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How to Get in Shape for Hiking (Training, Tips & More)

two hikers going up the mountain to get in shape for a longer hike

Getting in shape for hiking can give your body tons of physical benefits to make your travels across rough terrains less straining.

As someone who’s spent many years as an avid hiker, I always make sure that I develop a solid workout plan for any backpacking trip that I go on. Basic exercises usually suffice for casual hikers.

However, for those of us who embark on trips that are more demanding, a more specific training plan is required.

Today, we’ll talk about how to get in shape for hiking, and the various exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles.

Quick Summary

  • There are 8 different types of exercises that strengthen each of the main muscle groups necessary to prepare for a long hike.
  • Using proper stamina training techniques can help manage a thru-hike.
  • Nutrition, hiking gear, and terrain are important elements to note when on a backpacking trip.

What are the 8 Best Exercises to get in Shape for Hiking?

When creating an exercise regimen for a hike, my goals are always to target my core muscles and legs.

This way, I can build the endurance and stamina necessary for those muscles to support my pack load and constantly shift body weight. Here are all the exercises I like to do to get myself ready for a long trip:

1. Goblet Squats

goblet squats

Goblet squats target your leg muscles, abdominal core, and glutes. It also requires a kettlebell or dumbbell to perform.

Starting off with a lightweight kettlebell or dumbbell is recommended until you’re comfortable with something heavier.

To perform a goblet squat, hold the weight between your hands at the bottom and keep it close to your chest.

Placing your feet hip-width apart and keeping your weight focused on your heels, slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor [1].

Maintain the tightness of your core while keeping an upright posture, and slowly ascend back to your standing position.

Goblet squats improve your squat form, and mobility, and activates the major muscles below your waist.

2. Stairclimbing

Stairclimbing is a form of cardio that increases the strength of your quads, hamstrings, and calves. If you have access to a local gym, you could use the stair climbing machine there, but if not, this can easily be done anywhere with a steep incline or tall set of vertical stairs.

All you do is simply run at a jogger’s pace up and down the incline. With stairs, there needs to be more caution to prevent falling, so slowing your stepping pace when descending is recommended [2].

Cardio is very beneficial for heart health, and your stamina can increase even further if you intensify the workout by adding a lightweight hiking pack to simulate the hiking experience.

3. Band Walks

Resistance bands allow you to train your body specifically to deal with resistance against certain muscle groups. While it can be used for other muscle groups around your body, a band walk requires resistance around the ankles to improve hip and knee stability.

To do a band walk, place the resistance band around your ankles, and with your knees slightly bent while your feet are shoulder-width apart, perform a lateral step with your left foot followed by the right foot.

Since resistance band walks also target the glutes, they have the added benefit of increasing the strength of your lower back muscles, which goes a long way in managing any lower back pain you may have.

4. Crunches

a person doing crunches

Crunches are a simple exercise that anyone can do from anywhere without special equipment.

To perform a proper crunch, lie down on the floor with your knees bent and plant your feet down flat and firmly [3].

While your arms are crossed over your chest or your hands are placed behind your head, pull yourself upwards so your chest meets your knees.

This exercise, unlike the previous ones, is more focused on building your core and abdominal muscles.

When hiking, there’ll be many times when you’re moving over uneven terrain, making it more likely that you’ll occasionally lose your balance.

Strengthening your core abdominal muscles improves your balance and eases any strain you might put on your lower back from lugging around a heavy pack.

5. Push-Ups

Similar to crunches, push-ups are another exercise that can be done without any equipment or access to a gym. What makes push-ups different from the other exercises I’ve talked about so far, is that they focus on building your upper body strength.

This includes muscles like your pectorals, biceps, and triceps. To do a push-up, get on all fours, placing your hands only slightly wider than shoulder-length apart. Straighten your arms and legs and lower your body until your chest is barely touching the floor.

Finally, push yourself back up again, keeping your arms straight.

This exercise gives many benefits to your upper body. Most notably, if you happen to be climbing an elevated surface, being able to pull yourself up with your upper body strength could be helpful.

6. Hanging Leg Raises

Hanging Leg Raises exercise

Hanging leg raises are another core exercise meant to strengthen your abdominal muscles. This exercise, it can be done anywhere that has a high or pull-up bar.

To perform this exercise, while holding onto the bar, lift your feet off the floor, bringing both of your legs up to form a 90-degree angle. Then, slowly lower your legs back to your starting position [4].

Hanging leg raises to strengthen your core muscles, so this exercise has benefits at any level. However, the maximum benefit you receive from these motions is dependent on how far beyond 90-degrees you’re able to lift your legs.

All core exercises provide the same stability and lower back benefits but allow you to achieve them in different ways.

