Backpacking requires a certain amount of physical strength because we don’t want you passing out on the trail. But it also requires a specific sort of workout routine that will help build your strength. So we’ll help you out with our best tips on training for backpacking.
We’ll tell you all about what muscle groups need to be worked, and what exercises are the best to improve your fitness level. We’ll also explain why and how you can mix and match, and end up with a sample schedule for two consecutive weeks. So if this isn’t the ultimate guide for backpack training, we don’t know what is.
The muscles you’ll need most
All muscle groups are important for backpacking, but the muscles you’ll use the most are:
- Shoulders, lats, and back for carrying your backpack.
- Core for balance.
- Glutes for support.
- Calf muscles and quads for climbing up.
- Quads, biceps, and triceps for walking down (if you’re using a walking pole).
But you’ll also need healthy heart and lungs to keep you on the trail, which is why you should do cardio too.
Consider working out at home
Some of the best workouts are done at home. With the explosion of mobile apps and training videos, you can easily get in shape fast, without paying for an expensive gym membership. The only issue is to motivate yourself enough to start working out. You’ll need minimal equipment, but the most important thing are comfortable shoes.
If you’re going to do a lot of walking, running and jumping around, you need to make sure your knees and ankles are safe. Apart from that, a yoga mat and some weights are good too. But you can skip the yoga mat if you have a thick carpet, and the weights can easily be replaced with soup cans or water bottles. Check out our guide for workouts on hiking to learn more.
The first tip we have is to do a rigorous scheduling of all your activities. That’s because, otherwise, you might feel you’ve done enough when you, in fact, haven’t. It’s also possible to slack off when you’re feeling tired, and simply give up on your training for the day, lying to yourself that you’ll do it tomorrow.
But once you give up on a workout one day, it’s really easy to do the same thing the next day. A schedule is also important to monitor your progress and evaluate your results. It helps make sure you have a balanced routine, so you get balanced results. That, in turn, helps you increase overall strength, as well as cardiovascular endurance.
Start with your stats
Even if you haven’t decided where you’ll work out, it’s good to evaluate your fitness level first. For this, we recommend the following exercises and writing down your stats:
- Run/walk a mile.
- Do as many pushups as you can.
- Do as many squats as you can.
- Do as many jumping jacks as you can.
- Hold a plank for as long as you can.
You’re in the average zone when it comes to physical strength if:
- You can run/walk that mile in about 7-10 minutes.
- You can do 15-20 pushups in a row.
- You can do 30-40 squats in a row.
- You can do 80-100 jumping jacks in a row.
- You can hold a plank for 1:30 minutes.
Obviously, if you can do better, you’re in a great physical shape, while if you need more time or can do fewer repetitions, you’re in a below average physical shape.
Or you can have great stats when it comes to running and worse stats when it comes to holding a plank. That means you’re ok with cardio, but not so much with core strength.
Knowing your stats will:
- Help you plan your workouts better, depending on your strengths and weaknesses.
- Minimize the dangers of overexercising and injuries.
So the most important thing is to see improvements in your stats. Repeat the exercise routine above every month, so you can see palpable progress.
Don’t do the same workouts
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is not to do the same workouts. And it’s not only important to vary your workouts on a daily basis for the main muscle groups, it’s also necessary to vary similar workouts.
So when you’re doing cardio, don’t do the same cardio routine over and over again. When you go on training hikes, don’t choose the same route.
The benefits of varying workouts are:
- Targeting different muscle groups on different days. If you’re working out just your legs, you’re forgetting about your core and upper body.
- Targeting a muscle group in a different way every time you work with it. That won’t let your muscles get used to the same exercise, so they’ll keep getting stronger each day.
- Keeping your brain active. It’s important that you pay attention to your workouts and keep your body guessing. That helps burn more calories because you’re not slacking off unintentionally.
- Prevents wearing out your muscles. That happens when you constantly push yourself to do the same thing. It’s like constantly pushing the same button.
Include rest days
Rest days are extremely needed in your physical routine because they give your body a chance to recover and build more muscle.
In fact, many people don’t know the process of how you develop muscle strength. When you’re training, the muscle fibers get ripped a bit because of the effort you do. Giving them a rest day means they’ll have the chance to recover and become stronger/bigger.
