How To Get In Shape For Hiking

One of the mistakes that beginners make during their first hiking trip is not preparing enough physically. Preparing for more demanding hiking entails considerable training weeks before the actual trip. For the most challenging adventures, you need to prepare months in advance to avoid suffering through sore muscles, or worse, injuries during or after hiking.

Even moderately experienced backpackers sometimes make this mistake, too. You can’t go from a couch potato to hiking in the wild for days without your muscles feeling the intense work. Most trails are uneven, which requires balance, strength, and endurance. The difficulty increases if you are backpacking alone.

Additionally, preparing for a hiking trip is a great way to lose weight and become active. You can even start tracking calories that you burn for each workout. This can help you balance your diet as well without sacrificing your nutrition (or starving yourself).

So, how do you prepare for hiking? In this article, we will outline how to get in shape for hiking to ensure that you enjoy your trip without suffering through abused muscles or injuries.

Start With Fun Activities and Exercises for Hiking

Anyone who’s experienced training for a type of physical activity will tell you to start slow. The key to starting out is building the habit of moving before your take on more challenging workout plans. Just like hiking, you cannot go from a primarily sedentary lifestyle to lifting the heaviest weights in the gym.

Start with fun activities that you can enjoy while preparing for your actual workout plan. Here are a few things you can do easily.

Walking For Fitness

Walking around your neighborhood is a low-maintenance activity that you can start in your first week. However, to get more benefits from walking, gradually increase your speed. As you walk faster, further, and more often, the greater the rewards.

You may start as an average walker, for example, and then go a little quicker and walk a mile shorter than an average walker, much like power walkers. This may be an excellent method to boost your aerobic exercise, improve your heart health, and build your endurance while also burning calories.

You may also alternate between quick and relaxed walking. Interval training offers several advantages, including boosting cardiovascular fitness and burning more calories than ordinary walking. Interval training also takes less time than ordinary walking.

Consider your posture as this will be invaluable during your hiking trip:

  • Walk smoothly by rolling your feet from heel to toe.
  • Keep your back straight, not arched backward or forward, by slightly tightening your core or stomach muscles.
  • Maintain relaxed lower back, shoulders, and neck.
  • Keep your head up and look straight ahead. Avoid looking down.

10,000 Steps a Day Challenge

Once you get used to daily exercise, expand it to the rest of your day. Ten thousand steps a day is a great way to gamify your workout. It provides a goal for you to reach while tracking your progress. Additionally, you can continue the 10,000 steps a day challenge while progressing to more challenging exercises.

It’s a great casual activity that accumulates throughout the day. Increasing your steps is also a great way to prepare for long hikes or backpacking trips. Here’s a sample four-week plan to gradually increase your number of steps per day. Remember that the steps can be spread out throughout the day, so you can work around your busy schedule.

Better yet, download an app that counts your daily steps to make tracking much easier. Just make sure that you are challenging yourself and increasing the number of steps that you take per week.

Best Strength Training to Get In Shape For Hiking

Two to four weeks into your preparation, start by taking on more formal and planned exercises. You will need to build your strength, endurance, and balance through deliberate and mindful exercises for your hike.

Train groups of muscles at the same time to ensure efficiency and that your body has enough rest per week. You can focus on the following muscle group each day. Remember to warm up and stretch before and after each workout.

Strength Training for Core Muscles

Core muscles are almost always engaged during a hike. As such, developing your core muscles will serve you loads of benefits, especially if you are backpacking on a particularly challenging trail. Here’s a sample routine for strength training your core.