7. Lunges

exercising lunges

Lunges are another of many exercises that strengthen not only your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but also your hip muscles and abdominal core.

Fortunately, this is another exercise that can be done from anywhere without any special equipment.

When doing lunges, take an extended step forward with your left or right foot and press downwards, almost as if you were kneeling.

Flex both knees at 90-degrees while keeping your weight focused on the front foot [5].

Bring yourself upwards and lunge forward once again with the opposite foot, keeping a straight and aligned posture every time.

Aside from building the muscles in your lower body, lunges are a great way to teach yourself proper form, due to how easy it is to lose your balance while lunging.

8. Squat Jumps

Squat jumps are the last and most basic exercise I like to do when getting in shape for a hike. If you’re focusing on your glutes, hips, quads, or legs, this is a perfect exercise to begin or close your workout.

No equipment or special location is necessary for this final exercise. When doing a squat jump, place your feet shoulder-width apart and descend into a squat position. Using your leg muscles and quads, launch yourself off the floor with both legs fully extended [6].

When descending, make sure you land your toes first, followed by the arches of your feet and then your heels. This will let you smoothly transition into the squatting position again to prepare for another jump.

As a common exercise used by athletes of all types, squat jumps to increase your running speed, balance, and agility.

Getting in Shape for a Thru-Hike

thru hiking in united states

When getting in shape for a thru-hike, resistance training, sometimes known by others as strength training or weight training, can help your body manage the natural stress that comes with being on the trail.

To help your body adapt to the strain of this hike, exercises such as lunges, hip hinges, step-ups, and planks can help improve your mobility and strength by exposing your muscles to an opposing force.

A great thing about these exercises is that they can also help prevent hiker’s knee. Since a thru-hike is a continuous trek, it’s important to do these exercises under constantly changing conditions, almost as if you were doing a practice hike.

Starting with an exercise routine of moderate intensity and slowly working your way up, will strengthen the tendons and ligaments responsible for holding your knee, leg, and foot muscles together.

Cardio is another activity that should be done in preparation for this type of hike. Running or jogging long distances while carrying a lightweight backpack, ideally along an elevated surface or rugged terrain can help build your endurance for a multi day hike.

Trail running also works because it trains you to move efficiently over uneven surfaces while still pacing yourself.

Other Things to Consider Before Hiking

backpacking in virginia

1. Nutrition

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the three main sources of energy you’ll need to keep your muscles strong and your energy levels up. Staying hydrated and replenishing your electrolytes will also help maintain your performance.

Before a hike, you should eat fruits, berries, pre-made sandwiches, energy bars, trail mixes, and dried vegetables. These foods can restore your energy every hour or during a lunch break [7].

2. Terrain

Knowing the terrain you’ll be traveling in can help reduce the chances for any unwelcome surprises during a hiking trip. Personally, I like to map out an area before I travel.

This way, I can know all the trails and their lengths, areas of elevation, the type of hiking gear I might need, and the kind of weather the area experiences.

3. Hiking Gear

Hiking gear is extremely important to consider and your hiking shoes are the most important.

As we’ve talked about in other articles, certain backpacks, shoes, and other equipment can be a hindrance depending on the type of hiking you’re doing.

Will these hiking boots support my feet on this surface? Will the gear inside my backpack be damaged by the weather? How to tie my hiking boots – should I use a butterfly or surgeon’s knot?

Being unprepared for a trip could result in injury to yourself or even damaging gear vital to your survival.

Tips and Recommendations

If you’re planning on getting in shape for a hiking trip, the best advice I can give you is to listen to your body. Start slow, gradually build your muscle strength each week, work on your core strength, improve your leg strength, and don’t be afraid to take rest days.

For any hiking you do, it’s always recommended that you wear firm and comfortable hiking boots. Ideally, your boots should accommodate any foot issues you have. That’s why we tested and analyzed hiking footwear for each type of foot:

After finding a pair of boots that fit your needs, take some time to break them in with a few practice hikes.


How Long Does It Take To Get in Shape From Hiking?

To get in shape from hiking, most hiking experts would agree that it takes around a month before results start to appear. Results usually manifest first in the form of increased endurance and stamina.

Can You Get in Shape Just by Hiking?

Yes! You can get in shape just by hiking. Whether you’re a casual hiker or a professional mountain climber, hiking burns calories promotes muscle growth and increases blood flow throughout your cardiovascular system.

How in Shape Can I Get In Two Weeks by Hiking?

With two weeks of hiking, you won’t notice any obvious outward transformations, but you will feel fitter and healthier. This extra energy will make it easier for you to increase the intensity of your hikes, allowing you to burn more calories and shape up faster.