Do you have your sights set on that exhilarating trek you saw on Instagram? Has it been months since you last did some exercise? Now, we’re not saying you can’t do it, but you might want to do some training before you attempt any serious or multi-day hiking. Uphill hiking can involve navigating high altitudes and uneven terrain – it’s no walk in the park!
What You'll Learn
- Why should I bother training for uphill hiking? Isn’t walking enough?
- How to determine your current fitness level
- Planning your workouts – how to prepare a training plan
- So, Which Exercise Helps Prepare for Uphill Hiking?
- Extra exercises to train for hiking
- Planning out the hike
- Uphill hiking: Is all the effort worth it?
Why should I bother training for uphill hiking? Isn’t walking enough?
Hiking is all about enjoying the journey, but you need to be in good shape to do so. Your average everyday walking doesn’t come close to the level of strain uphill hiking puts on your muscles and stamina.
Luckily, if you start from decent physical condition, a few months of training should be enough to get you in shape. You don’t want to be huffing and puffing when you should be enjoying the view. Let’s get those endorphins flowing!
How to determine your current fitness level
To train for hiking uphill, you’ll want to develop a program targeting your weak points. The three fitness components we’ll cover in this article are flexibility, aerobic fitness, and strength, all of them integral to hiking.
Particularly in the mountains. Being fit and getting in shape for hiking also helps protect against minor injuries.
You probably have a vague idea about whether you’re in shape or not, but several well-established tests can tell you what areas you should be working on.
A common gauge of cardiovascular fitness is the mile run – you can compare your time against other people in your age group. If you want to take it a step further, you can do the maximum aerobic function (MAF) test, which tests your heart rate while performing cardio like running, cycling, etc.
Flexibility is a tough one to test since we have so many muscle groups and everybody uses them differently. If you’re interested, there is a range of tests you can carry out to see which muscles you need to stretch out.
Since strength depends so much on each person’s shape and size, it’s hard to find a generalized test for strength. Activities like jumping, push-ups, pull-ups, wall sit, etc. are a useful gauge, but the best way to keep track of your progress may just be to keep track of your improvements over time.
One of the easiest ways to test your fitness is by trying to do a bodyweight squat with perfect form, which is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Any weaknesses in your flexibility or strength will be evident, as it’s difficult to compensate when doing squats. If you’re concerned about your dynamic movement abilities, you can get a professional to administer the functional movement screen for you.
Inspired by evolutionary ideas of fitness, the primal blueprint fitness pyramid places importance on a person’s ability to sprint, lift heavy things and move frequently at a slow pace. Four essential movements according to this doctrine are push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and planks.
For a more in-depth measure of your fitness level, check out this Runner’s World article on how to test your fitness.
Planning your workouts – how to prepare a training plan
Most people agree that 3 months before the big trek is a good time to start training. Of course, this will depend on your original fitness level and on the intensity of the terrain you’re training for, among other factors.
Your training program should include elements tackling strength, balance, flexibility, and cardio. Unless you are planning to hire a personal trainer, you’ll want to create your own tailor-made training program, focusing on the components you feel you need to improve.
Alternate cardio, strength and rest days, incorporating balance and flexibility exercises along the way. Start off slow and go at your own pace – don’t push yourself so hard you collapse after the first workout session!
And finally, don’t forget to warm up and warm down.
We recommend checking with your doctor before starting a new training regimen.
So, Which Exercise Helps Prepare for Uphill Hiking?
The obvious difference between uphill hiking and regular walking is uphill hiking requires you to heave your body up an incline, taxing your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles.
A less obvious strain is placed on the stabilizing muscles in your legs and ankles when going downhill. You’ll also need to have a strong core and good balance to cope with the uneven terrain of uphill hiking. These resistance exercises can help you develop your hiking muscles:
Squats are notoriously hard to pull off perfectly. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, stretch your arms out in front of you and slowly squat down, keeping your back straight and parallel with your calves. Do 10-20 reps at a time. Once you’ve mastered the technique, try adding weight – for example, your hiking pack.
Lunges are a great way to strengthen your quadriceps (thighs). Take a giant step forward and sink down until your forward leg is bent at a right angle; hold it for a second and then repeat with the other leg. Do 10-20 reps at a time. You can also add weight here once you’ve got the hang of it.
Step-ups are one of the easiest ways to work your quads and get in shape for a hike. They’re easy – it’s just stepping onto a step and back down again over and over again. And you can vary it up by stepping diagonally, etc. to mimic the unpredictable nature of hiking terrain.
We used to have to do these as punishments at soccer practice, and I hated them! But they are beneficial for strengthening core muscles, which you’ll need if you want to be lugging around a heavy backpack.Lie down face-first on the floor and raise yourself up on your elbows and forearms, keeping your body flat, like the eponymous plank. Hold the position for as long as you can.A variation is the sideways plank, where you support yourself on one arm and one hip, facing sideways.
- Leg raise:
Another soccer punishment. This one is great for working your abs. Lie on your back and raise your legs in the air; hold for 20 seconds.
- Standing calf raise:
I find my calves always burn when I’m doing a lot of downhill.
To strengthen your calf muscles, assume a standing position, lift yourself onto tiptoes and then back down again. Do three sets of 6-8 reps.
- Sit-ups and crunches:
The jury is out on what’s better for you, sit-ups or crunches, but they are both beneficial to your abs.