  1. Supermans – Lie face down on your mat, keeping your arms outstretched in front of you and your legs straight. Raise your legs and arms a few inches off the ground, forming a bowl figure with your body. Keep your head in a neutral position without tensing up your neck. Hold for a few seconds with your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back engaged. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  2. Side plank with hip dips – Lie on your side in an elbow plank and your heels stacked. Keep your body straight with your stomach muscles engaged. Slowly lower your hips, so your side hovers off the floor. Press up and slowly return to the side plank. Repeat 15 times per side. If too challenging, do the exercises with knees bent.
  3. Overhead reaches – Stand with a balanced posture or sit tall on a chair. Slowly fully extend your arms overhead. Look up and bring your palms together while stretching your body towards the ceiling. Repeat 15 times.
  4. Bird dogs – Kneel with hands firmly on the ground shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart. With your abs engaged, slowly raise an arm in front of you and an opposite leg behind you. It should form a straight line from your hand to your foot. Keep your back straight, and your hips squared to the ground. Do the same for the other arm and leg. Repeat 20 times, ten on each side.

Repeat the set two to four times, depending on your capabilities. Make sure that you challenge yourself without overextending your body.

Strength Training for Upper Body

On any given hike, you will have to carry your backpack for a considerable amount of time. As such, your upper body should be strong enough to last for most of the day with a heavy pack. Here’s a sample routine to prepare your upper body.

  1. Push-ups – Get on all fours on the floor with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you and balance on your hands and toes. Tighten your core and engage your while you slowly lower your body until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Keep your body straight and avoid sagging or arching your back. Exhale and relax your core muscles as you push yourself back up. This time, engage your chest muscles. Don’t lock your elbows and keep them slightly bent. Repeat 15 times.
  2. Pike push-ups – From a plank position, lift your hips and back until your body forms an inverted “V.” Keep your core and glutes engaged while ensuring straight legs and arms. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your upper body towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly push yourself up until you are in an inverted “V” position again. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  3. Wall angels – Stand with your butt, upper back, and head pressed against the wall. Position your feet a few inches from the wall with your knees slightly bent. Stretch your arms above your head. Slowly slide your arms down while squeezing your mid-back muscles. Keep your body firmly pressed against the wall. Once your elbows are slightly below your shoulders, hold the position for a few seconds. Then, slight your arms back to the overhead position. Repeat ten times.
  4. Shoulder retractions – Hold each end of an exercise band firmly anchored around a solid object such as a pole or bedpost at about waist level. Then, with your elbows at 90-degrees at your sides, pull the exercise band and slowly move your shoulder blades towards each other. Return to your starting position. Repeat 15 times.

woman planking on gray asphalt road

Repeat the set two to four times, depending on your fitness level. If the exercise feels easy, add weight by wearing a backpack with books inside. You can also do more repetitions for each workout.

Strength Training for Lower Body

Lower body strength is paramount to preparing for a hike, especially if you are planning on tackling a mountain trail. Even a casual day hike requires above-average leg strength. Strong legs mean better endurance and balance, which will make your adventure much more enjoyable. Here are a few workouts you can do to strengthen your lower body:

  1. Side lunges – Stand up straight with your feet parallel to your hips. Take a step to your right, bend your right knee, and push your hips back. Maintain both feet flat on the ground. Push off using your right leg and return to the standing position. Do the same for the left side. Repeat 10 times, five for each side.
  2. Step-ups – Stand in front of a stable box or stair step. Step up on your right foot, then press your heel to straighten your leg. Bring your left foot together with your right foot on top of the step. Step down on your left foot, bending your right knee at the same time. Repeat 10 times, then switch to your left foot on top of the step.
  3. Squats – Stand with your feet between shoulder- and hip-width. Keep your shoulders back, spine neutral, and your chest open. Send your hips back like you are sitting on a chair. Lower your hips down and bend your knees in a controlled movement. Maintain your chest lifted and your back neutral. Then, press through your heels and return to the standing position. Repeat 20 to 30 times.
  4. Reverse lunges – From a neutral standing position, take a huge step back with your right foot. Lower your hips to bring your left high about parallel to the floor. Your left knee should be directly over your ankle. And, your right knee should be at a 90-degree angle, pointing towards the floor. Press through your left heel and return to the standing position while bringing your right leg forward. Alternate between legs. Repeat 20 times, ten for each leg.

woman holding dumbbell

Repeat the set two to four times, ensuring enough rest in-between. Use weights or increase the number of repetitions if you feel like the exercises are too easy.

