming or cycling.
- Incorporate high-intensity interval training in your routine. That takes less time than cardio, about 15 minutes, and it’s great before doing your usual strength training.
- Turn your usual workout into cardio. If you like Pilates, for instance, do the movements faster, so you’ll get more winded. If you like strength training, consider doing super sets, which exercise different muscle groups at a faster pace.
- If you’re a gym rat, tell your trainer that you want to train for a hike. They’ll show you which machines to use and give you great exercise ideas, tailor made to your style.
- How many push-ups can you do in a row?
- How much time can you hold a plank for?
- How many squats can you do in a row? What if you add weights?
- How many lunges can you do in a row? What if you’re using dumbbells?
These questions can tell you the strength level you’re at now. The list might seem a bit reductive, but it relates to the main muscle groups you’ll use hiking.
You have an average strength level if:
- You can do 15-20 full push-ups in a row.
- You can hold a plank for 1.5 minutes.
- You can do 40-50 squats in a row without weights, and 10-15 with weights.
- You can do 30-40 lunges in a row without weights, and 10-15 with weights.
This shows you can confidingly go on most hikes because you have minimal chances of getting a strain. The same goes if you can do much more reps of these exercises. But what happens if you can’t?
- If you’re new to strength training, consider doing these exercises each chance you get. You can even do static squats while helping your kids with their homework or lunges when you’re brushing your teeth.
- If you’re not new to strength training, consider bumping up your weights. Remember that 8-10 reps are good for building new lean muscle, and therefore improving your strength, while more than 12 reps are good for toning. The last 2-3 reps should be hard to do, but without sacrificing your form.
Mix and match your workouts depending on your schedule, your fitness level, and your preferences. The only rules you have to follow are:
- Do more cardio than strength training. You should have 4 days of cardio each week, some combined with strength exercises and some freestanding.
- Do more leg days. You should have 3 leg days per week, for instance, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Some may be combined with working out another body part.
- Get 1-2 days of HIIT per week. These can precede an upper body workout and can count as a leg workout too.
- Work out your entire core, not just your abs. So consider including exercises like planks, Russian twists, and push-ups.
- Don’t use the same upper body/ lower body workouts each time you exercise those body parts.
- Ideally, you should work out for 30-50 minutes, 5-6 days per week. You don’t need anymore if you’re giving 100% each time.
- If you don’t have 30 or 50 minutes in a row for working out, it’s better to squeeze in more workouts during the day rather than giving up altogether.
Get into the hiking state of mind
Know how to relax. Hiking is all about discovering new places and enjoying the physical effort. That’s why we recommend to:
- Spend more time in the great outdoors.
- Do breathing exercises that teach you how to relax.
- Enjoy some Hatha yoga. This strengthens both the mind and the spirit.
- Get enough stretching at the end of a challenging workout.
- Consider adding a stretch day in your workout schedule.
Exercises that work
With that said, let’s see how you can get in shape for hiking. We’ll talk about some exercises you can do depending on where you’re hiking. But first you should know which muscles you need most:
Body parts and muscles you exercise during hiking
- Arms, chest and upper back for carrying your backpack and using hiking poles. These muscles aren’t vigorously challenged, but it’s good to have some upper body strength.
- Core for keeping your balance and carrying a backpack. These muscles are used at a medium intensity level.
- Glutes, quads, and calves for walking around all day. These are the muscles that will take the most strain during your hikes.
And don’t forget you need your hearts and lungs in top shape to help you with that endurance. See our review of the top heart rate monitor for your safety.
Exercises that target the main muscle groups used for hiking
With that said, we’ll talk about some great strength training exercises you can do, to make sure your muscles won’t fail you during your next hike. All these exercises can easily be done at home, and you can use water bottles or sand bags if you don’t have dumbbells.
You can even do antagonistic movements if you’re new to exercising and want to make sure you can hold a good form. That means doing the exercises below with no weights while contracting your muscles and working against yourself. See also our piece on the different kinds of workouts for hiking for more information.
Pullovers – These are done lying on your back. Lift your arms up, above your chest, and then slowly lower them above your head, while keeping them straight. These work the front part of your shoulders, and your lats.
Reverse flies – Bend over from your hips, while holding a straight back. Your legs should also be straight, but don’t keep your knees locked. Now lift up your arms, keeping them parallel to the ground, and a bit in front of your body. These exercise your upper back.
Push-ups – There are tons of push-ups you can do to target your chest, core, and upper back:
- Baby push-ups where you’re keeping your knees and arms bent at a 90-degree angle, and you’re just bending your elbows.
- Knee push-ups for the medium intensity level, when you’re doing a push-up off your knees.
- Regular push-ups.
