Physical preparation for hiking or trekking (12 exercises)

Do you like to walk on trails? You love long walks in the forest, on the hills or in the mountains. Do you enjoy the mental and physical well-being that it gives you?

Many share this passion and will agree that any of these long walks requires an adapted physical preparation. Indeed, it is not enough to think about the quality of the shoes, the contents of the backpack or the walking sticks.

These elements are obviously super important, but your muscles and cardiovascular capacities also require your full attention. This is especially important because hiking in the mountains while carrying a pack, which can be quite heavy, requires a good physical condition.

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Physical and mental benefits of hiking

Getting physically ready for a trek

In addition to being a great ally for weight loss, walking is excellent for your health. This type of physical activity, walking and weight bearing, requires your bones and muscles to work together against gravity.

This means that hiking provides the following benefits, among others:

  • Helps your body build or maintain bone density;
  • Improves sleep quality;
  • Stimulates good mood by promoting the release of endorphins, a brain chemical that triggers positive feelings;
  • Helps improve body markers associated with blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  

And, to finish with the list of benefits, trekking or going on a long hike builds muscle, strengthens your joints and eliminates fat.  

Muscles used in a trek

This physical activity targets several muscle groups, mainly those of the lower body: 

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings (back of thighs)
  • Calves
  • Buttocks
  • Hip muscles
  • Obliques
  • Abdominals

 Equipped with trekking poles and a backpack, your arms, shoulders and upper body will also be well exercised. And the rougher the terrain you choose, the more muscles you'll use. In all, 85% of your muscles can be used, much more than with jogging!

If you want to see in pictures what muscles are working during a simple walk, watch this short video by Dr. Marco Arkesteijn from the Department of Sports Science at Aberystwyth University.

Fitness and training

Whether your hikes are only scheduled once or twice a year or on a more regular basis, it is important to keep every muscle in your body strong so that you come back from each one delighted with your performance, with little or no pain, and most importantly, without injury.

A good regular training program throughout the year will allow you to : 

  • Keep your muscles strong
  • To have a good sheathing
  • Develop their endurance
  • Increase your balance (essential on uneven ground)
  • Maintain good cardio. 

All the muscle strengthening exercises that will be detailed next can be divided up according to your usual annual program. However, when a hike is scheduled, it is beneficial to have a specific program for the last 2 weeks:

  • 2 non-consecutive days of strength training
  • 3 non-consecutive days of cardio-training
  • 2 non-consecutive days off
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It is preferable to decrease the intensity of training the 2 days before the ride.

To get the most out of the exercises, take only 15 to 30 seconds of rest between each set of the same exercise. When you change exercises, take a 2 minute breather before moving on to the next one.

Exercises should be started gently, after a warm-up, and the addition of weights or resistance, as well as the increase in pace, should be gradual during the workout. 

Adjustable dumbbells 40kg

Physical preparation : 12 exercises

Here are some exercises that are particularly effective for this preparation. You can do them at home.

1. Squat to overhead press

This exercise combines a squat to work the lower muscles with the rapid lifting of a moderate amount of weight to build strength. Properly executed, it works the glutes, thighs and shoulders (deltoids) in one movement. It can be done with dumbbells or some elastic bands.

Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand on either side of your shoulders or the handles of the rubber bands (the tubes run across the back of your shoulders).

Push your hips back and bend your knees as if you were going to sit on an invisible chair a little behind you. Your thighs should be at least parallel to the floor. You can even go down a little more if you are flexible enough, but the back should remain straight.

Return to a standing position, if possible without locking your knees. Using your momentum, raise the dumbbells above the head, arms straight and palms always turned towards each other.

Return to the squat position to finish your repetition and start the next one.

Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps. 

2. Goblet squat with weights

Take a dumbbell or kettlebell between your hands and hold it close to your sternum.

Place your feet hip-width apart and keep your weight in your heels.

Slowly lower yourself at least until your thighs are parallel to the floor. You should bring your buttocks back to feel the weight in your heels.

Once you are parallel to the floor, push off your heels to straighten until your hips are fully extended.

Repeat this movement 15 times.

Gradually increase the weight used to achieve a more difficult exercise. 

3. Frankenstein walk

Stand with your arms straight out in front of you, palms down.

Lift your right leg up to extend it, creating a 90-degree angle with your body. Try to raise your leg until the tip of your foot touches your fingertips.

Lower your right leg to the ground, then raise your left leg in the same manner.

Continue for one minute if possible.


4. Hip flexor stretch

Follow the video to understand the explanation:

Take a large step forward with the right foot and place the left knee on the ground. The knee of the right leg forms a right angle.

Contract your buttocks and keep your chest upright.

Extend the arm on the side of the knee on the floor upward, then stretch the entire left side gently as if you were reaching for something on your right. Then rotate your torso slightly to the left.

Hold the position for a few seconds, then switch sides.

Repeat 3 times on each side.

