As we make our way through another beautiful summer, it’s about time to start talking about those warm weather vacations that are (hopefully) in our near futures. Depending on your travel personality, you may be looking forward to sipping a mini umbrella filled cocktail on the beach, or traipsing through back alleys in an exotic metropolis; but if you’re anything like us, you’re all about spending those PTO hours moving, grooving, and exercising. And one of the best ways to do that is with an intense summer hike!
Hikes can be a sweat-inducing, heart-pounding, and fat-burning way to experience the beauty of nature. Plus, you get to enjoy your leisurely vacation time while staying on the path to health and fitness! So with that in mind, we’ve come up with some excellent hiking exercises to get the proper muscles conditioned and ready to go!
What Muscles Does Hiking Work?
For starters, let’s take an overview of hiking mechanics. When we’re intensively hiking, climbing, hopping over rocks, and squatting under tree limbs, we’re using tons of core and lower-body muscles. Here are a few of the most commonly used:
One of the primary muscle groups involved are our front thigh muscles, or the quads. This is what gives us our propulsion in a forward motion, and assists us in extending our knees while on the trail.
The upper rear thigh muscles help the quads as we bend and flex our knees.
One of the most overlooked lower-leg muscles, the calves are front-and-center hiking muscles that only increase in importance the bigger the incline of the hike.
The glutes play a key role during hikes, supporting our hips, spine, body-weight, and anything we’re carrying on our backs during the hike.
The hip adductors, abductors, and flexors help with shock absorption as well as supporting the lower back.
We use our abs while hiking to keep us upright, stabilize the spine, and to support our low back muscles.
The Best Exercises for Hiking
Now that we’ve identified the key hiking muscles, let’s get to work building them up! Here are the best exercises to help you train for that upcoming hike.
We’d like to preface this by saying that before training for hiking, you’ll want to do a quick warm up of a ten-minute walk around the block, followed by a deep stretching session of your quads, hams, inner and outer thighs, ankles, and core. Then, dive into this hiking training sesh:
Squats just might be the perfect exercise. They’re compound movements that work tons of different muscles. And when it comes to hiking, the jump variety happens to be our fave, as it bumps up your power and performance in your lower legs.
How it’s done:
- With feet about shoulder-width apart, hinge from the hips then bend the knees while bracing the core to maintain the length of the spine.
- Keep your chest up and your knees over your heels.
- Shoot upwards, pushing through the heels and jump a few inches upwards.
- Land softly (think of rolling through the feet).
- Repeat for 20 reps.
An obvious training exercise for hiking, step ups mimic the motion of climbing. In doing so, they work the glutes and quads while increasing your lower-body strength and endurance.
How it’s done:
- Select a stable surface to step onto, that is at least 8 inches in height.
- If you’re able to, choose a number of different surfaces to step onto, from plyo boxes to simple steps around your house, and anything in between.
- Begin with your left foot on the ground and right foot on top of the step.
- Step up with power, pushing through the heel. Balance for a moment at the top of the step, with your right knee softly bent and your left foot hanging an inch off the step.
- Slowly return to your starting position, switch sides, and repeat 20 times on each side.
Reverse Lunges with Knee Raises
A reverse lunge fires up your quads, glutes, and inner thighs, strengthens your core through stabilization, and activates those hip muscles. We recommend performing these hiking exercises off of a riser or step, to increase the intensity.
How it’s done:
- Starting from a standing position (either on the floor or a raised surface), lift your right foot and place it behind your body.
- Balancing on the ball of your foot, lower yourself down, keeping your knee a couple inches off the floor.
- Return to the starting position and lift that same knee up to your waist.
- Place it back down, switch to the opposite leg, and repeat for 15 reps per side.
Bird Dog Balance
This exercise is commonly done in yoga and Pilates classes, and is an excellent way to prepare for your next big climb. That’s because it targets the entire core, which is not just your abdominals but the entire trunk (think of a cylinder), including the glutes, thighs, and mid-back muscles.
How it’s done:
- Begin on all fours, with your shoulders slightly behind wrists and your hips stacked directly above knees.
- Extend your left arm until it’s parallel to the floor, and do the same with your right leg, behind you.
- Stay in that lengthened position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Switch to the other side, and repeat for 20 raises on each side.
Side Plank with Optional Leg Raise
Planks are an excellent way to blast your core; turn it to one side, you incorporate those obliques; lift that top leg— now we’re talking a serious hiking training exercise that’ll have you ready for the steepest of hikes.
How it’s done:
- Start off laying on your side, place lower arm bone down with shoulder slightly behind elbow, and stack your hips and legs.
- Lift your hips up, equal out the weight distribution between supporting elbow and wrist, and keep that bottom hip lifted.
- Lift your top leg above hip level, hold it at the top for a few seconds, then lower back down.
- Try 15 on one side, switch sides, and try 15 more.
Well we hope our list of the best exercises for hiking gets you in gear while you prepare your upcoming summer trek! Looking for a little more fitness guidance? Sign up for a 7-Day Free Trial with Studio SWEAT onDemand! We offer an endless Workout Library with tons of virtual fitness classes, including Bootcamp, Kickboxing, Indoor Cycling, Yoga, Barre, TRX, HIIT, Pilates, and so much more! Sign up today, get those workouts in, then take a hike!