Dynamic Training Routines For Hiking Season

Hiking and Camping Expert Elle Matthews gives targeted exercises and effective action plans to get your trail legs on this hiking season!

Woman does yoga on the top of a peak. There are snowy mountains in the background.

Photo by Madison Lavern

Move With Intention

I’m not a full-time couch potato, but I do enjoy time on the couch and potatoes. My relationship with exercise resembles a modest amount of movin’ and groovin’ most days of the week. I’ve always been a lively spirit. To my energetic good fortune, my mama is a fitness instructor, personal trainer, and health coach. Living under her roof, I spent much of my “down time” at her step aerobics classes, kickboxing classes, yoga classes, you name it. Her personal training sessions were done at the house, and it wasn’t hard to overhear. I spent countless conscious and unconscious hours absorbing how to develop and maintain healthy habits. From time spent at classes, to hanging out with her clients, to my own self-conscious teenage years obsessing about food tracking and workout routines, I’ve witnessed the more extreme side of this world. These factors created a human being with respect and appreciation for balance.

When I realize that hiking season is quickly approaching, I begin to plan my great escapades. This means I change up my physical goals, push aside my comfort zone, and expose new paths.

If the widespread “prepare for hiking season” doesn’t incite you enough, plan a specific trip or get a bucket list started. Remind yourself why you want to do this. It is common and okay to fall off the wagon for a bit. Life happens! My body is incredibly sore right now because I haven’t physically bounced back since I was bedridden with a fever for a week. I still have difficulty breathing so I ease myself back to normal life with a few stretches because something is better than nothing. The reason I get back up is because I can foresee my journey ahead shifting the direction of my life. I don’t know which way, but that’s why I keep going—to find out. The only way to really adhere to anything is if there's a reason.

The secret recipe to making a perfectly baked hiking body is as simple as making brownies. You need to warm up, and properly measure and mix ingredients. The baking time requires patience then the cool down is needed to avoid burning yourself. In this article you’ll find details on the primary muscles used as a hiker, along with specific exercises for a well-rounded week of workouts. I concocted a training program for you to follow as well as links to other helpful resources.

Muscle Functions

Man hikes up a trail with a backpack on. There are mountains and a bit of snow in the background. It looks to be spring or summer.

Photo by Zach Dischner

It’s worthwhile to have a broad idea of which primary muscle groups are most engaged in hiking. We know that to thrive as a hiker, we should strengthen our leg muscles, specifically the quadriceps (quads) for uphill power and hamstrings (hams) for downhill control.

When you do work that targets your quads, offset that by also strengthening your hamstrings. Tight quads lead to weak hamstrings and lower back pain. Weak or inflexible ankles can lead to knee pain and hip problems. Your muscles work as a whole and a shortfall in one area can very easily affect another.

  • Quadriceps: Power on the inclines; propel hikers forward
  • Hamstrings: Work with quads to bend and flex knees; control descents
  • Glutes: Extends legs at the hips (moving legs from side to side); support torso
  • Hip Flexors: Involved with posture, joint mobility, flexibility, and balance; aid in lifting knees, stabilizing lower spine
  • Abs: Stability over difficult terrain, posture
  • Calves: Help hikers move quickly over uneven terrain; support ankles; flex foot

Dynamic Stretching/Warmup

Dynamic stretches are movements that activate your muscles to their full range of motion and loosen your joints. Speedy but controlled is what you want to do here. Before every workout or hike, spend 5-10 minutes with these exercises.

1. Arm circles

  • Shoulders, abs, chest, back

2. Bent-over twists

  • Obliques, flexibility, stability

3. Forward leg swings

  • Stretch hip joints and muscles

4. Ankle circles

  • Release tension in ankle joints

5. Hip circles

  • Flexibility, loosen lower back and hips

6. Standing open the gate

  • Balance, stability, inner/outer thighs

7. Squats

  • Blood flow good for bones and joints

8. Lunge twists

  • Increase spine mobility

9. Butt kicks

  • Leg warm up to prevent injuries

10. Alternating side lunge touch

  • Torso rotation, inner/outer thigh

Cardio Activity

A man in shorts and a helmet hike up a mountain.

Photo by Courtney Kenady

Cardio, or aerobic, exercise improves your body’s ability to supply oxygen when under exertion. You’ll be under less strain in strenuous situations allowing you to go on longer, more comfortable hikes. Running is considered to be the most accessible and effective, but if you’re like me, you’ve tried it and you hate it. Snowboarding is my cardio of choice, but you don’t need to be limited to just one activity per workout. There are so many activities! Bike to the nearest stairs, run some drills, jump rope for a few minutes, pack it up and ride home. You’re getting a workout on your way to workout. Integrate any of the following to avoid solely running as your cardio.

