How to Get in Shape for Hiking (Training Plan)
I was SUPER stoked when I managed to score Havasu Falls permits for later this year. However, after I got the permits, I realized I had a lot of work cut out for me on the hike to Havasu Falls. From the parking lot, it’s an 8 mile hike to the check-in point, and another 2 miles to the campground. Plus, we’d be carrying all of our camping gear. This may not seem like much to somebody who has hiked Kilimanjaro. However, for somebody who only hikes a couple of miles a few times a year and sits at a desk all day, this seemed like quite the undertaking!
So, I decided to reach out to some of my fellow travel bloggers to get their tips and tricks on how to get in shape for hiking. Even though I started this with the intent of getting in shape for the Havasu falls hike, I found that these tips are great for getting into shape for any long distance hike or backpacking trip!
Disclaimer:all exercises are meant for healthy individuals with no known medical conditions. Always consult with a doctor before trying any of these exercises. The authors, and publishers are not liable for any injury arising from the application of any of the information provided.
- Create a workout plan and track progress
- Walk around your neighborhood
- Do the 10,000 steps a day challenge
- General fitness training
- Knee and hip strengthening
- Use a treadmill with a backpack full of weights
- Exercise in a pool
- Go cycling
- Involve your friends
Create a workout plan and track progress
Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
When beginning any new exercise routine, it’s important to pace yourself. Start with a short walk that’s not too difficult. Then, gradually work your way up to hiking longer distances and more difficult terrain.
It’s a good idea to create a workout plan for yourself that will cover the weeks leading up to your big hike. Decide how many times per week you will realistically have time to train. Then, schedule your workouts on a calendar. You can find pre-made workout plans online, such as the Couch to 5K program. These are usually geared towards runners rather than hikers, though, so use them for inspiration and then create your own customized workout plan to fit your needs. If you are using Couch to 5K as your starting point, for example, you might double the distances, since you will be walking rather than running.
Print out your workout plan and hang it up in a place where you will see it every day. Then cross off the individual workouts as you complete them. This will help to keep you motivated and accountable.
If you anticipate that you will need a little extra motivation, set some small rewards that you will give yourself at the end of the week if you have completed all your workouts.
Walk around your neighborhood
Catherine Ryan Gregory from To & Fro Fam
You don’t need to drive for hours to train for a long hike; you can do it from home—well, at least your neighborhood! Simply go out your front door and get your miles in right in town.
You won’t have trail markers to track your mileage, but keeping an eye on your Fitbit, pedometer or phone’s step app will help you gradually build up to the distance you’re aiming for.
By training in your neighborhood, you’ll take care of the biggest barrier to increasing your mileage for long-distance hikes: convenience. After all, most of us don’t have the ability to drive for an hour or two to a scenic hike multiple times a week. You are able to just step out into your hometown—no driving necessary.
Here’s another benefit: You’ll get to know your hometown like never before. Walk up side streets you’ve never had reason to travel. Discover new neighborhoods. Wave to strangers. You’ll feel more at home than you ever have.
On one walk in my own hometown, I discovered a field filled with cows—in the middle of a housing development! West Linn, Oregon must have some interesting zoning laws.
Finally, one more advantage to training for a long-distance hike in your neighborhood: You can bring your dog. My own pup is going on 11 years and can’t do long hikes anymore. But when I walk around the neighborhood, I can bring him for a mile—then circle back to my house, drop him off, and continue walking. No matter how you get your miles in, have fun!
Do the 10,000 steps a day challenge
Gemma Cleaver from Mum off the Map
Getting into shape for a long hike doesn’t have to involve a mammoth effort on your part. One simple way I have found to improve my everyday fitness will easily help you prepare for a long hike. You’ve probably already heard of it; the 10,000 steps a day challenge. The idea behind it is to improve overall endurance and stamina in your everyday life. It’s great for getting fit for a hike, particularly if it’s a multi day hike as you will build your daily endurance. It won’t cost you a penny either as all you need is to download a free step tracker or health app onto your phone. Of course, a pedometer or fitbit etc. will work just as well.
So, how do you achieve 10,000 steps a day? It’s actually not as hard as you might think as the steps are broken down throughout the day, rather than done in one big burst. At work increase your step count by going to see colleagues rather than emailing them. Take a stroll during your lunch break instead of staying at your desk. Park a bit further away, or get off the bus a few stops earlier. If you’re close enough, try walking to work.
Go for a short walk in the evening to top up your steps, I found a 1 hr stroll was about 5000 steps. Explore your neighborhood or discover short walks nearby. See if your friends or partner will join you to make it a social event. Can you walk to your friends house for dinner rather than drive? You could even find local restaurants and pubs to walk to and socialise in. You might find a new favorite!
