How to Train for a Strenuous Hike

While all hiking can be rewarding and improve your general well being, there’s something primal within us that craves the sense of adventure and pride of the accomplishment that a strenuous hike can bring.  Many of us aren’t lucky enough to be able to go out and do a 12 miler with 2,000 vertical feet of elevation gain on a whim.  If you want to be able to bag peaks effortlessly, you probably need to do a liiiittle bitttt of  training. 

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I love to hike, but hiking strenuous trails that get me off the beaten path and lost—hopefully only in the figurative sense—in nature is one of my many joys in life.  

For me, there is no better recipe for improving my overall state of well-being like stepping foot on a trail surrounded by large pine trees knowing that in a few hours I’ll be looking down upon them while standing beside a gorgeous alpine lake.

Part 1: Strength for Strenuous Hikes

Although you don’t need to be an extreme athlete, nor even extremely “fit” to hike strenuous trails, there are things you can do to make your body prepared to tackle that trail that’s staring back at you on your bucket list of hikes for 2018.

From a physiological standpoint, strenuous hiking requires the ability to propel yourself forward. With good mechanics, this can be accomplished by driving through the gluteals and having a strong posterior chain.

But as fatigue sets in, we all end up slouched and taking shorter strides causing the hip flexors to shorten which causes us to use less butt and more calves

Poor form may still get us to that epic viewpoint, but relying on pure mental persistence takes some of the joy out of the experience. 

Being stronger will allow you to take in more of your surroundings and make that experience much richer.

Isthmus Peak, 5 Reasons to Visit Wanaka
Gabi overlooking the lakes of Wanaka from Isthmus Peak

Here are 5 exercises to strengthen the right muscle groups in order to get better efficiency on the trail:

1. TYI

Posture is key and if you are lugging a heavy backpack uphill, it’s going to take a little extra awareness to maintain good posture.

The goal is to keep the shoulder blades pulled down and together, allowing for more space between your shoulders and ears. Strength in the mid traps will help you achieve this.

The easiest exercise to do at home is TYI, but it’s also one of the easiest to do incorrectly. If you find your shoulders are tight, avoid doing the “I” and just stick with the “T” and “Y” positions.  

During a long hike, it’s hard to keep good posture while staring at the ground to make sure you don’t trip, but if you remind yourself to keep your chest lifted it often helps pull the shoulders into a better position.

As you get more advanced in your training, integrating rear delt pull and bent over rows will do wonders for the strength in your mid back.

2. Hip Bridge

Strong glutes are very important. I’m sure it feels like your quads are burning as you start ascending steep mountains, but its the power in your booty that you want to be tapping into.

If you have a job that requires a lot of sitting, then these muscles tend to not get enough training.

I always start my workouts with hip bridges to wake up the butt muscles and get them firing correctly.  In addition, add deadlifts and kettlebell swings to your training program.

Hip Bridge: How to train for a strenuous hike

3. Pistol Squat

What goes up, must come down, and there’s no better exercise for being prepared to descend steep rocky trails than the pistol squat.

4. Side Plank

When you start propelling yourself forward, you naturally have a side to side sway.

If you have hypermobility (meaning very flexible) in your spine, you will develop low back pain. To counter this, strengthen the obliques.

While we prefer advanced movements like CLF and pallof press, starting with a side plank is great.

Side Plank: How to train for a strenuous hike

5. Step Up

If you are trying to get to the top of a big mountain, there’s a good chance you are going to be stepping up some large rocks.

Mimicking this movement with good form and progressively heavier weights will make climbing so much easier.

As women, we have a larger cue angle than men so making sure your knee isn’t rolling inward while stepping up is crucial to develop strength and not get injured. 

Part 2: Rehab for a Strenuous Hike

Now that you have the strength to get up that strenuous hike, let’s take care of helping you feel good after those hikes.

Everything might hurt at the end of a strenuous hike, but there are a few key muscles that we want to nurture so that you hurt less and those are the chest, hip flexors, and calves.

I’m a huge fan of doing a Yin Yoga once a week to get deep into the fascia and help my muscles recover better. On the other days I do these three stretches to improve my mobility and feel better.

Here are 3 stretches to help your body feel better after a strenuous hike.

Related: Best Yoga Poses For Hikers

1. Chest Opener

Chest opener: How to train for a strenuous hike

2. Low Lunge With A Twist

3. Downward Dog

Downward Dog: How to train for a strenuous hike

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