How to Get In Shape For Hiking

Written By : Matt Lubbes

If you want to make your experience as pleasant as possible, you need to get in shape for hiking well in advance of the big day. Winging it can force you to cut your hike short through sheer exhaustion or injury. You want to make sure that you're at apex performance, especially if you're hiking with small children.

First things first:  Check with your doctor before starting any sort of training plan.

The Benefits Of Hiking

First, let's talk about why you should take up hiking. Hiking is a great workout that offers you the chance to challenge yourself physically and make new friends. It's a communal sport that serves up feel-good endorphins and a great way to involve your family in something healthy and fun.

Hiking tames stress, reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke, and gives you a lean physique. I love the fact that regular hiking makes me look as good as I feel, and that the whole family has caught the hiking bug!

Have Realistic Expectations

Nobody likes a party pooper, least of all me, but the reality is that you need to be realistic with your physical or mental limitations. No novice hiker should commit to trekking Annapurna without proper training.

Optimism can only get you so far. You need to find the sweet spot between your current ability and where you want to be.

Set a stretch goal that is doable with hard work. If you're diligent enough, you'll be scaling K2 someday, but it pays to start small.

Don't underestimate the trail, mountain, or summit.

Create A Training Schedule And Stick With It

Many people get tripped up when creating a training schedule. It's very easy committing yourself for two hours a day until you need to actually lace up your trainers. Aim for a healthy mixture of strength and cardio training, as well as some work with your flexibility.

You will also need to factor in rest time for your muscles to repair and strengthen.

If you start your training schedule and realize that it's simply too intense or impractical for you, don't worry. You can always change the schedule if you need to.

Strengthen Your Core And Major Muscles

Hiking is all about engaging those core muscles. You will be putting your body through some seriously challenging paces out on the trail, especially if your journey takes you vertical.

You'll need to draw on it when the big day comes. Some women worry that they will become overly muscular and look bulky if they strength train. 

Don't worry about getting huge, bulging biceps. We are built differently, and our strength training will just manifest itself in lean muscle, perfect stores of energy for hiking.

Planks - Core Strength For Hiking

Get in shape for hiking by doing planks. This yoga staple is the ultimate core exercise, and you don't need any fancy equipment to be able to do it.

All you need to do to do a plank is:

  1. Prop yourself up on your elbows or hands, and gently lift your body into a straight line by balancing on the tips of your toes.
  2. Your core needs to be activated to hold the pose, so you'll get a workout by default.
  3. I find that it helps to focus on a particular object or place on the horizon.
  4. Hold your planks for at least thirty seconds.
  5. Check out the video above for good plank form.

Squats - Core And Muscle Strength For Hiking

Here's how to do a squat:

  1. Essentially you start the exercise standing, then lower your hips to engage the leg muscles. It's up to you how far you want to lower them, but generally speaking, the deeper the squat, the better the workout.
  2. Keep your weight centered on your heels and your back straight. It's bad form to lean forward with your weight on your toes.
  3. Do three sets of these with twenty reps in each set.
  4. You can take your squats to the next level by jumping back up into place.
  5. Watch the video above to see a squat being performed.

Lunges - Core And Muscle Strength For Hiking

Lunges are a wonderful exercise that targets your legs specifically and will help you if your trail is on an incline. They're also awesome for core workout strength with overall positive effects for your plan to get in shape for hiking.

The simplest way to do  a lunge is to:

  1. Place one leg in front of the other, bend the knee, and then rise back into a standing position.
  2. Do four sets of these with fifteen reps in each set.
  3. Make sure that you do equal reps on each leg.
  4. Watch the video above see a lunge in action.

BONUS! You'll need a resistance band for this one, but the Banded Lateral Walk is a great exercise for strengthening your hips and your core. If you have a resistance band, consider adding this one to your program!

Banded Lateral Walk - Resistance Bands For More Burn

Here's how to do the Banded Lateral Walk:
  1. Keep the band taught and position the band just above each knee and wrapped around both legs, like in the video screenshot above.
  2. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend slightly at the knees and move your butt down into a half-squat position.
  4. Make sure your feet stay inline with your shoulders and that you stay facing forward throughout the maneuver.
  5. Staying in the half-squat position, shift your weight over your right leg and take a step sideways with your left leg.
  6. Now, shift your weight over your left leg and take a step sideways with your right leg.
  7. Do 8-10 reps on each leg.
  8. Watch the video above see the Banded Lateral Walk in action.

Work On Your Endurance

Strength is one thing when you're thing to get in shape for hiking, but you'll also need the endurance to get yourself motivated and moving down that trail. It's crucial to have good stamina, especially for longer hikes.