At weekends suggest active day activities when you meet up with friends. You may be surprised by just how many steps you will do during a shopping trip. Use the challenge to motivate yourself to visit local attractions that involve some walking, such as the local zoo or wildlife park. Don’t be afraid to venture out alone either. I found it strange walking solo at first, but it’s actually great for clearing your head and thinking.
Before long you will find it easy to complete 10,000 steps a day, and you will be feeling fitter, healthier and happier from all that fresh air and exercise. You should feel more confident about doing that long hike knowing you’ve been living an active lifestyle, and all the walking and fresh air is great mental preparation too as it relaxes your mind.
General fitness training
Megan McCormick from Beyond the Photos
At the gym I focused on strength training and cardio to make sure my whole body with top shape. I trained at a functional studio and I let the coaches know what I was training for. They helped me push myself to new levels. Overall strengthening my muscles helped me use oxygen more efficiently which helped with the altitude while hiking in mountains.
While at the gym, the basic workouts for a long distance hike would include tons of leg work. And I totally agree. While preparing for Kilimanjaro, I did tons of squats, lunges, step ups, and box jumps. This makes sense, you’ll need those leg muscles to get up the hills and keep you moving on long hikes.
I also ensured that my whole body was in peak shape. I knew that I would be using hiking poles so having strong arms, back and ab muscles was also key. To strengthen my arms, I did lots of presses and pulls. I used the TRX straps and other assistance because I can’t actually do a pull up, yet. For my abs, I did all combinations; sit ups, twists, leg raises, mountain climbers, and doing knees-to-elbows. I truly believe that all of the strength training I did the months before the hike really made the difference out on the mountain.
During the workouts and while you’re out hiking, remember to practice being positive. The dialog you create in your head during your workouts will help pull you through the most challenging moments on your hike. Tell yourself that you can do, you can lift more, push more, do one more lap or one more set of stairs. Then, when you need it most, it will come more naturally to coach yourself up the tough stretches of the hike.
Diana from The Elusive Family
Preparing for any strenuous hikes particularly if they are long distance requires readiness in different ways. One of the best ways to prepare for any hike is to properly train your muscles with weightlifting as part of a regular fitness routine. Muscles need to used and grow in order to hike up steep inclines, rock climb when necessary and carry heavy hiking packs. Creating muscle memory is a must and occurs when your muscles recall previous ways they have been used in the past.
Doing a few weightlifting exercises can certainly prepare you for hikes. There are several main muscle groups that require a proper exercise routine. These muscle groups include the chest shoulders, legs, back, biceps/triceps, hamstrings, calves and glutes.
Here are a few exercises you can do to target a variety of muscle groups.
- Legs: dumbbell lunges or leg press.
- Back: bent over rows
- Shoulders: shoulder press
- Biceps/triceps: bicep curls, tricep dips or skullcrushers
- Hamstrings: machine lying leg curl or walking lunge
- Calves: calf raises
- Glutes: squats
- Chest: chest press
For beginners just starting out, it is best to alternate days when you target each muscle group and begin with 2-3 sets of about 8-10 repetitions. For example, here is an example of a schedule:
- Monday: leg and bicep day
- Tuesday: chest, calves and triceps
- Wednesday: back and biceps
- Thursday, glutes and hamstrings
- Friday: shoulders and triceps.
More advanced routines that can be worked up to after larger muscle groups include: deadlifts-standard, roman or sumo. Deadlifts however, need to be taught properly and it is best to learn with a trainer.
Knee and hip strengthening
Tereza Letalova from Czick on the Road
No matter how much you hike or run, sooner or later there is one part of your body that will let you down – your knees. That’s why it’s important to not only practice endurance to prepare for long distance hiking, but also work on your muscle strength. The stronger the muscles around your knees are, the easier it will be for joints and ligaments to work properly for long time, as the muscles holds them together and prevent wearing out.
Great exercises for strengthening knees are squats, launches, bridge (lifting hips while lying), cycling or other fitness machines with weights. I used to have problems with knees while going downhill, by going to gym once or twice a week and doing 20 min cycling and 30 min of various strength exercise I managed to alleviate the knee pain to a great degree.
Knee health is also greatly connected to your hips and especially if you work in an office or other job which requires long sitting, hip opening exercises to stretch hip flexors are a must. Shortened hip flexors can be also a reason for lower back pain, which together with knee pain can be a big problem during long distance hikes. On YouTube you can find some great yoga flows for opening hips, most of them include stretch poses such us the pigeon, the lizard, half split, child’s pose, and different warrior poses. With length not more than 15 minutes, these are also great stretches to do after hikes, especially during multiple day treks, so you prevent any possible problems already on the go.
