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Exercises for Hikers

Whether you are an avid hiker or you just enjoy hiking recreationally, this blog is going to outline some great exercises that are hiking specific to help you crush your next hike! Often times, we don't necessarily think to train for hiking outside of just walking or improving cardiovascular endurance. However, depending on the terrain you will face, elevation gain and descent, or maybe even a good rock scramble, hiking can be very physically demanding. It is important to prepare your body accordingly, so that you not only can physically perform the challenges of the hike, but also get the most of it and not have your body feeling wrecked the next day.

I happen to love hiking because it is a great way to spend time outdoors and get to explore this beautiful country. Pictured above is myself on a recent hike I did near Palm Springs in the Indian Canyons area and as you can see, I definitely encountered rough terrain and elevation gain with a descent because I started and ended that hike in the valley to my left. In this blog, I will outline 4 different areas that are needed for hiking and exercises to help improve each of those ares:

  1. Endurance

  2. Elevation Gain

  3. Descending

  4. Rock Scrambling


Endurance is a given with hiking whether you prefer shorter hikes or the challenge of a lengthy hike, there is an endurance component to every hike. In the video below, we show 3 different exercises that help improve our capacity for breathing and cardiovascular endurance.

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing to help improve lung capacity and can also be used as a great tool to work on deep breathing to help slow down your breath and calm yourself when you get into a challenging stretch on your hikes.

  2. Thoracic foam roller extension helps to improve thoracic (mid back) mobility, which is necessary to help improve lung capacity. Our ribs attach to our thoracic spine, so in order to have proper rib mobility and function to allow for expansion of the lungs, we need to have good mobility in our mid back.

  3. Tabata circuits are a great way to elevate your heart rate and increase your breathing, which overall will help improve your endurance and cardiovascular output. A traditional tabata circuit is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 8 sets.

Elevation Gain

Not all hikes involve a great deal of elevation gain, but it is definitely a common factor in many hikes. While the above exercises help to prepare your heart and lungs for the challenges they will face with elevation gain, there are also specific exercises that we can do to prepare your body and muscles for the climb. Gaining elevation during a hike requires a lot of core stability and also lower body strength and endurance. In this video, we provide for you the following exercises to help with the challenge elevation gains:

  1. Split Stance Kettlebell Press + Rotation is a really great core stability exercise that also involves lower body strength and endurance because you maintain a slight lunge position throughout the exercise.

  2. Tibialis raises focus on the muscles of our shin. Most people regularly train their calves for hiking, but we often neglect the muscles on the front of our lower leg. These muscles work to help pull the foot up towards the shin, which you need for every step you take and also to step over objects.

  3. Band climbers, as they sound, simulate the position and muscles that would be used when climbing up an elevation. When we push off of our leg for the next step, it requires a lot of posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves) activation and this movement hits these target muscles.


Obviously if you gained elevation to get to your hiking destination, you have to come back down at some point. While the ascent, may be more challenging on the heart and lungs, descending is often more challenging on the legs and knees. Descending requires us to be able to lower ourselves in a controlled manor, which requires our quads to work eccentrically. What that means is that the muscle is contracting and lengthening at the same time, which is the hardest type of contraction for a muscle to do. In this video we focus on 2 exercises to work on eccentric quad control, which will help you control yourself down the descent. And 1 exercise that helps to strengthen the soleus muscle (part of your calf), which is also very active when walking downhill and can help with control at the ankle joint.

Rock Scrambling

Who doesn't love a good rock scramble??? This happens to be one of favorite parts of hiking (as you can see in the picture)! I love the challenge of climbing the rocks and also the extra adventure. This picture is from another hike I did while in Palm Springs when we visited Joshua Tree National Park. I highly recommend exploring this area if you have never been before. There is great hiking and the landscape/terrain is so unique.

Out of all these hiking areas, rock scrambling probably requires the most technical movements. It requires a combination of control, core stability, and both upper and lower body strength and flexibility. These things are important to help you maintain balance, find the next good foot or hand placement, and to lift or lower yourself on the rocks. The exercises in the video below address the control and flexibility needed for a rock scramble.

Wrapping Up

Before you head out on your next hiking adventure look to start incorporating these exercises into your workout routine and keep in mind it is important train more that just endurance for hiking. Adding these exercises will help improve your performance on the hike and also reduce your risk for developing pain or injury from not preparing properly for your hikes. If you are dealing with an injury or pain that is keeping you from hiking or going on more challenging hikes, reach out today at 515-985-9038 or click the link to schedule a Free Discovery Call to learn more about how we can help.

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