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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 little bit of training. That’s why we created a blog on how to train for a strenuous hike!

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Hiking Fitness Workouts Train For A Strenuous Hike

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 than 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.

How Much Cardio Is Needed To Hike Better?

Less than you think, but probably more than you do.

If you aren’t doing any form of cardio currently, then you will want to start with 30 minutes 3 times a week. I know you’re eager to challenge yourself but the key component in building a strong cardiovascular base is gradual progressive training.

Aim to only push yourself 10% harder each week. This means, starting with walking. Once you can walk 30 minutes with ease, add a hill, add some stairs, walk in soft sand at the beach, etc.

Then, start running. Try one minute on, four minutes off, and repeat six times. Build up to 5 minutes, then 10, 15, 20, 25-minute intervals until eventually, you are running 30 minutes at a time. Next, you can build up to running faster or adding sprint intervals.

Cross-training works too. You don’t have to only walk or run. Any sustained elevation in heart rate combined with a good strength training program will get you hiking more and hiking harder trails while also feeling better doing it.

Strength Training 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.

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.

Strength in all the muscle groups is important to live a healthy life and feel good, but for hiking specifically, it’s more crucial to have strength in the posterior chain, that is the back side of your body from your heels to the base of your spine. Think strong glutes and low back.

There’s a good chance you’ll be carrying a pack up with you too, which means some strength in the mid back and rear delts will certainly help you lug your supplies up the peak or for long hours.

Lastly, there’s a natural way that happens when you walk, and being able to engage the deep core muscles of the transverse abdominals and obliques will give you so much more power than training the superficial abs that crunches target.

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

5 Exercises to Train For A Strenuous Hike

To train for a strenuous hike, here are 5 exercises to strengthen the right muscle groups to get better efficiency on the trail. Watch the YouTube video below for a detailed description of how to execute these 5 movements.

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.

Related: Best Hikes in Beautiful Idaho

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 it’s 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.

3. Pistol Squat

What goes up, must come down. There’s no better exercise for being prepared to descend steep rocky trails than the pistol squat. While a pistol squat is a pretty advanced movement, there are a few ways to work up to it in a progressive manner.

My personal favorite is to use a suspension trainer to assist me in the movement. Another option is to change the weight distribution from the heels to the toes slightly and do a single-leg deadlift instead.

Related: The Greatest Hikes in Wyoming

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 all of the press, starting with a side plank is great.

Related: Best Hikes in Glacier National Park

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 Q angle than men so making sure your knee isn’t rolling inward while stepping up is crucial to develop strength and not get injured. 

Stretches To Help You Hike Better

Now that you have the strength training 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. You can nurture a few key muscles so that you hurt less. Those muscles are the chest, hip flexors, and calves.

I’m a huge fan of doing Yin Yoga or MFR 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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4 Week Fit To Hike Training Program

Take Your Hiking To The Next Level

This is an overview of what a good hiking training program should consist of. It balances your mobility, strength, and cardio so you don’t get hurt and you can recover quickly.

Combining these strength, cardio, and stretching routines is a great start, but without a complete training plan, they might be leaving some gaps in your programming. Plus, everyone has a different build, a different level of fitness, different levels of experience, and different goals.

That’s why we created Fit To Hike. A complete training program for hikers that will get you ready to challenge yourself on the trail.

Fit to Hike includes a 4-week training program for beginners, intermediate, and advanced hikers. All programs include cardio training, strength training, injury prevention, and tips for creating a motivated mindset. With video tutorials and printable workout tracking, you will have all the information and know-how to get in the best shape ever for your next adventure.

The workouts are fun, quick, and effective. Most workouts can be done in less than 15 minutes a day!

We’ve even included a weight loss section for those who’d like to be a little lighter on the trail. Not that you have to necessarily lose weight to hike. By learning to train the aerobic and anaerobic systems effectively and creating joints and muscles with appropriate mobility and strength, bagging peaks and hiking all day will become effortless.

My daughters and I routinely hike 16+ miles in a day and feel great afterward and are excited to share our Fit to Hike training protocol with you!

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Thursday 26th of December 2019

Hi there, did you ever release the Fit to Hike Program?


Saturday 6th of June 2020

Hey there! Sorry for the delay but yes, Fit to Hike is live and you can find it here:


Saturday 19th of January 2019

Where are you folks this time of year? Only ask because I live in TEMPE AZ and I haven't really got out and challenged myself this year too much. But I'm getting ready to go up north a little and make up for it. I'll check in when I'm enroute or have a better idea of what I'm doing lol


Tuesday 22nd of January 2019

We are in San Diego right now. We'll be heading out on a snow boarding trip in Feb, back in San Diego to surf in the spring, and then making a LONG trek to Alaska for June :) Definitely reach out when you head north and hopefully we can meet up!

Hiking 14er Grays Peak, South Ridge: The Less Crowded Ascent • Nomads With A Purpose

Saturday 8th of September 2018

[…] Related Blog: How To Train For A Strenuous Hike […]

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