Hiking is one of the best outdoor activities as it’s accessible for all ages and all levels. It’s easy to get started and allows you to experience beautiful areas on foot.
What if you’re a beginner or have a multi-day hiking trek coming up?
Although hiking is fairly straightforward, there are some important steps to prepare properly.
One of the most important things to do is train for your hike.
Having an adequate fitness level before you go hiking will make your experience so much better. You won’t be as exhausted and you won’t have to worry about keeping up if hiking with a group. Instead, you can focus on the joys of hiking and exploring.
This post focuses on several aspects of how to train for hiking. It gets easier after the proper training, so let’s dive in!
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Build a Cardio Training Plan
To understand what level of fitness you’ll need, it’s first important to understand the difficulty of the hike you will be doing.
Different hikes have a wide range of difficulties from short strolls to strenuous treks.
Distance Versus Elevation
The two main considerations are distance and elevation gain.
Distance is how long a trail is (usually measured in miles or kilometers).
Elevation gain is the vertical total ascent of the trail (usually measured in feet or meters).
While many hikers tend to focus on the distance of a hike, elevation gain is just as important to consider. A short hike with significant elevation gain can be just as challenging as a long hike with minimal elevation gain.
Once you have evaluated the hike’s difficulty, it’s time to start training.
Start Hiking Slowly
One of the pillars of training for hiking is cardiovascular endurance.
Hiking involves a mix of steady exertion and bursts of high exertion over a long period. So, it’s best to center your training around this type of exercise.
The best way to train is by slowly working your way up to more challenging hikes over time.
For example, you could increase the distance by 1 mile (or 2 kilometers/1.2 miles) every time you hike until you’re comfortable hiking your desired distance. Or, increase the elevation gain by 200 feet (60 meters) on every hike to increase your stamina.
A bonus of doing training hikes is it allows you to test out gear before your big hike. For example, it gives you the chance to break in hiking boots properly if you just bought a new pair.
Alternatives to Cardio Training
While actually hiking is the ideal way to train, this is not always realistic. You may live in an area where hiking trails are not easily accessible, or the weather may prevent you from going outside.
If this is the case, there are plenty of good alternatives to help you train for a hike.
If you can train outside, then running or cycling are great options since they both increase your cardiovascular endurance.
If you prefer working out in a gym, then the treadmill or exercise bike are great substitutes.
To simulate hiking up an incline, try the stair-stepper machine. A bonus of this machine is that it helps strengthen your legs while providing a thorough cardio workout.
Build a Strength Training Plan
The other pillar of training for a hike is strength training.
In particular, it’s important to focus on muscular endurance, which is the ability to lift a load or sustain an output against resistance for a long period of time.
This is most applicable to hiking since you need to maintain a moderate level of strength throughout the route, and not lift a heavy load quickly. You don’t want to burn out at the beginning of the hike.
Therefore, it’s important to focus on lower-weight and high-repetition exercises. This mimics the type of exertion you will experience on a hike.
One of the best exercises you can do for lower body strength is the squat.
To do this exercise, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, turn your feet out slightly, then push your hips back as you squat down. When you reach the bottom of the squat, engage your glutes to push your body back up and maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.
Here is a video to demonstrate the squat:
There are many variations of the squat including a barbell squat, dumbbell split squats, and body weight squats. Choose the version that you are most comfortable with since they all provide great benefits.
Try Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)
Another great lower-body exercise is the Romanian Deadlift (RDL). This lift strengthens your posterior chain, which is what works the hardest during a hike.
The two main variations of this exercise are a barbell RDL and a single-leg dumbbell RDL. The barbell RDL allows you to lift more weight, while the single-leg dumbbell RDL focuses more on the activation of the muscles and balance.
These exercises are a solid foundation for a lower-body strength training routine but there are many more that help build muscular endurance so experiment with several to find what works best for you.
Related: How to Hike in Hot Weather
Include Rest and Recovery
Just as important as the time you spend training is the time you spend not training. Although it may seem counterintuitive, strength gains happen while your body is recovering.
Strength training causes microtears in your muscles, which get larger and stronger when they heal.
Here are recommendations for resting and recovery:
- Give yourself at least 48 hours before weight lifting sessions before working the same muscle group again, so avoid doing the same strength exercises on consecutive days.
- Cardio exercises are a different story and they can be done on back-to-back days, but be sure to listen to your body and take a rest day if you feel overly tired or sore.
- A well-rounded, healthy diet is another essential part of effective training. Eat the right balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats to give your body the nutrients it needs to perform. Eat whole foods whenever possible and avoid large amounts of sugar.
- Also, drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. This will keep you feeling your best and alert while training.
- Before a big hike, give yourself several days to fully recover (also known as taper days). Short walks, yoga, and stretching are perfect in this phase since they keep you flexible while not over-exerting your muscles.
Pushing yourself too hard in training can lead to injury which will force you to take a long period of time off. It’s far better to take things at an appropriate pace and work your way up slowly.
Follow these tips to prevent injuries:g
- Listening to your body is key here. If something doesn’t feel right or you find that you are overly sore for several days after a workout, that is a sign that you did too much.
If you notice this, give yourself a couple of extra days of rest to get back to baseline before hitting the gym again.
- It can be tempting to train as hard as possible when you are excited for your big hike but this can be counterproductive. Stay ahead of any possible injuries by taking breaks when you need them.
- Ankles and knees are the two body parts that hikers most often injure. This can happen by misstepping on the trail and getting your foot caught in a hole or between rocks.
By training properly, you can minimize the risk of this by having strong muscles to support your joints. Focusing on developing your balance and flexibility will also go a long way toward preventing injury.
- When you’re on your hike, be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to where you step. Make sure the ground is stable and clear for your next step.
By keeping a few simple things in mind, you can ensure a safe and happy hike!
Acclimatize to High Elevation As Needed
No matter how much training you do, it’s always important to acclimatize to the elevation that you are hiking at.
If you live at sea level but travel to an area at a high elevation for your hike, you will find that a level of exertion that is usually easy for you becomes much more difficult.
At the very least you will find yourself very tired from your hike. In the worst case, you may get altitude sickness, especially if the elevation is over (anything over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
To combat this, spend a few days in town when you arrive at your destination before attempting an ambitious hike.
It’s a good idea to do a few shorter hikes to evaluate how your body responds to the higher altitude before progressing to a strenuous route.
There is nothing better than hiking in a picturesque area, where the serenity of being in nature is combined with all the benefits of physical activity. No matter what kind of hike you are doing, it’s important to train properly.
By focusing on lower-body muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and balance you will be ready to hit the trails with confidence. So don’t hesitate to get started and happy trails!
For hiking inspiration, check out these hiking posts from Life Of Doing:
- Best Hikes in Indonesia
- Top Hikes in Japan
- Incredible Hikes in Vietnam
- Hiking Mount Whitney in a Day (California)
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Featured photo credit: Colorado Quests
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