Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors and experience nature. It can also be a physically demanding activity that requires proper preparation. To ensure that you’re ready for your next hiking adventure, it’s important to train the right muscles.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll discuss the key muscle groups you should focus on training for hiking, along with recommended exercises and tips for getting started.
Legs: The Foundation of Hiking
Your legs are the foundation of hiking, and they bear the brunt of the work during a hike. The muscles you need to focus on training are the quads, hamstrings, and calves. These muscles work together to propel you up hills, maintain balance on uneven terrain, and absorb the impact of each step.
Your quads, or quadriceps, are the muscles on the front of your thigh. They are responsible for straightening your leg at the knee joint and are crucial for ascending hills. To train your quads, try exercises like squats, lunges, and step-ups.
Squats are an excellent exercise for strengthening your quads. To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Bend your knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted as you push through your heels to stand back up.
Lunges are another great exercise for targeting your quads. To perform a lunge, take a large step forward with one foot and lower your body until your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted as you push through your front heel to stand back up. Repeat with your other leg.
Step-ups are a simple exercise that you can do at home or in the gym. To perform a step-up, stand in front of a bench or sturdy elevated surface. Step onto the bench with one foot and push through your heel to stand up onto the bench. Step back down and repeat with your other leg.
Your hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thigh. They work together with your quads to move your leg at the knee joint and help you maintain balance on uneven terrain. To train your hamstrings, try exercises like deadlifts, hamstring curls, and glute bridges.
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that targets several muscle groups, including your hamstrings. To perform a deadlift, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell in front of you. Bend your knees and hinge forward at your hips to grasp the barbell with an overhand grip. Lift the barbell by straightening your legs and standing up straight. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted as you lift the barbell.
Hamstring curls can be done using a machine at the gym or a resistance band at home. To perform a hamstring curl using a machine, lie face down on the machine and hook your ankles under the padded bar. Curl your legs up toward your buttocks by contracting your hamstrings. Slowly lower your legs back down and repeat for several reps.
To perform a hamstring curl using a resistance band, loop the band around a sturdy anchor point and attach the other end to your ankle. Lie face down on the ground and flex your knee to pull your heel towards your buttocks. Lower your leg back down and repeat for several reps.
Glute bridges are a great exercise for targeting your hamstrings and glutes. To perform a glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips up towards the ceiling by contracting your glutes and hamstrings. Hold for a few seconds before lowering back down and repeating for several reps.
Your calves are the muscles on the back of your lower leg. They help to push you off the ground and propel you forward during a hike. To train your calves, try exercises like calf raises and jump rope.
Calf raises can be done using your bodyweight or with added weight. To perform a calf raise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Rise up onto the balls of your feet and hold for a few seconds before lowering back down. For added resistance, hold onto dumbbells or stand on a step and lower your heels below the level of the step before rising up again.
Jump rope is a great cardiovascular exercise that also targets your calf muscles. To jump rope, stand with your feet together and swing the rope over your head. Jump over the rope as it passes under your feet, and continue jumping for several minutes.
Core: Stability and Balance
Your core muscles are crucial for maintaining stability and balance on uneven terrain. These muscles include your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles. To train your core, try exercises like planks, Russian twists, and back extensions.
Planks are a great exercise for targeting your entire core. To perform a plank, start in a push-up position and lower yourself down onto your forearms. Keep your body straight from head to heels, and hold for as long as you can.
Russian twists are an effective exercise for targeting your obliques. To perform a Russian twist, sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lean back slightly and lift your feet off the ground. Hold a weight or medicine ball in front of your chest and twist your torso to the left, then to the right, while keeping your feet off the ground.
Back extensions are a great exercise for targeting your lower back muscles. To perform a back extension, lie face down on a stability ball with your hands behind your head. Raise your chest off the ball by contracting your lower back muscles, then lower back down and repeat for several reps.
Shoulders: Stability and Endurance
Your shoulders play an important role in maintaining stability and endurance during a hike, especially when carrying a backpack. To train your shoulders, try exercises like overhead presses, lateral raises, and reverse flys.
Overhead presses are a compound exercise that target your shoulders, as well as your triceps and chest muscles. To perform an overhead press, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell or barbell at shoulder height. Press the weight overhead by extending your arms, then lower back down and repeat for several reps.
Lateral raises are a great exercise for targeting your shoulder muscles, especially the middle delts. To perform a lateral raise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to the ground, then lower back down and repeat for several reps.
Reverse flys are an effective exercise for targeting your rear delts and upper back muscles. To perform a reverse fly, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at the waist and let your arms hang down towards the ground. Lift the weights out to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top, then lower back down and repeat for several reps.
Cardiovascular Endurance: Building Stamina
Cardiovascular endurance is essential for long hikes and strenuous uphill climbs. To build your endurance, try exercises like running, hiking, cycling, and stair climbing.
Running is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness and build endurance. Start with a slow pace and gradually increase your distance and speed over time. Make sure to warm up and cool down properly to prevent injury.
Hiking is an obvious choice for building endurance specific to hiking. Start with shorter, easier hikes and gradually increase the difficulty and duration over time. Try to find trails with varying terrain to challenge yourself.
Cycling is another great exercise for building endurance, especially for those who may have joint issues that make running or hiking difficult. Start with a low resistance and gradually increase over time. Consider using a stationary bike or outdoor cycling for variety.
Stair climbing is a great way to build cardiovascular endurance while also targeting your leg muscles. Use a stair machine or climb a set of stairs in your home or at a nearby park. Start with a few minutes and gradually increase the time and intensity over time.
Related: Rock Climbing Environmental Impacts
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: How often should I train for hiking?
A: It’s recommended to train at least three times a week, with a rest day in between each workout. Start with lower intensity exercises and gradually increase the difficulty and duration over time.
Q: Do I need to go to the gym to train for hiking?
A: No, you don’t necessarily need a gym membership to train for hiking. Many exercises can be done at home or outdoors with minimal equipment, such as bodyweight exercises, hiking, and cycling.
Q: Is it necessary to train all muscle groups for hiking?
A: While it’s important to target all major muscle groups for overall strength and endurance, it’s also important to focus on muscles specific to hiking, such as the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, and shoulders.
Q: How long does it take to see results from training for hiking?
A: Results can vary depending on factors such as frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise, as well as nutrition and rest. With consistent training and a healthy lifestyle, improvements in strength, endurance, and stamina can typically be seen within a few weeks to a few months.
Q: What are some other tips for preparing for a hike?
In addition to training specific muscles, it’s important to also prepare mentally and physically for a hike. Make sure to stay hydrated, wear appropriate footwear and clothing, and bring along necessary gear and supplies. It’s also a good idea to start with shorter hikes and gradually increase the difficulty and duration over time.
Q: Are there any safety precautions I should take while hiking?
Yes, safety should always be a top priority while hiking. Make sure to inform someone of your route and expected return time, and bring along a map and compass or GPS device. Be aware of potential hazards such as wildlife, steep terrain, and changing weather conditions. It’s also a good idea to bring along a first aid kit and to learn basic wilderness first aid skills.
Training for hiking is essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the trail. By targeting the right muscles and building strength, endurance, and stamina, you can prepare yourself for the physical demands of hiking.
Remember to start with lower intensity exercises and gradually increase the difficulty and duration over time, and always prioritize safety while on the trail. With consistent training and a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be ready to tackle even the toughest hikes.