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.
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 with building a strong cardiovascular base is gradual progressive training.
Aim to only push yourself 10% harder each week. This means, start off 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 minute, 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.
Our Fit to Hike program integrates a combination of sustained cardio, cross training, and HIIT training to make sure your training is fun and still effective.
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’s the back side of your body from you 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 sway 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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Here are 5 exercises to strengthen the right muscle groups in order to get better efficiency on the trail. Watch the YouTube video below for detailed description of how to execute these 5 movements.
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.
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. 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 like Monkii 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.
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.
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 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.
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1. Chest Opener
2. Low Lunge With A Twist
3. Downward Dog
Take Your Hiking To The Next Level
Combining these strength, cardio, and stretching routines are a great start, but without a complete training plan, they might be leaving some gaps in your programing. Plus, everyone has a different build, a different level of fitness, different levels of experience, and different goals.
What’s strenuous to me might not be so for you.
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 system in an effective way 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 afterwards and are excited to share our Fit to Hike training protocol with you!
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