Otherwise, the constant strain applied to them can produce irreparable damage. So it’s not only wise to include 1-2 rest days each week, it’s dangerous not to.
Include total body training
Total body training consists of exercises that are normally done one at a time, but now you’re combining them. It also consists of exercises that use all your major muscle groups. We recommend you add this to your routine because:
- Backpacking is a total body exercise.
- It’s a good way to improve balance and coordination.
- You can save time.
- It means you can combine cardio and strength training for optimal benefits.
Total body training exercises we love
This uses your legs, your core for balance, and your upper body for increasing speed. It helps if you keep your muscles tensed. That way, you’ll burn more calories, but also improve your strength.
This is another good cardio exercise, that uses your entire body. We love this because it feels like taking a rest when you’re in fact working out.
If you know how to ride a bike, cycling means improved coordination, along with working out your legs. Your calfs and quads are the muscles that are going to get the most out of cycling, and these are also the most needed muscles when you’re backpacking.
Deadlifts + reverse flies
Include this in your backpacking workout to get your glutes into shape, as well as your upper back. That will prevent back pain of any kind, because glutes support your lower back, while the upper back itself gets exercised here.
Squats + overhead presses
This is another good exercise that targets your legs, arms, upper back, and shoulders. Even your core gets some work because it needs to stabilize your body.
Basically, you’ll do a squat, and as you get up from the squat, raise your hands in an overhead press. So don’t do this motion after you’ve come up from your squat, but during it, for maximum benefits.
Lunges + triceps extensions
Do a forward lunge, stop, raise your weights and do an overhead triceps extension. This exercise will target your quads, triceps and challenge your balance for improved core strength.
Reverse lunges + bicep extensions
This targets your quads, biceps, and core. We’ve included two types of lunges in a row, because of how important your quads are when you’re backpacking. But they target the quads differently, plus they improve your overall stability.
Planks and pushups are are great ways of developing your strength. They have as much to do with your core, as they have with your arms. In fact, they help your back get strong, and they work your abs in a comprehensive manner.
And that’s important to prevent back pain or other back strains when you’re carrying a heavy backpack for hours at a time.
You can’t get the maximum out of your workouts unless you get nourished properly. That means:
- Eating enough calories. That equals at least 2000 for women and 2500 for men; more if you’re exercising.
- Getting all your macronutrients in balanced meals. So don’t just pack up on proteins if you’re mainly strength training or carbs if you’re mainly doing cardio. And don’t forget to include healthy fats too.
- Getting your share of fruits and veggies. That means an intake of vitamins and minerals that keep your body healthy.
- Drinking lots of water after you exercise. But make sure you get about 8-9 glasses of water each day, so you’re staying hydrated.
- Avoiding supplements. There’s no such thing as magical foods to get you fit. Unless your doctor prescribes something, don’t fall into the trap of advertising.
Get enough rest
This has to do with your rest as well as building more strength and endurance. You need about 7-8 hours of full sleep each night, but you also have to get into a more relaxed mindset each day.
We know it’s hard to do that with all the stress at work, we all go through that, but it’s important to learn how to relax each chance you get.
Consider a gym membership
Although we love at home workouts, a gym membership can be valuable too because:
- It acts like a good motivator. When you’ve paid your monthly fee, you have to use it.
- It can be easier to include in your daily schedule if you have a gym nearby or at your workplace.
- You have access to a lot of equipment.
- You can exercise on inclined treadmills that mimic on-field conditions.
- You have access to professional help. A fitness instructor can sketch out an exercise routine that’s personalized to your fitness levels and to your goals.
Workouts we love
But if you simply prefer to workout at home, we’ll let you know what you need to include in your routine. We’ll talk about different exercises, why they’re important, and we’ll provide two sample schedules for two consecutive weeks.
There’s nothing like a mock hike to let you know what needs improving.
- Are your legs giving out too fast?
- Does your back hurt after some time?
- Does your backpack seem too heavy?
- Are you losing your breath too fast?
- Do you constantly pull a muscle?
- Do you need too much support from a walking stick?
This can tell you what/ how to exercise:
- Legs that give out too fast require more strength training.
- Back pain and muscle strain need more yoga and stretching.
