5 Best Training Exercises for Hiking

written by Sophia Perry

Hiking is not just a not-so-leisurely stroll through the woods. It involves scenic routes, stunning views, and an escape from the hectic buzz of the city. However, to enjoy all these perks, you have to be in shape. You have to agree that you can’t fully appreciate the beauty around you if you struggle to catch your breath and feel worried about the journey back. Many believe that training for hiking only involves, well, going on hikes. However, that’s not all it takes. While you definitely should do that, you should introduce some exercises into your routine that can help tremendously. Therefore, to help you get in shape and relish everything that nature can give you, we have prepared the 5 best training exercises for hiking. Also, we will provide you with a quick overview of what to focus on when training to become a strong hiker.

How to train for hiking

While hikes have a lot to offer, you will hardly enjoy them if you simply wake up, throw on some hiking shoes and find the nearest trail. Unless you are highly active already, you will have to prepare for a hike. 

And the reason for that is pretty evident. Hiking trails are not flat surfaces you regularly walk on. They are uneven, there is often some elevation, and you will likely encounter some obstacles. The good news is that training exercises for hiking won’t require hours at the gym. So, here is what you will have to focus on.

  • Strength. You must strengthen the major muscles hikers use. These are your leg and core muscles. If these are strong, it will be easier to support the load you carry. And you will be able to hike for longer.
  • Endurance. Hiking can take all day. Therefore, you have to build endurance in those muscle groups you use the most: legs, core muscles, shoulders, lower back. 
  • Balance. Since you will have to navigate uneven terrain, you need a more stable base.
  • Cardio. It would be best to complement your exercise plan with a form of cardio workout. Choose an aerobic exercise you enjoy, for instance, running or cycling.
Two people hiking towards a snow-capped mountain
If you want to enjoy your hikes you have to be ready and healthy.

Important tip: Before you begin training, consult your doctor and a certified trainer. It’s imperative you ensure you are in good health. Also, if you don’t know what you are doing, you can easily get hurt performing different exercises.

Training exercises for hiking

Now that you know what your focus should be when preparing to become a hiker, here are the best exercises that will help you get there. You could soon be exploring different hiking trails around the world. And believe it or not, after seeing some places, many people have decided to move. For example, New York is a popular destination for hikers, and those who live in Brooklyn often enjoy hiking tours. Besides being one of the most beautiful, it is also a very family-friendly neighborhood. So, if you decide to make Brooklyn your home, you won’t lack activities to enjoy with your family, and you will undoubtedly have many trails to tackle.

1. Goblet squats

This exercise is essential for hikers as it helps strengthen all of your major leg muscles (quads, hamstrings, and glutes). These are also the muscles you will use the most on your hikes. 

A woman performing goblet squat

Goblet squat strengthens all your leg muscles.

How to: Take a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it between your hands near your chest. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Stand so that you place your weight on your heels. Slowly start descending into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your legs are bent at a 90-degree angle. Also, make sure your knees don’t bow inwards but try to keep them right above your feet. Sit back into the squat so your knees don’t go over your toes. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, start going up, pushing from your heels. Once standing fully extend your hips and squeeze your glutes. As you progress, gradually increase the weight of your dumbbell or kettlebell.

2. Downhill lunges

Lunges, in general, are an excellent exercise for hikers. It strengthens your leg muscles while improving your balance. But downhill lunges do you one better. Many hikers think that going up is the challenging part. However, the descend will actually lead to pain in your quads. Thus, downhill lunges will prepare you for this, even more strengthening your balance and core.

Two girls doing lunges, one of the best training exercises for hiking

Lunges are an excellent exercise for hikers as they strengthen leg muscles and improve balance.

How to: Find a downhill. Stand keeping your upper body upright. Relax your shoulders, back, and your chin. Step forward with your leg ensuring your core is engaged and lowering your hips until your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Again, your knee must not go over your toes. Keep them right above your ankle. As you start standing up, keep your weight in your heels and step forward with your back leg, placing it next to the other leg. Then do the same with the other leg.

3. Deadlift

The deadlift is another excellent exercise for hikers as it strengthens the hamstrings. You will use these muscles a lot on your hikes. Also, it is a complex exercise that engages many muscles. 

A woman doing a kettlebell deadlift

Another excellent training exercise for hiking is the deadlift.

How to: Start with a lighter kettlebell until you are confident in your form, then begin increasing the weight. Align your feet with your hips and hold the kettlebell with both hands between your thighs. Your spine must be in a neutral position as you hinge at the hips. Stick your bottom out a little as you bend forward, paying attention to keep your back straight. Then, slowly squat until you touch the ground with the kettlebell. On your way back up, hinge at the hips and squeeze your glutes.

4. Hanging knee raises

This exercise will strengthen your core, which will help you support your heavy hiking backpack while you overcome various obstacles. 

How to: Find a bar you can safely hang from. Keep your arms fully extended and your legs straight. Slightly roll your pelvis backward. Raise your knees until they are at a 90-degree angle with your torso, and roll your pelvis up a bit. Hold for a second and slowly lower your legs back to the initial position.

5. Any form of cardio workout

A woman stretching

Stretching is an essential part of every workout plan.

You have to develop some stamina if you don’t want to be huffing and puffing your entire way up. As we have mentioned, you can do whatever you enjoy. Speed walking, jogging, swimming, and even dancing are solid options as long as they increase your heart rate. Getting your heart rate up will build your lung capacity and improve your endurance.