You can increase your endurance and improve your chances of making it to the end of the trail by focusing on the cardio. Cardio takes up more time than strength training, and depending on how intense it is; you can make the time fly by tuning into a podcast or plugging into your favorite music. 

Work Cardio Into Your Day-To-Day Life

The beauty of cardio is that you do not need a lot of fancy equipment to get a great workout, and if you want to get in shape for hiking, you'll want to have solid cardio in your back pocket.

Opportunities to enhance our endurance are all around us. Going for a brisk walk to the store instead of taking the car is one of my favorite ways of getting a little extra cardio into my day. You can also take the stairs or ride your bike. Simply moving around will excite your body and prime it for higher endurance.

Here are 3 cardio exercises that you can do at home to build endurance to help you get in shape for hiking!

Mountain Climbers - Cardio And Core Strength For Hiking

Get in shape for hiking with Mountain Climbers! Mountain climbers are a really awesome exercise because they help you strengthen your core at the same time you're building endurance through cardio.

Here's how to do a mountain climber:

  1. Start in the "plank" position with your hand directly below your shoulders. Keep your butt down and your back straight.
  2. Tighten your stomach muscles and bring your left knee to your left elbow. Return your left knee to the starting position while simultaneously bringing your right knee to your right elbow.
  3. Continue with this pattern, picking up the pace as you go.
  4. One round is 30 seconds. Do 4 rounds.

Watch the video above to see how mountain climbers are done.

Jump Squats - Adding Cardio To Your Squats

Adding a jump into your squat routine will make you work a little harder, but you'll reap the benefits of your hard work out on the trail with your improved endurance. Check out the video below and give them a try!

Here's how to perform a jump squat:

  1. Essentially you start the exercise standing, then lower your hips to engage the leg muscles. It's up to you how far you want to lower them, but generally speaking, the deeper the squat, the better the workout.
  2. Keep your weight centered on your heels and your back straight. It's bad form to lean forward with your weight on your toes.
  3. Instead of pushing your torso up with your legs, use your legs to jump and straighten out your body.
  4. Land with your feet in the same spot they took off from. Lower your body into the squat position again, and repeat!
  5. Start slowly and get your form down before you go for speed.

In And Out Jumps - Cardio And Core Strength Together

Notice the pattern with the cardio exercises? Yep, adding in a jump is a quick way to add cardio to your workouts for getting in shape for hiking. Watch the video below and try these In and Out Jumps on your own.

Here's how to perform the In and Out Jump exercise:

  1. Stand with feet together, and either place your hands in front of you on your thighs or clasp your hands in front of you in a "praying" position in front of your chest. Do what feels most comfortable for you.

  2. Bend your legs, squat your butt down like a squat (like we talked about in the squat exercise above), jump up, and separate your feet in mid air.

  3. Land with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and then lower yourelf into a squat.

  4. Jump up out of the squat and land back in the starting position with your feet together.

  5. Do it again! Start out slow and work on your technique before you ramp up the speed.

Work On Your Flexibility

Additionally, you should consider allocating a part of your "get in shape for hiking" fitness routine to stretching.

One major mistake that people who train for endurance events, like hiking, make all of the time is to ignore their flexibility. The trail can pull your body in a bunch of strange and new directions, and you'll need your joints to be on-point for the journey. Stretching is an important way to help your body recharge, and it's critical that you stretch after any strength or cardio workout to get in shape for hiking.

Whether it's taking a once-a-week yoga class or doing pilates at home, make sure that you're stretching. Yoga and pilates are also core enhancing activities, so you'll get the added benefit of a strengthened body as well as a stretchy one.

Stop often to hydrate and give your legs a stretch. Your body will thank you.

Cultivate A Healthy Lifestyle

Part of your hike preparation needs to be cultivating a healthy lifestyle. All of the practice hikes in the world won't mean too much if you're stuffing your face with horrible foods every night.

If you smoke or drink, cut way back or eliminate both of them right before your hike. It's essential to give your body the cleanest fuel possible so that it can accomplish what needs to be done.

Focus on whole foods and stay away from things like refined grains or processed items. Make sure that your body is hydrated and getting all of the nutrients that it needs to take on the task at hand.

On the day of your hike, make sure that you eat a large breakfast with plenty of lean protein, and carry filling snacks with you on the hike itself. Peanut butter and apples are a go-to staple for myself and the kids, but you can bring whatever suits your fancy. The idea is to avoid serious sugar crashes or issues.

Your healthy lifestyle will also fuel you with the motivation that you need to head out on those practice hikes or do another one or two reps in your strength training.
Ultimately, all your hard work to get in shape for hiking will allow you to to hit the trail with confidence and introduce your entire family or friend group to a whole new incredible sport!

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