- A backpack that feels too heavy means you need more core strength.
- If you’re constantly gasping for air, you need more endurance.
- If you need constant support with a walking pole, you need to work on your balance and agility.
Cardio and HIIT
Cardio builds up endurance and develops your lungs so you won’t need to take as many breaks. But HIIT is even better because it challenges you more and keeps your body guessing.
So instead of doing medium-intensity cardio without breaks for 30 minutes, it’s better to alternate between 20 seconds of high-intensity work and 10 seconds of rest.
There are plenty of exercises you can do in a HIIT format, like burpees, star jumps or mountain climbers. But even simpler exercises like jumping jacks can be done here if you’re doing them fast enough. We also recommend running as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then stopping for 10.
Yoga and Pilates
Add a day or two when you do yoga and pilates. This will:
- Exercise your whole body.
- Lower the intensity of your workouts, for a much-needed break.
- Consolidate your strength because of numerous toning benefits.
- Relax you.
- Help prepare your body for more challenging workouts.
- Increase balance, coordination, and agility.
- Develop core strength.
It’s always wise to warm up and cool down before and after your workouts. But it’s also wise to include length stretching, about 15-30 minutes once per week. That will:
- Help prevent overexercising.
- Maintain your muscle mass.
- Help with your flexibility so you don’t pull up muscles when backpacking.
- Improve your mood.
There are different sorts of strength training you can do:
Traditional strength training
This means exercising your muscle groups one at a time, alternating between them throughout the course of a workout, and changing them completely on consecutive days.
So you’ll have upper body days, leg days and core days. You’ll use dumbbells and you’ll do about 8-10 repetitions. 6-8 reps are for mass building, and 12-14 reps for toning benefits.
It’s important not to use more weight than you can handle, but enough so that the last couple of reps feel difficult, without messing with your form.
We love this because it puts more emphasis on your core. So you can replace your traditional dumbells with a kettlebell, which changes the center of gravity. Plus, there are hundreds of workouts specifically designed for kettlebell users.
The logic is that people exercised their body in a more comprehensive manner when they did menial work around their homesteads. So the kettlebell can be used to mimic certain tasks, like carrying water buckets. That particular exercise should improve your balance, as well as upper body strength.
Bodyweight training is good when you don’t have access to dumbells or kettlebells. For instance, triceps dips and pushups are very effective at building more upper body and core strength without dumbells.
But you can also do antagonistic movements. The idea is to work against yourself. That way, the difficulty of an exercise will depend on how strong you are. Bigger muscle equal more resistance, so you’ll get more out of it.
Take squats. When you’re sinking into a squat, as well as when you’re coming up of a squat, concentrate on really contracting your thighs and glutes. And go really slowly. This is strength training, not cardio.
That said, here’s how your routine can look like for two weeks:
|Intensity level: 5||Intensity level: 4||Intensity level: 5||Intensity level: 3||Intensity level: 4||Intensity level: 1-2||Intensity level: 0|
|Leg day. Strength training + HIIT||Upper body day. Strength training + light cardio||Core day. HIIT + abs and back exercises||Upper body day. Yoga, cardio, and bodyweight||Leg day. Strength training + HIIT||Stretching day. Total body stretches||Rest day|
|Intensity level: 3||Intensity level: 4||Intensity level: 3||Intensity level: 4-5||Intensity level: 2-3||Intensity level: 3-4||Intensity level: 0|
|Running/ power walking.||Kickboxing.||Swimming or cycling.||Total body strength training.||Total body Pilates.||Training hike.||Rest day.|
Now, it’s up to you to select the exercises you can do each day, after assessing your fitness level and consulting with your GP.
Also, note that we haven’t added HIIT more than 3 times per week, which is the maximum you should do to avoid injuries.
Your physical routine
That said, keep in mind that different people will prefer different exercises. Some might not know how to swim, while some others might have knee issues and avoid certain exercises that involve squats. But the good news is there’s always a replacement exercise if there’s something you can’t do.
Don’t forget to monitor your overall fitness and heart function. See our must-read reviews on the best heart monitors to help you.
And there’s always a bodyweight option if you don’t have access to dumbells. So tell us, how are you going to train for your next backpacking adventure? Have we missed something? The comments are right below!