Don’t forget to stretch

No workout plan is complete without stretching. Stretching is a must because it reduces the chances of injury and ensures quick recovery. At the beginning of training, do some dynamic stretching to warm up (a light jog, jumping jacks, high knees, etc.). 5-10 minutes is enough to prepare you for the strength training. Once you have finished training you should do 5-10 minutes of static stretches. Static stretching implies holding one position for some time and are suitable when your body is warmed up and flexible. It will also reduce the risk of injury, speed up recovery, and improve flexibility. So, after the workout, stretch all those big muscles you have used – quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and core. 

Now that you know what some of the best training exercises for hiking are, you can begin preparing. If you are a beginner, you will be more than ready come spring. But if you feel confident, you can enjoy some winter hiking tours. Just make sure you take some precautions, so you stay safe.

Climbing the walls for fitness sake!

The rising popularity of Ireland’s indoor climbing walls.

More and more people are literally climbing the walls every weekend!

The indoor climbing wall was once the sad afterthought in children’s play centres, lurking unused behind the slides and the coloured ball parks.  It was the little used addition at the back of the odd gym with dust gathering on the coloured holds.  Not anymore!  Indoor Climbing Centres are the fastest growing fitness trend for this year.  Once favoured by rock climbers for training and keeping fit in between their mountain adventures, they are now a regular part of many sport and fitness enthusiast’s daily regime’s.  The hardened traditional climbers must now take their turn behind indoor climbers embracing this alternative to the gym. It is a fun way of getting fit. Many indoor wall climbers have no intention of ever climbing outdoors and view heading up the walls after a day at the office as a chance to destress and to get fit.   The weather in Ireland also lends itself to indoor activities too.

Climbing Centres are exciting.  They are basically a multi-coloured playground for adults!  These adrenalin infused centres are also safe places to try an extreme sport without the ever present danger of falling to your death. (Always a plus!) Enthusiasts say it is a very social activity too, as conversation and interaction is more frequent than with your regular gym experience.  Perhaps hanging off a wall by your fingertips is conducive to chatting… who knew?

Where is my nearest indoor climbing wall?

Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway all boast excellent climbing walls centres. There are smaller walls in other locations and Google will help with finding your nearest indoor climbing experience.  However, a full list of recommended climbing centres are available from the mountaineering Ireland website. www.moutaineeringireland.ie. These venues do regular route-setting on the walls, which means there is a constant flow of new challenges for climbers of all levels. Most of the centres have induction courses and training sessions for newbies and they can offer instruction and coaching to climbers of all abilities.  Whether they want to improve their skills or personal performance, or just try something new.

Bouldering versus Lead Climbing?

Boulder climbing has overtaken lead climbing in popularity and is by far one of the most popular sports worldwide.  Bouldering is solo climbing a rock or boulder some 3-5 meters high, with no harness or rope while lead climbing is climbing the holds, but with a harness and or ropes.  Both are skilled activities which challenge the senses, the body and the mind.  While you are not too far off the ground with bouldering, the adrenalin definitely pumps and the sense of achievement is huge.  The Wall is Dublin’s best and biggest bouldering wall with over 1000 square metres of climbing surface and a wide range of angles and features.   A good pair of climbing shoes makes a huge difference to the ease of traversing, while bouldering as grip is definitely a plus.   The thrill of climbing without ropes in a safe environment is a real draw but for many, lead or rope climbing has a sufficient thrill factor and is just as challenging on the body and the mind.

What you Need?

Shorts and T-shirts are the usual choice of attire for indoor climbers. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t have pieces of clothing flapping around as you traverse the boulders, but there are no hard and fast rules for what you should wear.  A regular pair of sports shoes will do just fine for your first try at lead climbing and most centres will have specialist climbing shoes for hire, if you prefer. While climbing shoes are not essential, they will definitely enhance your climbing experience.   Harnesses and ropes are always provided.

So, mostly you just need a go-to attitude and a sense of adventure!

Child’s Play

One of the joys of indoor climbing centres is that they cater for all ages, so they are perfect for family outings, birthday treats and rainy weekend adventures.  The variety of routes on offer and the safety standards mean the young people can build confidence and core strength on suitable climbs.  The brightly hued holds are colour coded for difficulty and the routes allow even small people to achieve dizzying heights in a safe way.  Of course, there is always the embarrassment of having the kids out-climb you on the walls, but their happiness should be a comfort to your bruised ego.

Progressing to the rocks of the real world

Budding climbers often use indoor climbing walls to gain experience of working with ropes in order to progress on to outdoor rock faces.  It’s a wonderful way to pick up many skills and gain experience. However, the transition to climbing outside is not just about fitness level and a working knowledge of the ropes. Searching for climbing holds in the gym is one thing, but facing that grey rock for the real-world equivalent that may be subtly blended into the rock face is another. For this reason, it is recommended that you join a club, or choose an experienced mentor, when you move from the climbing walls to the outside world.  Ireland has many rock climbing and bouldering clubs, who welcome new members while sharing their experience and camaraderie on the cliffs and craggy rocks of Ireland.

The popularity of indoor climbing overtook its outdoor counterpart in the past year. This is only a taste of what is to come as more athletes get a taste for scrambling over boulders and shimmying down climbing walls!  Sports climbing will make its debut in the 2020 Olympics in Japan and no doubt this will cause another surge of interest.   So, this weekend if you feel like climbing the walls… you know exactly what to do.