Hiking is a wonderful balance between a walk and running hills, providing a challenge for the cardiovascular system and muscles, but offering more visual interest and fresh air than a session on the stairclimber at the gym.
Although hiking in the mountains tends to be the most picturesque – and difficult – hiking certainly can be done on smaller hills and valleys as well. Essentially, anywhere the terrain level changes can constitute hiking. Here we are addressing basic, short hikes under 8 miles, and not ambitious, multi-day or weeklong trips through the Appalachian Trail.
For the most satisfying experience, it’s important to prepare before hitting the hills. Beyond carrying a water bottle, some trail mix and a first aid kit, training for hiking is critical to prepare physically. We’ve compiled some tips from the experts to help boost your confidence and success.
- Proper footwear – Depending on where you are hiking, your running shoes probably aren’t the best choice. You are better off with trail running shoes or hiking boots that have traction to grip the trail. And test different socks to determine which feel the best without rubbing and causing blisters.
- Cardio – Specificity is important here, so training for hiking involves actual hiking. Pick shorter, less steep routes and limit your duration and pace. Gradually add a few minutes to your climb or aim to complete the same distance in a faster time – but not both at once. Either increase your distance minimally OR quicken your pace over time.
Indoor training is helpful as well, such as the stairclimber or alternate motion trainers like Octane’s XT-One that lets you take on hikes or steeper climbs. Again, start easy and add resistance levels and/or duration over several weeks and months. If you don’t have access to a stairclimber or cross trainer, you can use a treadmill with various incline and decline levels. Or try step-ups with a bench, varying which leg leads and holding weights in each hand. For more challenge, wear a daypack that you will use when on the trails.
- Strength – Stamina is key for hiking, but leg strength is just as important. Using weights, perform squats, lunges and walking lunges. Execute leg curls and leg extensions, along with lateral walks, using a resistance band. Try hip extensions and bridges for glute strength, deadlifts for the back and plantar and dorsi flexion for ankle stability. Do push-ups and pull-ups (assisted, if necessary) for the upper-body and core. Incorporate 2 sets of 8-12 repetitions twice a week, ideally.
- Core – The core is your powerhouse that helps keep you strong and hiking with good form, particularly as you fatigue. This means planks, Russian twists, rotating crunches, side planks, reverse crunches and side bends. Yoga and Pilates are particularly effective at training the core, and add kinesthetic awareness and stability, both of which are critical for hikers.
- Flexibility – Keep your muscles loose and help prevent injury with regular stretching, specifically for the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors, calves and lower back. Hold static stretches for 10-30 seconds and relax your breathing. A foam roller and regular massages, or yoga, are great tools to eliminate tight muscles.
- Hydration – It may seem like a no-brainer, but dehydration can lead to fatigue and muscle cramps, neither of which you want to experience mid-hike when you have to go back down to where you started. Drink plenty of water before, during and after training until your urine is pale yellow to clear. Consider sports drinks if you are taking long hikes or are out in high temperatures where you perspire a lot.
Enjoy your next hike with the tips above! Stay Fueled.