Hiking can be very physically demanding, and you may find yourself struggling on tough treks. Between rugged terrain, a heavy pack, or a quick pace, you can easily find yourself worn out on a hike.
If you’ve considered training to improve your hiking performance, you’re in the right place. Like any physical activity, training and planning are essential to improve performance.
The best things you can do to improve your hiking endurance are strength and endurance training, and progressively increasing difficulty in your hikes. A well-rounded exercise routine that utilizes strength and conditioning alongside cardio workouts will improve your overall performance.
Regular hiking is also a great way to train, especially if you push the pace on short hikes, and implement distance hikes that increase in intensity over time. There’s no magic answer to gaining endurance, training is key. Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time.
Other outdoor sports are also great methods for improving hiking performance. Strenuous activities like rock climbing and skiing offer improvements to your balance, strength, and endurance, as well as giving you another regular exercise routine.
Outdoor sports also offer an alternative activity if you have an off-season for hiking in your area, or if local trails aren’t always accessible.
A cross-training program that implements multiple sports and exercises will keep you in good shape, and well-rounded in your experiences.
While this isn’t fully necessary, chancetas are if you’re training for hiking you already enjoy some outdoor sports, or you may be interested in trying them. I recommend it for the simple fact that you will have another method to work out if exercise-based methods are becoming stale, or you need some variety in your day.
What Cardio to Build Hiking Endurance
Things as simple as regular running or walking are great methods to improve endurance, but a specified training program is ideal. Jogging a few times a week is a good start if you’re looking to improve. If you begin with walks and runs a couple of times a week, progressing in distance and speed each time, you will have noticeable progression.
The best method for hiking is to focus on steady-state cardio. When you hike, you’re generally maintaining a consistent pace over a long period of time, so it’s not ideal to do things like sprints unless they’re only a portion of your workout. Interval training is great, it’s just less useful for what most people’s goals will be as far as endurance.
While starting anything that raises your heart rate is good. Rowing machines, ellipticals, stair masters, air bikes, and so on are all excellent choices and all of these offer options for long or short form workouts. Machines can also be useful to reduce impact exercises like running.
Personally, I’m also partial to swimming since it’s a full-body workout that’s very taxing, and it is spectacular cardio. Even calisthenic exercises can be used for cardio. Mountain climbers, lunges (Especially alternating jump lunges), and other exercises in a circuit are great training. I recommend researching cardio programs and implementing them into an overall training program.
If running isn’t your favorite, rucking is also applicable to hiking and backpacking. Load a pack with weight, and walk at a quick pace. If that isn’t intense enough for you, adding intervals of jogging with a rucksack or walking in a hilly area will make your workout much more intense.
If cardio training itself is annoying, hiking itself is not a bad option to train. A few short to mid-length hikes at a fast pace alongside longer hikes once or twice a week will directly train the muscles you use for hiking, and give you a cardiovascular workout.
If you can’t wait to get on the trail but want something more intense than a hike, trail running may be the method for you. Hill running also replicates the stresses of hiking, since you use the same muscle groups.
The thing to remember is that your training program will vary based on your level of fitness and your goals. I’m giving general advice to be used as a base to research and/or start to plan your workouts with.
I always recommend looking into programs suitable to your goals. If you want to push the pace and move quickly on short hikes, your training plan will be very different compared to a backpacker going on long treks. No workouts will fit everyone, but it’s never a bad thing to put in some hours of training and try to get better, no matter what you do.
What About Strength Training For Hiking
While it may sound a bit odd at first, strength training is spectacular for any athlete or even casual participants in physical activity. Bodyweight and weight training are amazing for hikers and outdoor sports enthusiasts due to the opportunity to train specific muscle groups for your preferred sport.
Increased strength is helpful in any physical activity and for hiking and outdoor activity, it’s often very useful due to the fact you often end up carrying a pack that may end up being heavy. For climbers, skiers, and the like, strength training is necessary to improve in your sport.
The same applies to hiking, it will only make you tougher on the trail. While it may seem less applicable to hiking, strength training will allow you to push the pace with heavier gear, and move faster on the trail.
