7 Best Strength Exercises for Hiking and Backpacking
Hiking and backpacking are great ways to experience nature, but they can also provide an intense aerobic workout.
As you gain weight and distance, the amount of work it takes to cover the ground becomes more taxing on your body, especially if you’re walking farther than expected or your pack is heavier.
In such a case, it is important to incorporate strengthening exercises into your routine before you leave. Strengthening exercises can help prevent injury and improve performance when you’re on the trail.
Best strength training exercises to prepare for hiking
Here are seven best strength training exercises to help you prepare for hiking and backpacking:
1) Goblet Squats
Goblet squats typically work the quadriceps and glutes, but they also work the hamstrings and adductors, making them a great exercise for hiking. Increase the weight you use as you get stronger or practice squatting on a BOSU ball to challenge your core and balance.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing about 5 to 10 degrees forward or out. Your hips should also face outward.
- Raise a kettlebell or dumbbell to your chest.
- Take a deep breath and push your hips back, as if reaching out to sit in a chair.
- Make sure your core is engaged, your chest is lifted, and your back is straight.
2) Weighted increase
Weighted step-ups are a great hiking exercise that works many lower body muscles simultaneously. It is effective in strengthening your legs, which also makes it a great cardiovascular workout.
To do weighted step-ups:
- Stand in front of a knee-high or slightly shorter bench, plyometric box, or step. Keep your arms at your sides and relax.
- Step onto the box with your right foot, engaging your core and glutes. To propel your body upward, use your arms.
- Bring your left leg to the box as well, allowing you to stand on it.
- Return to your original position by stepping back first with your right foot, followed by your left foot.
3) Romanian One-Leg Deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift can strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and stabilizer muscles, which are important for injury prevention on the track. Romanian single-leg deadlifts provide all of the good posterior chain-activating benefits of regular deadlifts while improving single-leg stability, making them more effective for hiking.
- Lift one leg off the ground, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Bend the knee on your standing/support leg about 15-20% to stimulate the glutes.
- Keep your back naturally arched; bend (hinge) at your hips and lower your body until it’s almost parallel to the ground, without changing the curvature of your knee.
- Squeeze your glutes; thrust your hips forward and return your torso to the starting position after a small pause at the bottom.
- Repeat until you have completed the required number of repetitions.
4) Bulgarian Split Squat
Split squats are excellent for developing extensor muscles in the lower body, core, and spine. This form, which elevates your back foot, promotes activation of the hamstrings, quads, and hips, which is similar to hiking.
To do the Bulgarian split squat:
- Stand three feet in front of a bench, facing you with your back foot resting on the bench behind you.
- Hold a split squat/lunge by bending your front knee and keeping your shoulders back and your core engaged.
- To return to a standing position, press your heel down until the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the floor.
- Per set, do 8 to 10 reps per leg.
5) Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
All of your hiking steps rely heavily on your hamstrings. This drill also works your core, glutes, and hip flexors, which all work together to help you keep your balance on the course.
To do this exercise:
- On a stability ball, lie on your back with your legs straight and your heels up. Place your palms on the mat with your arms at your sides.
- Raise your hips with your core and glutes engaged so your body is in a straight line from your heels to your head. Your shoulder blades should be pressed against the mat.
- Press your heels into the ball and engage your hamstrings.
- Bring the ball to your butt by bending your knees.
- Return to your original starting position.
6) Jump squats
All of the key leg muscles involved in hiking, such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, are strengthened with jump squats. They’ll also provide you with a cardio boost, so you won’t be out of breath after steep uphill hikes.
To do jump squats:
- Start with your feet, keeping enough distance for the jump squats.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips all the way back, as if pushing your butt back to sit on a chair, to squat.
- Jump as high as possible vertically in the air, reaching the ceiling.
- As soon as you hit the ground, bend your knees to cushion the landing.
- For 60 seconds, jump as high and as fast as you can.
7) One Leg Calf Raise
Calves are primarily used for uphill hikes and can tire quickly if not properly trained. Fortunately, they are a simple target for this exercise.
To do this move:
- With your heels hanging off the back of a step or box, stand on one leg. Hook your second foot behind the ankle of the supporting leg.
- In the opposite arm, hold a dumbbell.
- Drop your heel to sink into it; rise on your toes to stand on your tiptoes.
As hikers, the three main muscles that concern us are the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re walking around your hometown or hiking thousands of miles in nature, the stronger these muscles are, the easier you can walk and extend your hikes.
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