Hitting the Trails? Add These 7 Exercises to Your Hiking Workout

Hitting the Trails? Add These 7 Exercises to Your Hiking Workout

There’s no better low-impact workout than getting out in the woods or up into the mountains for a hike. Not only do you get to challenge your body, clear your mind, and get some exercise, but you get to be positively stimulated by the outdoors.

“Hiking is a fantastic workout for both physical and mental well-being,” says Rob Barger, a coach at Redpath Performance Group in Northborough, Massachusetts. “Getting outside can help you reduce distractions, focus on the task at hand, and develop mindfulness, or being present in the moment.” Plus, it’s a great, complete lower-body workout, and can help you lose weight without the relentless, high-impact pounding of running.

 

7 Exercises to Get You Trail-Ready

Barger recommends focusing on exercises like squats, single-leg deadlifts, and good mornings to build a body prepared for any trail. These moves, in addition to strengthening your legs for climbs and descents, require your lower-leg muscles to act as stabilizers, readying your knees and ankles for bumpy, lumpy, and rutted paths.

cross climber - mountain climber - 600 Secs

Cross climber

This variation on the mountain climber works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. It’s also a good warm-up move before getting into strength-training exercises.

  • Assume a push-up position: feet together, hands in line with and slightly wider than your shoulders, core engaged, body straight from head to heels.
  • Twisting at your hips, draw your left knee toward your right elbow.
  • Return your left leg to the starting position, and repeat with the right leg. Continue quickly alternating on each side.

Warrior push-up

This exercise combines a standard push-up with an upper-body twist.

  • Assume a push-up position: feet together, hands in line with and slightly wider than your shoulders, core engaged, body straight from head to heels.
  • Lower your torso until your chest is within a couple inches of the floor, and then push yourself back up.
  • At the top of the move, raise your left arm up toward the sky, twisting at your hips so your chest is perpendicular to the ground.
  • Return to the starting position, and repeat with your right arm. Continue alternating sides, performing equal reps on both.

lateral band walk hiking workout

Lateral band walk

This move is a great glute activator. For hikers, that’s essential; glutes protect the knees, especially on descent.

  • Loop a resistance band around your legs just above both knees, and stand with your feet together.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  • Maintain your squat as you step your right foot out to the right, and then bring your left foot over to meet it. Keep tension in the band so that your knees don’t cave inward, and keep your feet parallel throughout the movement.
  • Repeat to the left, alternating sides for reps. Perform equal reps on each side.

Lower-body superset

The two following exercises performed as a superset, or back to back, will hit everything from your hamstrings to your lower back and, to a lesser extent, your shoulders and traps.

dumbbell squat hiking workout

Dumbbell squat

If you haven’t done many squats before, start off by performing bodyweight squats.

  • Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides at arm’s length, palms facing each other. You can also hold the dumbbells at shoulder height, palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position.

Single-leg deadlift

To make this move more challenging, hold a single dumbbell in the hand opposite your planted leg.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing back.
  • Shift your weight to your right leg, and lift your left foot a few inches off of the floor behind you. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, send your hips back and lower the dumbbells until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor, raising your left leg behind you. The toes of your back foot should point toward the floor.
  • Pause, and then return to the starting position. Perform equal reps on both sides.

Mutant makers

This exercise is a combination of two movements: the squat clean and the overhead press. It can help improve shoulder and core strength, and build endurance in the hip flexors.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides at arm’s length, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your chest up, back flat, and core engaged, quickly curl the weight up to shoulder height as you drop into a squat.
  • Return to standing, and then slowly press the dumbbells upward until your arms are straight.
  • Lower the weight back to the starting position.

split lunge thrust dumbbell woman

Plyo split lunge

Also called Mary Katherines, this jumping, alternating lunge is great for torching your quads and working your hamstrings and calves. Do them quickly to really stoke your cardiovascular system and build trail endurance.

  • From a standing position, step your right foot forward into a lunge: Your right thigh should be parallel to the floor, and your left knee bent 90 degrees. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, with your left arm forward and right arm back.
  • Keeping your chest up and core engaged, explode straight up so that both feet leave the floor.
  • Simultaneously switch leg and arm positions in the air, landing softly with your left foot forward.
  • Immediately lower your body back into a lunge to begin your next rep.
  • Continue alternating arms and legs, performing equal reps on both sides.

 

How Hiking Builds Lower-Body Strength and Endurance

“Moderate terrain, including flat and rolling hills, will engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes as you propel yourself forward,” Barger says, “while the muscles of the hip flexors are also engaged as you exert effort to swing your leg forward.” And when you hit steeper inclines, as your pace slows, these same muscles, along with your calves, will exert greater effort.

When you hit the downhill portions of your hikes, the force of gravity pulling your body down the trail will force your quads to engage even more, he says. The extra stress prompts them to try to manage some of the force generated as you move down the hill.

Adam Bible

About

Adam Bible is a lifestyle, fitness, nutrition, and health writer and editor with over 15 years experience. His work has appeared in Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, FLEX, Bicycling, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Natural Health, and Whole Living. A former New Yorker, Adam lives in North Carolina where he tends to his 8 chickens and thriving garden while restoring vintage steel bicycles.

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