How to Train for Hiking

Knowing how to train for hiking can be useful for a number of reasons. First, not everyone is lucky enough to enjoy mild, “hike-friendly” weather year-round. Training for hikes at home often helps experienced hikers maintain their fitness levels through winter so they can be ready to hit the trail come spring.

Another reason to train for hiking comes down to injury prevention. Hiking requires a certain level of balance, endurance and strength, and having all three in abundance can help you stave off knee pain and other common hiking injuries.

Lastly, it’s fun to get better at something you enjoy doing. So, if you’re itching to go on longer treks and enjoy nature to its fullest, here’s a quick guide on how to train for hiking.

Note: Talk with your healthcare provider before following an exercise training plan.

Best At-Home Exercises for Hiking

We know that you’re eager to grab your heavy-duty backpack and hit the trail for a long trek, but first, you need to spend some time building up a strong base fitness level.

Incorporate these at-home exercises into your fitness routine to improve your hiking performance. Do them for at least eight weeks before you attempt a longer hike.

Lunges: Lunges are hands-down one of the best exercises for hikers. Not only do lunges work the large muscles in your lower half, they also activate your stabilizing muscles to improve overall balance and stability—a huge benefit when navigating rough terrain.

Squats: Squats are another exercise that targets the big leg muscles, including your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. One of the best squat variations for hikers is the goblet squat, an exercise that also works your abs and shoulders—two areas that can help reduce the dreaded hiker back pain.

Lateral Band Walks: Pick up a resistance band at your local department store and make lateral band walks a part of your regular fitness regimen. Why? Because this exercise strengthens your glute meds, which helps stabilize the pelvis to reduce knee pain on longer treks.

Step Down Exercise: To step off a rock or walk down sloped terrain, you need to be able to lower your body in a controlled manner to prevent injuries. The step-down exercise will help you increase muscle strength and improve overall balance so you can navigate the trail safely. You could do this exercise on a small box or at the end of a flight of stairs.

Lying Leg Curls: Leg curls are excellent for strengthening your calves and isolating your hamstrings. One of the best variations to do at home is the poor man’s leg curl. All you need is an elevated platform (e.g., a bench) to get started.

Plank Variations: Core strength is incredibly important for hiking because it helps support and stabilize the rest of the body. To work your core, try several variations of the plank exercise, including modified side-planks and plank hops.

Cardio: Hop on the treadmill and get your heart rate up. Don’t have a treadmill? Get outside and walk on a trail. Both will help you build your lung capacity so you can hike without gasping for breath.

hiking ergonomic backpacks

Day Hike Training

Now, it’s time to complement your at-home exercises with workouts on the trail. Swap out your cardio exercises and replace them with shorter hikes (about 60 minutes).

If you’re a true beginner, start by walking easy trails two or three times a week. Be sure to walk briskly for at least 30 minutes. Remember to wear the same hiking shoes you’ll be wearing on your longer hikes and carry a light daypack.

Once your muscles adapt, begin hiking longer distances with the same weight. Then, swap your lighter daypack for a heavy-duty backpack with all your hiking essentials (a headlamp, backpacking tent, a camping stove, a LED flashlight, etc.). That way, you’re prepared to hike with all your essential gear.

Additional Training Tips

  • Train with trekking poles. If you commonly suffer from knee pain, consider using trekking poles. They help reduce some of the weight and strain on your lower extremities.
  • Use a foam roller. After every hike, use a foam roller—no excuses. This will lessen sore hiking muscles and help you prevent future injuries.
  • Don’t push yourself. If something hurts, stop the exercise or modify it. Don’t try to push through the pain or you might find yourself sidelined from the trail for weeks.

Training for a longer hike can be fun, so long as you ease into it and don’t try to do too much at once. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to tackle your bucket list hike in no time.

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