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Training for a Big Hike

Ok in general hiking is pretty simple. So it may sound silly to source exercises for hiking but training for your outdoor adventures may help you enjoy those trips just a little bit more. Or if for whatever reason you find yourself fantasizing over the "hard" trails on AllTrails but don't feel like you'll survive. Maybe you've had an experience where you had to turn back or maybe your friends invited you on a multiday backpacking trip that looks amazing but you feel like you'll be slowing everyone down. There's two things I can say, one, you're probably too in your head about it. And two, there are things you can do at home, in the gym, and on local trails that you can do to prepare and get you confident.



And hey, being physically active is important to overall health, including mental health, so if this is your only motivation to start exercising, use it!


First of all a disclaimer.. I am not a doctor, I am a Certified Personal Trainer, but I am not a doctor and definitely not your doctor. Don't even consider doing anything I say in this article without prior approval from your primary care physician.


Ok now that's cleared up lets talk about hiking. Like I said before it's basically the same mechanics as walking with some of the variables being unstable surfaces like lose rock, uneven surfaces like boulders or slabs, graded inclines and declines, added load like a backpack, and changes in elevation.


If you're new to exercise a good place to start with addressing these variables would be with balance training. Starting with single leg movements like single leg toe touches, or single leg squats can be a good place to start challenging and strengthening those stabilizer muscles used when walking up or down uneven surfaces. These can also be scaled back based on your starting point of mobility.


Another good one for beginners and beyond are step up variations. Step ups (and downs, more on that in a sec..) will be a crucial piece of your training regiment. These can be on a step or box at a gym, stair case, front step, tree stump... I think you get it. These you can do weighted or just body weight and can work in multiplanar movements (different step angles). If you've got a good base you can start experimenting with more technical movements like Peterson Step Ups.


Stepping up is good, but so is stepping down. Training for stepping down was a little weird to me when I first heard it. What's the deal with "its all down hill from here" if the down hill is hard too? Well now that I've had some time under my belt I see that the breaking force on declines or even steps over long durations definitely challenge different muscle groups in different ways and my goodness the KNEES take a beating.


So what movements can we do to help? Step downs. Lots of step downs in multiple directions. If you've gotten these mastered you can begin doing angled step downs, Peterson step downs, and pistol squat variations. If you have a good base you can also work in depth drops.


Now what about strength and endurance? Adding instability, like a bosu ball to any of the balance training, weight to the step ups/downs, and Time-under-Tension (TUT) to any of the above can help improve strength and endurance. But you'll want to start incorporating some traditional strength training exercises to your routine. These are best done in a gym however alternative home workouts can be done but will require weights and some equipment as you progress.


Sticking with a single leg theme for now you have lunges, Bulgarian split squats and single leg leg press. Then you have staggered stance things like staggered Romanian dead lifts and staggered hex bar dead lifts.


Then in more traditional movements you have, squats, deadlifts, Romanian dead lifts, and leg presses.


With these strength training movements incorporated into your hiking training your going to start to increase your overall capacity to do work under load.


Now for the cardio part. Walk and take the stairs as much as possible every day is a great place to start. If you're already doing that, throw on a weighted vest and walk for 30-60 minutes a day. If you're ready and wanting to elevate to a more advanced conditioning start doing HIIT sprints, long runs and trail running. If you have access to one, a stairmill is awesome for indoor cardio. Using the stair mill is one thing, using it without holding on to the bars while wearing a weighted vest and stepping at a decent pace is a whole other thing. So like anything its scalable. I used to do stair mill Sunday's every week as I trained for the Grand Canyon. And last but not least, jump rope. Jumping rope can suck a lot at first, but give it time and patience and it will transform you.


In general incorporating all of the above into a consistent and sustainable routine should help improve your hiking experiences overall.


If you're training for a big hike I would advise incorporating all aspects of the above in a progressive manner to where you end up performing the most challenging versions routinely. I also like to find a similar but smaller hike closer to me where I can test my conditioning and any new gear before the big day.


All in all its a mental game more than anything. If your generally physically able, pick a hike, pick a date and commit. Get to training, have fun, and look forward to meeting the outdoors in better shape to handle whatever comes your way.


If you'd like some one-on-one coaching or a workout plan built specifically for you, reach out, or send an email to justin@ruckingadventures.com , subject line "COACH". Heads up I do charge for these services. I find that most people don't feel properly motivated to participate in something new until there's some "buy-in". It's also a level of commitment I require as I value my time and yours and I don't want you to spend your time with another free workout pdf kicking around on your phone never to be seen again. I want you to get what you want.


Happy hiking

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