  • Ski/ Snowboard
  • Rollerblade
  • Bike
  • Skateboard/ Longboard
  • Swim
  • Sports leagues
  • Boxing/ Kickboxing
  • Trampoline Park

Types of Training

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This isn’t a cardio replacement but will enhance oxygen intake. Prolonging shortness of breath will be a big advantage in high altitudes. HIIT cycles through bursts of exercises that raise your heart rate alleviated with movements to steady the heart rate.

Take it up a notch and read The Mayo Clinic’s Exercise Intensity: How To Measure It.

Low Intensity, Steady State (LISS)

If you’re tired, don’t feel well, had a long day at work, or simply don’t have the energy for fast-paced HIIT workouts, stay on track with your goals by doing a low-intensity workout for a longer period of time. LISS training is more effective as hiking is considered to be low-intensity steady-state cardio.

Ladder Drills

Shadow of a ladder.

Photo by Nick Fewings

These drills enhance joint mobility and endurance of the hamstrings and hip flexors. If you don’t have a ladder, arrange sticks, string, pens—whatever’s clever. Redefining Strength on YouTube has examples for 30 Agility Ladder Drills - Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Variations. Xceleration Fitness’ most quick-footed trainer also provides excellent ladder drill demonstrations for reference as well in their video, 25 Agility Ladder Drill for Elite Performance.

Quick Feet

From the right side of the ladder, bend your knees slightly, tap your left foot inside the ladder square, then bring it back to your foot. Continue till you get to the end, run, repeat for 30 seconds. Then do the other side.

Squat Out, Hop In

From the first square, jump forward landing in a wide squat position with legs on either side of the ladder, jump forward and land with legs together inside the ladder. At the end, run backward and repeat.

Lateral Lunge

Face the side of the ladder, jump into a lunge with your right foot in one square and your left foot outside of the ladder. Repeat in the same square but bring your left foot inside. Continue this down the ladder. At the end, run back to the start and repeat.

Plank Jack

In a push-up position with your hands inside the first square, jump your feet out wide and back together again. Walk your hands forward to the next square, jump feet out wide and back together. Repeat until you get to the end, run back to the start, and repeat.

Two Jumps Forward, One Back

From the first square of the ladder, jump 2 forward and 1 back. Repeat until you get to the end of the ladder.

Strength Training

Fostering muscle strength from your feet to your shoulders impacts hikers on multiple levels. Two-hundred muscles are used in a single step. Moving uphill over rocky and uneven terrain is much more dictating than flat ground. Calf muscles are employed constantly and at an unpredictable measure. They assist in flexing the ankle, supporting the knee, and handling shock absorption on downhills. Well-rounded glutes and core strength support and stabilize the spine. Electrifying quad energy surges you to the mountain’s peaks.

Equally imperative to power is flexibility and range of motion. There are 26 joints and 52 bones in your foot alone. Stretching gives joints the freedom they need. Where your feet fail you, your calf takes over and it continues up the chain reaction. Well-set muscles prevent injuries.

I’ve put together 10 training exercises that focus on strengthening abs and back, balance and stability, and explosive power. Do a warm-up and aim to get through two to three sets. Honor your body. Overexercising could lead to injuries and deplete your energy level. The goal is the exact opposite! Just like your cardio activity can be a mixed bag of jellybeans, your strength training can be too. Don’t hesitate to split up and/or combine these workouts.

10 Abs & Back Strengthening Exercises for Hiking & Backpacking

A man with a backpack and a sleeping pad on his backpack hikes up a trail. There are rocks and bushes around and it looks like he is in a desert.

Photo by Matt Gross

1. Plank leg lifts (30 seconds - 1 min)

  • Core, glutes, hamstrings, quads.
  • Full-body exercise; improve posture and stability

2. Mountain climbers (10 reps)

  • Abs, glutes, hips, legs, chest, shoulders
  • Increase flexibility and agility; lifts heart rate

3. Spiderman plank (10 reps)

  • Core, upper body
  • Improves hip mobility and balance

4. Reverse plank leg raises (30 seconds - 1 min)

  • Core, glutes, arms, legs, shoulders
  • Improve strength, core stability; engage whole body

5. Flutter kicks (20 reps)

  • Abs, hip flexors, quads
  • Improve endurance and flexibility

6. Bird dogs (12 reps per side)

  • Abs, middle and lower back, glutes, hip flexors
  • Prevent lower back pain; strengthen spine stability

7. Star toe-touch sit-ups (12 reps)

  • Abs, obliques, core, upper back
  • Improve posture; challenge back muscles

8. Cobra lat pulldown (12 reps)

  • Lower back, lats, upper back, chest
  • Help keep back aligned; improve posture; prevent lower back pain

9. Bent leg jackknife (12 reps)

  • Abs, core, upper back, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings
  • Improve posture; prevent lower back pain and injury

10. Bicycle crunch (20 reps)

  • Abs, obliques, glutes, hip flexors, quads
  • Improve stability and flexibility; boost heart rate

10 Balance & Agility Exercises For Hiking & Backpacking

A sign that reads "caution - danger fall hazard". It is above a forest and some water is visible in the background.