- Staggered hand push-ups. This means you’ll keep one hand more in front of your body, to target that arm more. You can do these off your knees too.
- Triceps push-ups. These entail holding your hands really close to your body, so you can target your triceps better.
- Pike push-ups. These are done from a pike position and strengthen your shoulders more.
- Spiderman push-ups. These are done from the traditional position, but you just bend one knee to bring a leg in front, closer to your hand, so you look like Spiderman climbing a building. These exercise one of our arms more, but they’re easier than the staggered hand version.
Chest flies – Lie on your back, in a prone position. Bring your arms above your chest area, perpendicular to your body. Keep your arms straight, but don’t lock your elbows, and lower them as close to the ground as you can. This exercise targets your chest.
Planks – Get into a push-up position and hold for as long as you can. This can be done from your knees if you want an easier version, keeping a straight line from your knees to your hips and shoulders. I
f you want to up the intensity level, you can raise a limb once in a while for a few seconds. We love planks for getting more core strength, and they’ll even give your shoulders a good challenge.
Bird-dogs – These are an easier form of a plank. Just sit on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, and your knees right below your hips. Now lift up one opposing arm and leg, alternating between right and left.
If you don’t have the strength for that, just lift one limb at a time. This exercise is great for both upper and lower back.
Back-bows – Not anyone can do back-bows. Some people have been working out for years, and still, can’t do them because they require a lot of flexibility too. But the good news is that even contracting your muscles as hard as you can make a world of difference.
So lay on your belly, and try lifting both your upper body and legs off the mat. You can keep your arms straight in front, or bend your elbows with your palms behind your ears. This targets your back and glutes.
Squats – There are tons of squats you can do:
- Regular squats with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Ski squats with feet close together.
- Sumo squats with your legs really far apart, toes pointed out.
- Jump squats when you jump at the end of each squat.
- Rocket squats when you go down in incremental counts.
- Static squats when you try to hold a squatting position for as long as you can.
You can add weights or not, but the most important thing is to keep a good form. That means:
- Keeping a straight back.
- Bending from your hips, with your butt sticking out behind you.
- Don’t bend your knees by pointing them in front.
- Don’t assume you have to get your butt really close to the ground for a squat to count.
Squats target your thighs and glutes, which help when hiking.
Lunges – Place one foot in front of the other and bend your knees, keeping your torso upright. That will strengthen your quads, so you can climb up a steep trail.
If you want to make this exercise easier, don’t step up too far. If you want to make it harder, do a couple of pulses at the end of each lunge, add weights, or jump between lunges.
Calf raises – The calves are really important both when climbing up and down. If you have strong calf muscles, there are fewer chances of injuries and strains. So simply stand and lift your bodyweight on your tiptoes. You can add weights or even a loaded backpack to make this exercise more challenging.
And don’t forget about all the exercises you can do to increase endurance:
We also advise you to try some mock-hikes, when you start with an easy backcountry hike that lasts for a few hours. That means you won’t have a difficult trek, and you don’t have to bring too many stuff along, either.
We’ll give you two sample schedules below. One’s good for newbies, while the other is better for people who already have some experience with fitness. But you can try the first routine even if you’re new to this, and incorporating exercises that aren’t that tough but challenge you personally.
Or, you can try the easier routine if you simply want to take things slowly for a week and recover. Just don’t forget to include a warm-up and a cool down.
- Day one: 20 minutes power walking + 10 minutes upper body strength.
- Day two: 15 minutes HIIT + 20 minutes lower body.
- Day three: 30 minutes swimming or light cardio
- Day four: 10 minutes running or cycling + 20 minutes core workout
- Day five: 15 minutes HIIT + 15 minutes upper body strength training + 15 minutes lower body strength training
- Day six: 30 minutes hatha yoga or stretching
- Day seven: Rest day
- Day one: 30 minutes power walking
- Day two: 15 minutes light cardio + 15 minutes Pilates for core
- Day three: 15 minutes cycling + 15 minutes upper body strength
- Day four: Rest day
- Day five: 15 minutes light cardio + 15 minutes lower body strength
- Day six: 10 minutes cycling/ treadmill + 10 minutes upper body strength + 10 minutes core
- Day seven: Rest day
Your workout routine
Just remember that all these exercises will be personalized according to your fitness level and preferences. Don’t have dumbbells for the strength training? Do antagonistic movements or bodyweight exercises? Don’t like running? Do power walking or cycling.
Hate jumping or have downstairs neighbors? HIIT can withstand low impact modifications too. Don’t have the time to workout at home? Find a couple of minutes on your lunch breaks, spread the workout throughout the day, or use your kids as dumbbells.
The thing is you need to take yourself into account too. And the secret is anyone can do it. What are your workout tips? Have we missed something? Let us know in the comments.