Exercises for Hikers

Couple hiking in the forest

One of the first things the novice hiker need to do is to get in shape.

Although hiking clearly uses the leg muscles, it also uses virtually every other muscle group in the body. It also requires very good cardiovascular and lung capacity to complement muscular stamina.

While hiking is not as strenuous as mountain climbing, it can place considerable physical demands on the body. Getting in shape is therefore a necessary first step to ensure that you enjoy your hiking. Here are a few simple exercises for hiking to help you build up for tackling those hills and streams.

As with any exercise routine, you should warm up for a few minutes and do some gentle stretching before starting the workout proper. Jogging in place, easy stretches of the torso left and right, moderate pulling on the hamstrings, calves and so forth are great. Ease into it.

First, the legs. The ability to walk long distances over long periods of time will require that the two major muscle groups there and the joints will need to be in top working condition.

Simple squats are a good start. Begin slowly by simply extending your arms out to the sides, heels almost together, and your weight balanced. Squat down a comfortable amount, then push yourself back up again. Repeat at least 10 times per day, working up to 20, then 50 as you gain strength over time.

Doing squats outdoors

Lunges are also good. Put one foot forward about 18 inches, then kneel down slightly. Hold a few seconds, then raise back up. Switch legs and repeat 10 times. As with squats, you’ll want to build up to higher repetitions and deeper lunges over time. How far to extend the foot and how deep to kneel depend on your height and general condition.

Don’t overdo it or you’ll injure yourself.

If the thought of taking up exercise again after a layoff of many years is off-putting, then don’t worry. Just start out slowly and gradually and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get yourself into shape ready for your first hike.

A good 10-minute jog is next in line. No more than a mile to start with, shorter if you are badly out of shape. Work up to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, then an hour at most. Anything longer than that isn’t jogging, it’s practice for marathon running. The idea is simply to get the cardiovascular and lung systems working well, and build up some more leg strength.

Do at least these three at least two or three times per week if you want to be well prepared.

Keep in mind, that if you want to be in better shape for more serious hikes than a stroll over the hills, you’ll want to add other exercises.

Training on a weight machine is useful for that. The back muscles are also essential to walking. The torso provides the central pillar against which the limbs move. Good back muscles help keep your posture good, important for fighting against fatigue, especially if you carry a backpack.

Fitness weight plates on exercise machine in gym
Fitness weight plates on exercise machine in gym

You’ll also need to scramble over small boulders, down hills and so forth.

The back muscles are important for that and much more.

Sit ups are helpful, as are ‘lat’ exercises. The latissimus dorsi are the large muscles on your side that make fit men look like a ‘triangle’. Those, and the back muscles nearby, are the ones you want to build up, in order to keep you going for long hikes. Moderate weightlifting is one of the best ways to get those back muscles in shape. Any good multi-station machine will have several options to do the trick. Seated lifts, rope pulls and others are all great.

A rowing machine works both the major leg groups (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves) and the back muscles. It’s also good for cardiovascular-pulmonary exercise.

Start with a few minutes of rowing. Wait a day or two if you’re new to them.

You’ll feel a bit sore. Discomfort is fine, but if you have major pain, check with your physician. Work up to an hour in stages.

There are a large number of exercises that can help you get in shape for hiking and any good trainer in your local gym will be able to give you lots of tips.

Just remember, don’t give up too quickly. The only way to gain long-term results is to make exercise part of your daily routine.