Photo by Stephen Andrews

1. Single-leg deadlift (20 reps per side)

  • Hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back
  • Improve posture and balance; challenge core stability

2. Wall-sit plie calf raises (15 reps)

  • Thighs, calves, glutes, hip flexors
  • Help keep body steady and balanced; engage lower back and core

3. Side plank rotation (12 reps)

  • Obliques, core, shoulders
  • Improve balance, increase core strength

4. Front and back lunges (10 reps per side)

  • Glutes, quads, hamstrings, core
  • Improve hip flexibility, balance, and stability

5. Curtsy lunge side-kick raise (12 reps)

  • Quads, glutes, shoulders, core, upper back, chest, arms, hips, thighs
  • Improve balance and coordination

6. Bulgarian split squat (12 reps per side)

  • Quads, glutes, hamstrings
  • Improve balance and knee stability

7. Bridge and twist (10 reps)

  • Glutes, abs, obliques, shoulders, core, hips, arms, thighs
  • Improve spine flexibility; enhance core stability and balance

8. Side-lying hip abduction (15 reps per side)

  • Outer thighs, thighs, hips, glutes
  • Help keep knee and hip joints stable

9. Pistol squat (5-10 reps per side)

  • Quads, glutes, hamstrings, hips, calves, core
  • Requires core support and posture alignment; improve stability and coordination

10. Surrender (12 reps)

  • Glutes, quads, core, hamstrings, calves
  • Boost heart rate; improve balance and coordination

10 Explosive Power Exercises For Hiking & Backpacking

A person is jumping up with their arms up and both legs out in a star position. There is a gorge in the background with blue water and steep walls.

Photo by Paul Gilmore

1. Cross jacks (15 reps)

  • Glutes, inner thighs, outer thighs, legs, abs, shoulders
  • Warm up muscles and joints; improve muscle endurance, promote relaxation

2. Jump start (20 reps)

  • Quads, hamstrings, calves, abs, glutes, lower back
  • Boost endurance and stamina; improve strength and agility; challenge core stability and balance

3. Forward jump, shuffle back (30 seconds - 1 min)

  • Thighs, calves, core, glutes
  • Cardio boost: increase speed, agility, explosiveness

4. Calf raises (15 reps)

  • Glutes, quads, hamstrings, core
  • Improve hip flexibility, balance, and stability

5. Burpees (10 reps)

  • Quads, glutes, shoulders, core, upper back, chest, arms, hips, thighs
  • Improve balance and coordination

6. Touch and hop (20 reps)

  • Quads, glutes, hamstrings
  • Improve balance and knee stability

7. Frog jumps (15 reps)

  • Glutes, abs, obliques, shoulders, core, hips, arms, thighs
  • Improve spine flexibility; enhance core stability and balance

8. Skaters (20 reps)

  • Outer thighs, thighs, hips, glutes
  • Help keep knee and hip joints stable

9. Step-up with knee raise (10 reps per side)

  • Quads, glutes, hamstrings, hips, calves, core
  • Requires core support and posture alignment; improve stability and coordination

10. Gate swings (15 reps)

  • Glutes, quads, core, hamstrings, calves
  • Boost heart rate; improve balance and coordination

Cool Down

A woman does a yoga pose in a field.

Photo by Amauri Mejia

Static Stretch, Stretch, Stretch

Static stretching after a workout is essential for flexibility and injury prevention. Muscle soreness can often be attributed to tight muscles. Hold each position for 30-60 seconds.

1. Quad stretch

  • Prevents knee and back pain

2. Calf stretch

  • Stabilizes ankles; reduces strains

3. Standing forward bend

  • Hips, hamstrings, and calves

4. Intense side stretch

  • Lengthens back of legs and spine

5. Hip-flexor stretch

  • Strong flexible lower back and hips

6. Ab stretch

  • Reduces back pain; improves flexibility

7. Head-to-knee forward bend

  • Hamstring stretch; strengthens back

8. Outer thigh stretch

  • Helps coordination and stability

9. Glute stretch

  • Improves mobility and balance

10. Chest stretch

  • Loosens shoulder muscles; opens chest

Common Aches & Injuries

Two people lay down at the top of a mountain. They are both wearing bright jackets and there are some steep peaks in the background.

Photo by Kal Visuals

Foot & Ankle

If you realize you have feeble ankles, invest in ankle supportive footwear. Take time to break in your new boots before wearing them out on a long hike. Prevent blisters by keeping your feet dry, and bring extra socks.