Best Cardio Training To Get In Shape For Hiking

Another way to insert some fun into your workouts is through cardio training. While there are standard exercises that you can do to lose weight and strengthen your lungs, such as jumping jacks, you can choose varied or more challenging workouts to keep you on your toes. Here are a few things you can do for cardio training:

Make Jogging Harder

Jogging is a low-maintenance cardio exercise that is a favorite among hikers as it helps build strength and endurance while engaging the whole body. Long jogging sessions are recommended a week or two before our trip. But, for the rest of your preparation, you might not have much time to work out.

person on trail

As such, you can make jogging more challenging by doing the following:

  1. Choose an uphill track if you have access to such terrain. If not, take advantage of treadmills with different programs or settings in your local gym. Adjust the elevation and speed to challenge yourself.
  2. Wear a backpack filled with something heavy like sandbags or books while jogging. This will also allow your body to get acclimated to carrying a heavy pack.
  3. Change your pace throughout your jogging session. Switch between a relaxed to a sprint depending on your capabilities.

Exercise in the Pool

Swimming is another total body workout that can improve endurance and strength. Obviously, if you are a beginner in swimming, it is best to train with an expert. Joining group sessions or even just a swimming workout with friends is much safer than going at it alone. Here are a couple of tips to maximize your time in the pool:

  1. Focus on form and not distance. Just like any exercise, start slow and listen to your body.
  2. Swim one lap, then take a break. This allows you to gauge how much your body can take.
  3. Swim for 5 minutes, then take about 15 to 20 seconds of a break after each lap. Repeat three to five times for a total body and cardio workout.

Explore Your Locality Through Cycling

Perhaps a one activity that mirrors the intensity of hiking is cycling. It requires stamina and strength, just like a hike with enough variety to keep you focused at the moment. Long bike rides with uphill bursts are perfect for breaking the monotony of your usual jogging or walking sessions. Here are some tips to maximize your biking sessions:

  1. Map out bike-friendly routes in your neighborhood. You can download apps or connect with local biking groups to help you out.
  2. During non-working days, plan out high-mileage cycling sessions. This may last anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours, so ensure that the weather is good and you have enough food and water with you.
  3. Just like jogging, you can challenge yourself by wearing a weighted vest or a backpack to add a bit of weight.

Properly Schedule Your Workout

Now that you know what activities to do to get in shape for hiking, plan out your week to maximize results. Remember not to go from zero to 100, especially if you are starting out from a generally sedentary lifestyle.

Additionally, spreading out your strength training and cardio workout throughout the week prevents overworking your muscles. Exercising the same group of muscles on consecutive days may lead to serious injuries. Also, rest is just as important as your workout. For a beginner, take rest days twice a week to allow your body to recover.

Here’s a potential weekly schedule when training for a hiking trip:

Day Workout
Monday Strength Training for Upper Body
Tuesday Short, Intense Cardio Workout
Wednesday Strength Training for Core Muscles
Thursday Rest Day
Friday Strength Training for Lower Body
Saturday Long, Endurance Cardio Workout
Sunday Rest Day

As with any training, it is best to consult your physician before you begin any significant changes in your activities. If possible, hire a trainer from your local gym to ensure proper technique and form.

Additionally, joining groups can make any strenuous activity much more enjoyable. Better yet, train with your friends who are going on your hiking trip. Experienced hikers can also provide valuable tips when preparing for your hike.

As you take on more challenging adventures, you will build the habit of being active even during your off-season. That’s why hiking is a favorite fitness activity, especially for those who love the outdoors.


Preparing for your next hiking trip starts the moment you set the date. Hiking without the proper condition of your body can lead to sore muscles, joint pains, and even injuries. Unless hiking is part of your daily routine, your body needs to get ready for such strenuous activity. Beginners must start their workout routine weeks before the trip.

Even experienced hikers maintain regular activities in-between trips. The tips and steps above are meant to get you started in getting in shape for hiking. It can also serve as your start in fitness even when you are not preparing for a hike.