If you have ever hiked in the hills, you will know that it is a very different proposition from a light ramble through the countryside. When you start walking uphill, your legs can tire quickly, you find yourself short of breath and, if you’re not used to it, it can become a real ordeal.
Here is a short guide I have put together on which exercises to do to help prepare yourself for some of the more difficult trails so you’re in the right condition to overcome the challenge…and enjoy yourself!
Which Exercise Helps Prepare For Uphill Hiking?
Do You Need To Prepare For Hiking?
If you just plan to hike short and flat trails, only a moderate degree of fitness is required, and hiking is an excellent way to keep in shape in itself. However, if you plan to tackle some more challenging treks which may include steep inclines or continuous uphill stretches, some preparation will help.
If you are in suitable physical condition for the hike, the whole experience will be much easier and more enjoyable. You will be able to appreciate the scenery and beautiful nature surrounding you. If the trail is too difficult, you will spend the whole time suffering and wishing you weren’t there.
If you are in better shape, you can consider attempting some more difficult and more rewarding treks, and walks in the mountains can offer some stunning views. If you are fit and healthy, you are also less likely to injure yourself while out hiking.
Finally, some of the world’s most spectacular treks can take you up to high altitude where the air is thinner, it is more difficult to breathe and people tire quicker. If you are not in good enough shape, you will not be able to consider such treks and attempting them could even be dangerous.
In general, there are three areas of physical fitness you need to work on to prepare properly for uphill hiking or walking in mountainous areas: stretching, strength training and cardio.
Stretches are important to help avoid injuries while exercising, and having a supple and flexible body will also minimize injuries sustained when out walking too. Stretching should never be done ‘cold’ – you should warm up before starting your stretches. Five to ten minutes of light jogging would be sufficient.
Quads are the large muscles on the front of the thigh. You can stretch your quads by standing on one foot and pulling your other foot up behind your back. Hold for 15-30 seconds. It may be easier to balance yourself with a wall or a chair for this.
The hamstring is the large muscle on the back of the thigh. You can stretch it by sitting on the floor with both legs in front of you. Bend one knee and turn that leg sideways and put your foot against your inner thigh then reach forward to your other foot. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
The calf is the muscle on the back of your lower leg. To stretch it, stand against a wall with one foot forward and one back. Bend the knee of your front leg, keep the back leg straight and your foot on the floor. Transfer your weight onto the back leg until you feel the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
You also need to stretch your back and abdominal muscles. Lie on your front and, keeping your legs on the ground, push up so you arch your back. Hold the position for 15-30 seconds.
Glutes are the muscles around your hips and your behind. Stretch them by lying on your back with your legs straight then bend one leg and pull it up to your chest. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Then, from this position, pull this leg over the other one and hold for 15-30 seconds.
2. Strength Training
Hiking up steep slopes or on sustained uphill paths can quickly tire legs not used to such activity and if you are planning to attempt these kinds of trails, you should prepare by increasing your lower-body strength. These exercises can all be done at home with no special equipment.
Stand with a straight back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel with the ground then straighten up again. Repeat 10-20 times. Once you can do this comfortably, try with your hiking backpack on and gradually increase the weight to make it harder.
This is a very simple exercise. Simply stand at the bottom of the stairs and step up onto the first step and step back down again. Repeat as many times as you need to get a good workout. As with squats, do it with a pack on and add more weight to increase the difficulty.
Sit on a chair with a straight back and raise one leg until it is straight. Hold for a few seconds and then lower it. Repeat 10-15 times with each leg. You can use ankle weights to increase the difficulty.
Lie on your side and lift your leg into the air. Repeat 10-15 times with each leg. This exercise is designed to strengthen your glutes. To ensure you are working the right muscles, roll slightly forward and lift your leg slightly back.
Core Strengthening Exercises
You also need good core strength for hiking. You can use traditional core exercise like press-ups, sit-ups and crunches for this.
Perhaps the best way to prepare your body for hiking is…hiking! Start off with easy, flat trails and gradually increase the distance and difficulty of your hikes. Your body will soon become conditioned to the rigors of extended walking.
The final element of good preparation for hiking is to work on your cardio levels. This is especially important if you plan to do any hiking at higher altitudes and it is also important for any kind of uphill hiking.
There are many ways to work on cardio and with no special equipment, you can simply go for a run. Cycling and swimming are also good choices. If you go to a gym, you can also use some of the machines there for working on cardio.
Hiking is an excellent way to keep fit in itself but if you want to attempt some of the more advanced trails, you need to make sure you are in suitable condition. If not, at best you will simply not enjoy it. At worst, you may find yourself stranded in the mountains and the situation can become dangerous.
You don’t need to pay to join a gym and I have introduced some simple exercises you can do in the comfort of your own home to help you prepare for the hills. If you follow this guide to prepare for uphill hiking, the harder trails will no longer hold any fear for you.
Do you have any particular exercise regime for hiking fitness? Which stretches or exercises do you recommend? I’m always keen to hear from you guys – and if you liked my article, please don’t forget to share!