To stride confidently up hills and navigate rugged paths, a bit of prep work can go a long way… and we’re not just talking hiking gear.
Strengthening specific muscle groups and following an effective hiking workout plan can make all the difference to your hiking.
You’ll be able to hike for longer, experience less discomfort in your joints and muscles, and hopefully, your legs won’t feel like jelly by the evening.
Not only does this guide give you 8 key exercises to level up for your hiking adventures, but it also provides tips on how to include these into a weekly fitness routine for maximum gains… helping you go from armchair enthusiast to mountain goat in next to no time!
Simple, effective, and beginner friendly… let’s get you trail-ready.
At a Glance – Hiking Workout Plan Overview
|Days of Training
|2 days per week
|Beginner to advanced
|Lower body strength, balance, endurance
|At Home Friendly
|Yes, with minimal equipment
|Dumbbells, a sturdy box/step or slant board, exercise mat, (Barbell/kettlebell if preferred for resistance)
|Approximately 30 minutes per session
|Hiking preparation and performance
|Upper body strength training and cardio on non-hiking training days
Hiking Workout Plan
This plan is suitable for a wide range of fitness levels, as it can be adjusted in terms of weights used, number of reps and sets, and form complexity.
It’s a lower-body-focused plan ideal for those preparing for hikes or wanting to enhance their hiking performance.
It’s also home-friendly as it requires minimal equipment. For optimal results, it should be complemented with upper body and cardio workouts on non-training days.
We’ve used Monday and Wednesday as training days in this plan… as this would allow for adequate recovery before a hike on a Saturday, for example. But, you can move this around to best suit your requirements and circumstances.
|Single Leg RDLs
|Weighted Dead Bugs
|30 sec hold
|Poliquin Step Ups
As a beginner, the focus should be on perfecting the form and building endurance.
Start with bodyweight for exercises like Single Leg RDLs, Lunges, Poliquin Step Ups, and Squats. For Planks and Weighted Dead Bugs, you can reduce the hold or reps and gradually increase as you build up strength.
For Calf Raises and Tib Raises, use a lighter weight and work your way up as your strength improves.
For the advanced hiker, add more weight where possible and increase the number of reps and sets.
For example, use dumbbells or kettlebells in your Single Leg RDLs, Lunges, and Squats. Or, use a weighted barbell for the squats and lunges.
You could also add a weighted vest for an extra challenge during the Poliquin Step Ups.
For Planks, consider adding movement like leg lifts, shoulder taps, or arm reaches.
Consistency is key – Regularity in performing these exercises is more important than intensity. Stick to the plan for best results.
Warm up before and cool down after – Before starting the workout, do some light cardio (like brisk walking or jogging) for 5-10 minutes to get your body ready. After the workout, stretch your muscles to prevent stiffness and aid recovery.
Rest adequately – On the rest days, allow your body to recover. You can do light activities like yoga or walking but avoid high-intensity exercises.
On the other days of the week, focus on upper body strength training and cardio workouts. Upper body strength is also very useful for hikers to help with tasks like carrying a backpack and maintaining balance.
Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, overhead press, rows, and chest presses can be included. Cardio workouts like running, swimming, or cycling will improve your overall fitness and endurance, making the hiking experience more enjoyable.
8 Great Exercises for Hiking – How to Perform & Benefits
Single Leg RDLs
The single leg Romanian deadlift (or RDLs), is a fantastic exercise to kickstart your hiking fitness journey. Let’s break it down.
First, stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Shift your weight onto your right foot, keeping your core engaged and back straight. This right foot is your anchor, firmly rooted to the ground. Picture yourself as a strong tree, with your right foot as your roots. Now you’re ready for the action.
Slowly, start hinging at your hips, moving your torso forward while extending your left leg straight out behind you. Your body should ideally form a straight line from your head to your left heel, sort of like a human see-saw. While you do this, your arms should hang straight down, weights in hand. Go as low as you can while maintaining balance, then return to your starting position.
Repeat this for repetitions and then on your left foot.
So, why is the single-leg RDL such a hero for hiking enthusiasts? Well, it’s all about balance, strength, and stability. The exercise works your hamstrings, glutes, lower back and core muscles, which are essential for maintaining stability on those challenging rocky terrains and steep inclines.
Just like a sturdy mountain goat, this exercise will help you confidently conquer any trail that comes your way.
Next in our hiking workout plan is everyone’s love-hate relationship: the plank.
Don’t be fooled by its simplicity; the plank is a really effective exercise for those wanting to become unshakeable on the trails.