Some exercises listed are also accessory movements meant to address muscle groups you’ll use hiking (Ex. barbell shrugs to strengthen your traps, which you use when carrying a pack) I’m listing some examples of exercises to perform below.
I recommend researching programs that are specific to your goals. I'm just listing several exercises to consider and research if you are unfamiliar with strength training programs.
- Barbell or goblet squats
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Back extensions (Use a roman chair)
- Barbell or dumbbell shrugs
- Lunges and weighted lunges
- Alternating jump lunges
- Quad extensions
- Hamstring curls
- Glute bridges
- Leg press
The thing to remember is you’re essentially training so that your muscles will hold up the strains of a hike, and so that your fatigue doesn’t hinder your performance.
With that concept, I’m a fan of compound movements for most athletic activities. Compound exercises are your best friend. Compound movements are essentially exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups at a time.
Examples are squats, lunges, bench presses, and so on, but a massive amount of exercises are classified as compound movements. They are ideal for hiking because you’ll be using several muscle groups at once.
I also recommend aiming for higher rep sets when training for hiking. Low rep workouts aren’t strictly useful for hiking, as you need muscular endurance rather than a single repetition of high strength.
One of the best exercises for hiking is lunges. Lunges use all the major muscle groups you will use on the trail, and you can perform them as bodyweight and weighted exercise. Step-ups and step-downs are also similar exercises.
Diet and Recovery
However hard you train, without proper diet and recovery it won’t truly help you. When you work out you’re breaking down muscle fibers, and if you don’t sleep enough or get the necessary amount of nutrients your body cannot rebuild effectively. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night is ideal for recovery.
I’m a fan of lean, high protein foods like chicken and salmon with some of your preferred fruits and vegetables for a good meal. Carbs are not necessarily bad, healthy rice and pasta are a great option for extra energy.
While the same advice as a workout plan applies in that I can’t tell you what will specifically work for you, a healthy diet that works for hiking and outdoor sports is very similar to dieting for most workouts.
Eat enough food, focus on high nutrient, whole foods, and make sure to get the proper macronutrients to recover from your workouts.
While training your body should be the focus of your training, breathing exercises can increase lung capacity and improve performance on the trail, as well as be a great tool for mental tranquility if you’re stressed.
Box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, the Wim hof method, or even simple meditative breathing are great methods to acclimate yourself to breathing exercises.
Practicing proper breathing is also imperative if you plan to do any high-altitude hiking or climbing. The big thing is learning control so that when hiking you can focus on maintaining deep, steady breaths even when you’re exerting yourself.
If you’ve practiced weightlifting, martial arts, or yoga you may be familiar with the concept of timing your breaths with movements. The same principles can be applied to some movements in hiking.
What About Stretching
For any exercise routine, I recommend an extensive stretching routine that addresses the whole body. The same concept applies to warming up before exercise. A dynamic warm-up before your workout and a stretching routine afterward will prevent injury and improve your workouts.
Personally, I’ve had some injuries in the past that I believe I could have prevented with a better warm-up and cooldown.
Again, researching stretching routines that apply to your workouts is ideal, and implementing yoga moves can help increase flexibility and strength.
As a climber, I’ve begun to explore more yoga and practice it alongside stretching, and I’ve found it benefits my climbing and hiking as well. While stretching and warm-ups may not directly tie to endurance, ignoring these two parts of a workout will just hurt you down the road.
Building hiking endurance is similar to training for anything else. With a dedicated training program and some discipline, you’ll see quick improvements in your performance.
At the very least, know that if you regularly push yourself, whether that’s a walk or a jog a few times a week, or hiking often with a heavy pack, you will improve.
If you just enjoy hiking, you may not be interested in training programs that are mainly in the gym. If not, don’t be afraid to execute something similar on the trail.
A training program is recommended if you are planning a long, difficult trip, however, as you will most likely not be prepared otherwise. Put in some hard work, and you’ll see the benefits. Happy trails.