Heading out on the trail? Start enjoying the experience even before you hit the trail by planning for the ultimate experience. Get your body hiking-ready with this long-range fitness prep guide.
Hiking can be a rewarding experience, even life changing. Whether you head out for an afternoon or for a week, being outdoors and away from the lights and action of real life is something our bodies need. However, hiking can also be painful, hard, and exhausting. It all depends on your mindset, and your fitness.
When I was getting ready for the West Coast Trail (or the WCT, as the cool kids call it), I was serious—I wasn’t taking our six-day excursion lightly. Even though I work out for a living as a personal trainer, I didn’t want to be the one who slowed my group down.
So for me, training was a matter of pride and preparedness. Here are my recommendations for getting your body hiking-ready.
3 months out
- Start strengthening the muscles with a total body workout, including the hiking-specific exercises in this article. Aim for two to three times a week.
- Hike once a week for 5 to 8 km with 10 lbs (4.5 kg) in your daypack.
- Start shopping for your equipment, especially your hiking boots (we’ll need those for month two of training).
- Start yoga one to three times a week. Yoga will help with your flexibility and core strength, as well as your focus and balance—which will all be tested when out on the trail.
2 months out
- Increase the weight you’re using in your strength workout by 10 percent, and up your training sessions to three times a week, alternating your workout days: for example, M/W/F or T/Th/Sat.
- Hike at least once a week, wearing your boots as well as a light pack, adding 15 lbs (7 kg) to it now.
- For each hike this month, add another 10 percent to your pack.
- Hike about 10 km, with daily walks in your boots.
- Find some stairs and perform 20 minutes of up and down, again wearing your hiking boots. Aim for once a week.
1 month out
- Increase the weight you’re using in your strength workout by 10 percent, and continue three times a week.
- Hike at least once a week, with the pack that you’ll be using filled with 20 to 25 lbs (9 to 11 kg). Each week, increase the weight by 10 percent.
- In addition, wear the boots, socks, pants or shorts, top, and sports bra you plan to wear on your hike. This is important. You want to find out now if your bra chafes, or if your socks give you blisters. Test drive everything a few times before heading out on the trail.
- Continue doing your stair work, two times a week now, again wearing your boots, pack (with 15 to 20 lbs/7 to 9 kg), and other clothing. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of continuous up- and-down stair work.
The pre-hike workout
Perform this six-exercise workout like a circuit, one exercise after the other, with little to no rest in between. Once completed, take a one-minute break and then perform again.
Beginners: 2 times through
Intermediate: 3 times through
Advanced: 4 times through
Muscles to stretch
You might already be in the habit of stretching at the gym or before a run, but it’s equally important to keep your stretches in mind before, after, and even during your long hike. Here are some suggested targets for your stretching.
Before a hike
- sun salutation sequence
During a hike
These can all be performed with your pack on or off:
- quads and hamstrings
- After a hike
- sides of the neck
- upper back
- hip flexors
- hip rotators
Wear your boots as often as you can. This will break them in, as well as help prevent shin splints. Since boots weigh more than regular shoes, the increased walking and climbing mean that shin splints are a real concern for new hikers. Avoid this by walking every day in your boots (I even went grocery shopping in mine).
Target: This exercise is the most hiking-specific exercise you can do. It trains the muscles of the lower body, with emphasis on the glutes and your balance.
- Using a sturdy chair, or a bench, step on the chair/bench with your left foot. Step and drive the right knee up toward the chest and place the right foot on the platform next to the left.
- Step down with the right leg and then the left, returning to the standing position.
- When you complete one set of 15 reps, repeat, starting with the right leg on the chair/bench.
2. Single-Leg Deadlift
Target: Most of us have a weaker side. By training each leg independently, you’ll make each leg work just as hard. A deadlift is also a great glute, hamstring, and core exercise.
- Holding onto a heavy dumbbell in your left hand, lift the right leg straight behind you and allow your hip to hinge forward and lower your upper body.
- Lower until your chest is parallel with the floor. At the mid-part of the exercise, you want to look like the letter T.
- Keep your spine neutral, your chest broad, and your knee slightly bent. Slowly return to centre, complete 15 reps, and then repeat with the left leg, dumbbell in the right hand now.
3. Walking Lunges
Target: This is a great move to build the muscles of the legs while also hitting the core.
- Holding onto a heavy dumbbell in each hand, take a large stride forward and lower yourself down toward the ground so your front knee is at 90 degrees and your back knee is almost touching the ground. Don’t let your knee go forward beyond your toes as you come down.
- Keep the spine tall and chest lifted, maintaining balance.
- Using mainly your heel, push up and step forward with the back leg and perform again.
- Continue until you’ve performed 15 reps on each leg.
4. Plank with Hip Extension
Target: This core-specific move also uses the glutes to lift the leg up and down.
- In a forearm plank, slowly lift and lower the left leg up and down for 15 reps.
- Once completed, repeat with the right leg.
- Keep the hips squared to the floor and the spine long.
5. Single-Leg Bridges
Target: A bridge is a trainer’s number-one favourite move to train the glutes.
- Using a chair or bench, lie on the floor with feet flat on the floor and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Place the bottom of your right foot on the edge of the chair and extend your left leg up into the air.
- With your arms by your sides, lift your bum as high as you can into a bridge.
- Slowly lower, but don’t allow your bum to completely touch the ground.
- Complete 15 reps and then switch legs for another set.
6 Bench Lunges
Target: To negotiate challenging terrain, you need balance and muscle strength. Bench lunges are perfect for working both.
- Stand with your back to a bench, roughly 1 metre in front of it.
- Place your right foot on the bench, laces down, so the bottom of your foot faces the sky.
- While maintaining a tall upper body and leaning backward slightly, lightly push your hips forward while you relax your right knee and allow it to sink toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your quads.
- After a brief pause, stand up and resume starting position.