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5. Step up

Stand in front of the stepper or rack of your choice, about a foot high. Place your left foot on the stepper and raise your right knee toward your chest. Repeat 10 to 15 times, then switch sides.

Do 3 sets per leg. 

6. Side plank

The side plank is a great exercise for developing obliques, glutes and hip muscles. You can also add the top leg raise to strengthen the hips and gain endurance.

Lie on your right side, with your elbow under your shoulder; your right forearm can be placed alongside your body or extended upward. Your legs and feet should be on top of each other.

Contract your core by lifting your hips to form a plank, creating a straight line from head to toe.

If you can, slowly lift your left leg upward, keeping it straight. Keep your hips still.

Lower and raise your leg for 30 seconds.

Repeat the exercise while lying on your left side. 

7. Hip Clock

Imagine yourself in the center of a clock, with your weight centered on one leg, the right one to begin with.

Stand with your right knee slightly bent.

Lift and extend your left leg, stretching it forward toward 12 o'clock. Put your heel down at 12 o'clock and bring your leg back to the center.

That same leg should then extend to the right (toe in at 3 o'clock), back to the center, then back to the back (toe in at 6 o'clock), back to the center, then to the left passing behind the right leg (toe in at 9 o'clock). Of course, you can add hours to your clock as in the video 😉

The hips do not move.

Do this same series with the other leg.

Do 5 sets on each leg, for a total of 10.

8. Lunges

Start in a standing position with your hands on your hips.

Take a big step as if you were starting to walk in long strides. The longer the stride, the more effort will be put into the glutes. Conversely, a shorter stride will put the effort on the quadriceps.

Let the back leg go down until the knee touches the ground. Stand up and repeat 10 times before switching sides.

Do 3 sets per leg, for a total of 6. 

9. Mountain climbers

Get into a plank position with your arms straight and your body upright.

Keep your abs and buttocks contracted. Push your shoulders forward.

Bring your right knee toward your chest while contracting your abs even more to keep your body as straight as possible, in a plank position. Your right foot lands on the floor.

Quickly switch legs with a short hop. While sending your right leg straight back, bring your left knee toward your chest. 

Continue this movement quickly, as if you were running, while making sure you execute the movement correctly.

For a little visual help go to the article on mountain climbers for abs and cardio.

10. Jumping squats

Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your buttocks to the ground, keeping your knees behind your toes.

When you get up from the squat, push off on your heels and jump a few inches off the ground.

Land gently and immediately do another squat.

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Do 15-20 reps. 

11. Bridge with abduction

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted on the floor.

Raise your hips toward the ceiling by contracting your gluteal muscles, then spread your knees as wide as possible.

Tighten your knees and slowly bring your hips toward the floor without almost touching it.

Repeat this movement 15 times.

12. Sumo Deadlift

This exercise can be performed with 1 or 2 dumbbells or 1 kettlebell.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, like Japanese sumo wrestlers.

Hold the dumbbells in front of you, palms facing your thighs.

Rotate the toes outward 30 to 45 degrees.

Descend by bending the hips and knees. The chest leans forward while remaining straight. Bring the dumbbells as close to the ground as possible and pull up.

Contract your glutes as you push through your legs to return to a standing position.

Repeat this movement 10 times.

Warming up and stretching

Before any physical exercise, indoors or outdoors, a warm-up is essential. Do it before your hike because the risk of injury is greater outdoors. Here are some of the benefits of warming up: 

  1. Prevent muscular pain.
  2. Reduce the risk of injury
  3. Improve physical performance

Don't think it takes time, because 5 to 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and warming up before a strength training session is enough.

Do some neck, shoulder and hip rotations as well as jumping jacks, high knees and butt kicks. These will get your heart rate up while warming up your body for weight training.

The other essential action to prevent pain, due to the accumulation of lactic acid, and to avoid injury, is to do static stretching.

Remember to perform them after every workout and every hike while your body is warm and supple.

Stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and abdominal muscles. Remember, this is not optional!

NOTE : Stretching after a workout should be very short so as not to damage the muscles. The objective is only to relax the muscles and 5 to 10 seconds of stretching is enough to achieve this.

How to prepare physically for the hike - Conclusion

Mental and physical preparation is essential to enjoy rather than suffer. Endurance and consistency are two qualities that a hiker must have or cultivate.

Knowledgeable hikers advise keeping in mind 2 equally important points for good preparation:

  • Be committed to your pace;
  • Correctly assess the level required for the course (distance to be covered, type of terrain and elevation gain, altitude and weather conditions).

Based on all of these points, there are a few things that need to be done, including:

  • Have appropriate clothing (including sunglasses and cap)
  • Wear the right size shoes and quality socks
  • Carry healthy and appropriate foods to meet energy needs
  • Bring water
  • Bring a medical kit (especially special dressings for blisters)
  • Bring a survival kit for a multi-day hike or trek.

After a good physical preparation and planning, go for it and have fun!

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