To do crunches, lie down on your back with your knees bent at a 90° angle, and curl your head partly up until you feel the burn in your abs.To do sit-ups, raise your head until it touches your knees, being careful to keep your back straight. Exhale as you’re crunching your abs. Do a few sets of 15-20 reps.
Is this cardio or strength training?
Trick question: it’s actually torture.
Burpees are rightfully infamous – and useful.
Start in an upright position and then fall to the ground in a crouch. Do a push-up, spring back into a crouch position and then jump straight upwards, punching your hands towards the sky. Repeat again and again until you feel like you’re dying.
Any kind of cardio training is helpful, so start off by doing the cardiovascular exercise you like best – running, swimming, biking or even rowing.
If you’re a gym rat, consider an inclined treadmill or the elliptical. As a bare minimum, you should be doing at least half an hour of cardio, 3-4 times a week.
You’ll eventually want to incorporate walking and short hikes into your cardio routine, to target the muscles you’ll use when uphill hiking.
To increase the benefits, try walking or running up and down hills and over uneven terrain, and start walking with your backpack on to get used to the weight.
While hiking isn’t exactly a fast-moving sport, it does require navigating over branches and rocky surfaces. These exercises will help your balance and proprioception.
- Step back:
While standing with your feet together, take a giant step back with one foot. Slide your other foot slowly backward until it meets the first foot, keeping your core upright.
Repeat with the other foot. You can switch it up by trying this on grass or sand.
- Jump squats:
Jump squats are a lot like regular squats, except you jump into the next squat in one fluid movement instead of going slowly.
- Jumping down:This is a simple exercise, but it will help you immeasurably for when you’re working your way down a bumpy hill. From a height of a few feet, jump onto a soft surface and land with both feet at once, flexing your knees to cushion the impact.
Extra exercises to train for hiking
The following are some bonus exercises that specifically target movements you’ll need when uphill hiking.
- Mountain climbers:
These are a full-body workout, and they also help balance. Get in position as if you were about to do a push-up, then bring one foot forward as if you were on the starting block of a race.Then, switch legs in one go. Keep your hips flat, trying not to raise them. Do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds.
Still looking for a way to strengthen those abs?Lie flat on your face with your arms stretched out in front of you. Lift your head and feet off the ground so your hips are maintaining all your weight as if you were Superman flying through the air. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Hip bridge:
This exercise is gold for your glutes and your abs. Lie on your back as if you were going to do sit-ups, but with your arms flat on the ground beside you.Push your hips up until your body is flat from your shoulders down to your knees. Try to breathe out as you push your hips up. Do three sets of 20 reps.
Always remember to warm up with a light jog and then stretch before you start exercising. Warm down after your training session with another light jog and stretch again to keep from getting sore the next day.
Stretches are a vital part of training for uphill hiking, especially as you work on your muscle strength. Frequent stretching, done correctly, will help you keep limber and avoid injury. Here’s an overview of how to stretch the major muscle groups that are most used in uphill hiking.
- Quad stretch:
Stand on one leg and, grabbing the other foot, bend that leg until your foot touches your buttocks. Try to keep the leg in line instead of letting it drift outwards.Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. This exercise has the added bonus of helping your balance if you don’t support yourself with your hand while doing it.
- Hamstring stretch:
You can stretch your hamstrings by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, bending your knees ever so slightly and reaching down to touch your toes (or, in my case, as far as you can make it). Stretch your lower back at the same time by tucking your head in as you bend over.
To get a more accurate stretch, sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you, knees slightly bent with your feet about four feet apart.Reach towards one foot and you should feel a pull on the outside of your opposite hamstring. Hold for 30 seconds.
Stand with your legs as wide apart as you can. Thrust your hips slightly forward and bend one knee slightly, keeping your torso straight.
Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
An alternative is it sit with your knees bent as if you were sitting cross-legged, but with your feet touching each other, then lean forward.
This will stretch both sides of the groin at the same time.
- Glutes:To stretch your glutes, lie flat on your back and pull one knee up to your chest. Hold for 15 seconds, then cross the leg over towards your opposite shoulder and hold for another 15 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Back and abs:
My dog does this religiously every morning and she’s never pulled a back muscle. Lie face down with your hands in front of you, touching the floor.
Slide up until your back is arched, looking straight ahead with your palms flat on the ground. If you’re a whiz at this, try looking at the ceiling while you stretch.
Stay for 30 seconds then gently work yourself back down.
Planning out the hike
The biggest thing you need to prepare for when training for a big uphill hike is carrying your backpack. Try to accustom yourself to the weight of a pack by carrying weight during your training sessions. Start off small and work your way up.
If you haven’t broken in your hiking boots yet, it’s also a good idea to wear them around and go for small hikes with them. You do want to avoid blisters and painful feet later on.
Those of you who suffer from dodgy knees can consider using hiking poles or a knee brace to mitigate the impact.
Uphill hiking: Is all the effort worth it?
Yes! Ambitious uphill hiking requires some serious mental perseverance, but it’s a fantastic way to get some fresh air, enjoy the beautiful landscapes and bask in the knowledge that you’re pushing yourself to achieve your goals. If you follow our tips on how to get fit, you’ll find uphill hiking to be a challenging but infinitely rewarding activity.