Start by placing your forearms on the ground with your elbows aligned directly underneath your shoulders. Extend your legs out behind you, resting on the balls of your feet. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and ensure your hips are level.
Now, why is this seemingly simple exercise so useful for hikers?
A strong core helps you bear the load of your backpack with ease, maintain balance on uneven surfaces, and sustain good posture during long hikes.
To increase difficulty, try plank variations like the reverse plank or side plank.
In the third spot of our hiker’s workout plan, we have the lunges… an exercise that gets you primed for tough inclines.
Start by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart, your hands on your shoulders or holding weights. Take a large step forward with your right foot, as if you’re about to propose to Mother Nature herself.
Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your right shin is vertical. Your right knee should be directly above your right ankle, and your left knee should hover just above the floor. Now, press into your right heel to drive back up to the starting position.
Repeat with the other leg.
You could also integrate reverse lunges too (check out our guide on deficit reverse lunges).
If hiking is your game, then lunges are the name. They work your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, mimicking the exact movement of walking up a steep hill or steps. This makes lunges a trailblazer’s best friend, offering the power and endurance for those long uphill treks and rocky ascents.
Poliquin Step Ups
On to the fourth exercise – the Poliquin Step Ups.
This exercise isn’t as well-known as movements like squats or lunges, but it’s really effective at strengthening and stabilizing the knee.
Place a slant board or weight plate on top of a raised surface, such as a low step box. Place your left foot on the slant board or weight plate so your heel is raised and that your right foot hangs off the raised surface unsupported.
Flex the toe of your right leg up and bend your left knee so you lower your right foot to the floor. As you bend your left knee, it should go over your left toes slightly.
Pause for a moment before contracting the quads to straighten your left leg and return to the starting position.
Why should hikers love Poliquin Step Ups? This is a great way to reduce the risk of knee-related injuries as it helps strengthen the VMO (inner quad).
Also check out Petersen Step Ups as an alternative.
Weighted Dead Bugs
As the fifth exercise in our hiking plan, we introduce weighted dead bugs. Don’t be put off by the name; it’s an exercise that’s far more exciting than it sounds.
Start by lying flat on your back on a comfortable mat, with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, and feet in the air.
Hold a weight (like dumbbells) in both hands and extend your arms straight up above your chest. Now, lower your right arm back behind your head while simultaneously extending your left leg straight out, hovering just above the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
Weighted dead bugs work magic for your core, enhancing stability and balance… two vital elements for any hiker.
They also strengthen your lower back and hip flexors, further boosting your hiking prowess.
A robust core is like an invisible shield, helping you to maintain balance on uneven terrain, carry a backpack comfortably, and prevent fatigue on long treks.
Meet the sixth exercise in our hiking workout plan: tib raises. This lesser-known exercise is a hidden gem in strengthening your tibialis anterior (shin muscle).
Keeping your heels firmly on the ground, lift your toes as high as you can towards your shins. Lower them back down, completing one rep.
You can also use equipment if you’re serious about strengthening the tibialis anterior (check out of guide on the best tib bars to enhance this exercise).
Tib raises primarily target the tibialis anterior… that long muscle running down your shin. A strong tibialis anterior can help prevent shin splints, a common issue for many hikers, as well as reducing the impact of hiking on the knee joint.
Lucky number seven in our workout plan introduces the classic calf raise. Simple, effective, and absolutely essential for hiking preparation.
Stand tall on the edge of a step or a raised platform, with your heels hanging off the edge. Keep your core engaged.
Press down into the balls of your feet to raise your body upward. You should rise as high as you can, balancing on your toes, with your calves contracting. Hold for a moment at the top and then slowly lower your heels down below the platform level, feeling a stretch in your calf muscles.
You can either do this with both feet or one foot at a time (to increase the difficulty).
Calf raises primarily target your calves, strengthening them to endure the constant uphill and downhill of hiking trails.
We’ve reached the grand finale of our hiking workout plan: the mighty squat.
Start by standing tall, feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Extend your arms straight out for balance (or hold a weight like a barbell or kettlebell).
Lower your body as if sitting on an imaginary chair behind you, going as deep as you can while keeping your chest lifted and your spine neutral.
Push your knees out, ensuring they don’t cave inwards. Drive through your heels to push back up to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.
Squats target your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, effectively strengthening your lower body. These muscles are essential for providing power and stability, whether you’re tackling rocky terrains, steep inclines, or slippery descents.
This hiking workout plan, designed for two days a week, is a great way to boost hiking performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
Don’t forget to complement this plan with upper body training and cardio on non-training days for a well-rounded fitness approach.
Happy training and even happier hiking!