Stretch

  1. Ankle circles
  2. Wall calf stretch
  3. Downward facing dog
  4. Lateral lunge to floor touch
  5. Kneeling shin stretch

Strengthen

  1. Side-to-side movement exercises
  2. Single-leg balance
  3. Single-leg calf raise
  4. Calf raises
  5. Ankle exercises

Shin Splints

Largely caused by muscle tightness and weakness, shin splints are often a result of too many miles with too little rest. Ease your muscles into every hike and start every workout with a warmup. Listen to your body and give it enough rest when needed. Try compression sleeves as a way to increase blood flow and reduce vibrations from impacts. OrthoAtlanta has a list of 5 Easy Stretches to Prevent Shin Splints that are great to use when on the go or sitting around.

Stretch

  1. Low lunge pose
  2. Half split
  3. Reclining hero
  4. Mountain pose
  5. Goddess pose

Strengthen

  1. Calf raises
  2. Single leg glute bridge
  3. Donkey kicks
  4. Bodyweight calf raises
  5. Clamshell

Knees

Attempt to decrease your backpack weight and ensure the heaviest items are centered and close to your spine near the bottom of the pack. Slowly stretch out your calves and hamstrings, and strive to sit back more on hikes to take the stress off your knees.

Stretch

  1. Hamstring stretch
  2. Seated forward bend
  3. Wide leg forward bend
  4. Extended triangle pose
  5. Straight-leg calf stretch

Strengthen

  1. Step-ups
  2. Goblet squats
  3. Single leg bridge
  4. Walking lunges
  5. Wall sits

Lower Back, Shoulders, and Neck

Prolonged sitting and poor posture cause back and neck pain. Jobs where you sit most of the day are typically conducive to the problem. Try these specific stretches to loosen your hip flexors and hamstrings. Strengthen your core and glutes. Ensure you have a proper-fitting backpack by toying with the straps and adjustments.

Stretch

  1. Neck stretch
  2. Lower back stretch
  3. Wide arm chest stretch
  4. Cat stretch
  5. Child's pose

Strengthen

  1. Sit ups
  2. Plank
  3. Pilates swimming
  4. Deadlift upright row
  5. Reverse lunge ball raise

6-Week Training Schedule

A man balances on a structure. Only his silhouette is visible.

Photo by Elijah Heitt

Phase One (Weeks 1-4)

This might come off as a dense schedule to set about your training. If it’s too big of a bite, start with two strength exercises and one cardio, with 20-30 minute workouts. Do that for a week or two then add days or time. Fill in the general information with your specific workout plan. Replace ‘strength’ and ‘cardio’ with relevant details. What cardio activity do you plan on doing? How many reps/sets will you do for your strength training? The goal is for you to find a stew of workouts that you enjoy and maintain a routine.

During this phase, before moving on to the next phase of training:

  • Be consistent with 30-60 minutes of exercise 5 times per week.
  • Start incorporating weights and resistance into training.
A Monday-Sunday schedule for Phase 1 of training for hiking season.

Phase Two (Weeks 4-8)

Increase workout times, and begin training hikes and cardio days. Day hikes are a chance to familiarize yourself with your equipment, bring your gear out for a test spin, and break in those boots.

Monday is a cardio-heavy day, Tuesday is strength, Wednesday is a good day to go for a walk, Thursday is equal time dedicated to cardio and strength, then you have fancy foot Friday! Develop consistency with this routine, and you’ll be in great shape for Phase 3: training for a trek through the mountains.

  • 4-5 days of hiking and endurance exercises; 3-4 days of strength
  • Focus on increasing the intensity
  • Work on getting your heart rate up and keeping it up longer
  • 1-1.5 hours of exercise 5 days a week
A Monday-Sunday schedule for Phase 2 of training for hiking season.

Phase Three (weeks 8-12)

Priming to go on a multi-day hike, you should brace your body for many miles and multiple hours of vigorous hiking.

  • 1.5-2 hours of exercise 5 days a week
  • 1 long hike a week
  • Add more pack weight on hiking days
  • Increase elevation gain and distance
A Monday-Sunday schedule for Phase 3 of training for hiking season.

Reminders

A photo of someones legs and hiking boots on top of a peak with some mountains in the background.

Photo by Ahmad Shehab

Be real with yourself. Reality isn’t always ideal and you should show yourself extra kindness. If, for whatever reason you miss your goals, get back on that horse. Recognize your resilience. Hydrate. Stretch. Search for your sense of purpose for your actions. If at any point along the way, or even before you begin, feel free to reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert here at Curated. We are happy to answer any questions or support you in your hiking journey!

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Written By
Hello explorers and adventure seekers, my name's Elle (pronounced like the letter 'L') ​ I grew up in the midwest and knew I wanted nothing more than to be outside. So, I sold my car and used all that money to buy my backpacking equipment. I'd go on extended trips, weekend getaways, I'd even pop a t...

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