Use a treadmill with a backpack full of weights
Alex Waltner from Swedish Nomad
One of my best tips for getting in shape and boosting your stamina before going on a hiking trip is to hit the gym and walk on the treadmill.
The main pro of this is that you can select different programs to simulate various terrains, and you can walk uphill in different steps, or change the speed. I recommend that you walk on the treadmill for at least 1 hour and change the elevation and speed from time to time.
If you have time for it, it will also be a good idea to increase the length of your walking if you want to be fully prepared for a long distance hiking. Most people will probably not have time to spend several hours at the gym though, so in that case, just go for some harder workouts, like a fast speed and higher elevation on the treadmill. Then you will improve stamina and endurance, which will be very helpful for your hiking/backpacking trip.
Even better is to bring a backpack to the gym and wear it while walking on the treadmill. Fill it up with something heavy — like bags of sand or some other heavy item. It’s a simple trick to simulate hiking with a backpack without actually going on a hike. For your body, it will be the same strength and stamina needed, so it’s a great way of preparing your body for what to come.
If you don’t have a backpack or want to wear it in the gym, you can also use weights. There are weight vests that has been created to make the walk harder. You can get these via amazon or your local fitness store most of the times.
Exercise in a pool
Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
One of the best ways to get in shape – whether for long distance hiking, or for anything else in life, really – is swimming. By this, I am referring to actual training in a pool, preferably with a good swimming instructor that helps put together a series of exercises to improve technique, resistance and performance. The good thing about swimming is that you will be exercising all of the body muscles, while at the same time, thanks to the water, the impact on the bones and joints is virtually non-existent. Make sure to swim regularly – at least 2 times per week – to see good results.
I have been training at a pool for years now, and it’s been helping me getting in shape for some of the most strenuous hikes I have ever done, including the one of Fitz Roy, in Patagonia.
Pashmina from The Gone Goat
If there’s one activity that is painfully taxing and gives you the same dopamine as hiking, it is cycling. A walk in the woods is a superb way to build tempo and endurance. However, if you want to closely mirror that experience, there’s no better way to build stamina like going on long bicycle rides combined with a series of short uphill bursts.
I have climbed some peaks in Nepal, India and other tropical parts of Asia with all the outdoor gear that I need to prepare for any challenges that come my way, and cycling has provided an alternative way to strengthen my calf muscles and build endurance.
We all know the weight of a backpack can leave even the best runners and cyclists with sore hips, neck and shoulders. What you can do is train for a high-mileage cycling race to your weekly regimen. These training sessions are best on non-work days and could be anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours long. Carry your backpack filled with water and a snack to keep you fuelled.
Cycling is a great break from the monotony of hiking where half the day is gone. With cycling, you can maximise and repeat climbs that are highly transferable to your athletic pursuit of climbing a mountain.
Involve your friends
Bella from Passport & Pixels
When I decided to climb Kilimanjaro in 2016, I was terrified. I’m pretty fit. I have a three-times-a-week gym habit, and I can run 10k reasonably comfortably (ok, I plod rather than run, but I get there), but I’m far from an athlete, and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. So I decided that if I was going to stand any chance of making it, I’d have to do practice hikes every weekend.
The problem is, I live in London, which has almost no hills. Walking for hours and hours around the completely flat streets of my home city just wasn’t going to cut it. What’s more, it’s boring. Pounding the pavements on your own, just clocking up the miles, is incredibly tedious and demotivating. If I tried to do that, I just know I’d give up after a couple of hours and duck into the nearest pub!
So, with two months to go, I decided to ask for help. I created a Facebook Group called Bella’s Weekend Walking Club and invited all my London friends to join me for weekend day hikes out of the city. I figured that since it was summertime, quite a few of them might be keen to get out into the countryside, especially if someone else (ie: me) was planning and organising it and all they had to do was show up. And from my perspective, having a plan with someone would keep me motivated, and force me to keep going even if I wasn’t feeling it.
And so, every weekend for the next two months, I went walking with my friends. We took trains out of London and went to where the hills were: on the south coast of England and even as far afield as the more mountainous parts of the north and Wales. We made sure we walked at least 20 km, and then rewarded ourselves with drinks and fish’n’chips in the local pub at the end of the day.
It was the perfect way to train because it didn’t feel like a chore. Even on the days when I was tired or it was raining, I still knew I’d get to spend quality time with friends and explore more of the beautiful English countryside. I got fitter, my glutes and quads got stronger, and at the end of it all, not only did I ace Kilimanjaro with ease, but I’d had brilliant fun in the process.