Hiking & Conditioning
Once a new hiker has acquired the necessary
gear and has a working understanding of how to use each of the
10-13 essentials, the next element to consider in wilderness travel
is personal level of physical conditioning. The wonderful thing
about hiking is that just about everyone, at any age level, can
participate. Hikers will want to consider the following fitness
categories as they relate to their own conditioning levels:
· Sufficient cardiovascular training base to be adequately
prepared for participation on hikes. In general, 2-3 aerobic workouts
a week including 20-45 minutes of walking, hill or stair climbing,
elliptical cross training, or other suitable aerobic exercise
that works the muscles in the legs will help with hiking conditioning.
· Adequate strengthening of any muscle groups important
for hiking that are known to be particularly weak. That may be
hips, lower back, shoulders, the large muscles around the knees,
or perhaps smaller muscles in the feet, ankles and calves.
· Knowledge of how to stretch muscles that get tight following
activity. The muscles that tend to get tight after long hikes
with a loaded pack are hips, lower back, calves, quads, glutes,
hip flexors, shoulders, and hamstrings, all to varying degrees
depending on individual body types.
· Existence and correction of any pre-existing physical
conditions that need to be addressed before going on any wilderness
outings, such as lower back pain, bad ankles, a torn Achilles
tendon, or weak knees. A sports medicine doctor, physical therapist,
or qualified outdoor conditioning specialist can help address
In the conditioning lecture portion
of the course, students will learn a few appropriate leg, hip,
shoulder and core strengthening exercises as well as stretches
for those muscle groups that get stressed most frequently during
wilderness activities. Students will also have a better understanding
of how to gradually ramp up physical training to prepare for a
great summer of hiking without strains or injuries.
Training Guidelines for Proper
The best way to train for a summer of hiking is to … hike,
of course! But before you hit the trails, you may want to do some
aerobic (read: heart and lungs) conditioning to get you prepared.
How? Try walking around a local Lake or Park several times a week.
If you have access to a treadmill, try adjusting the incline angle
so that your body gets used to going uphill. Even better, find
a steep hill near your home or a walking route that has several
gradual hills and walk up and down the hills for anywhere between
20-45 minutes, depending on whether you are just starting your
program or, later in the season, getting ready to go on a hike.
Stair steps in your office building or apartment are also great
for training for steeper hikes. The ‘Stairway to Health’
Program is an excellent training program which you could even
introduce to your office and colleagues.
If you happen to enjoy jogging, that’s
another good option. However, remember that when you go out on
a hike, you probably will be carrying a pack and traveling at
a slower walking pace. To prepare your hips and legs for the added
weight, once you can walk for 30-45 minutes at a sustained pace
without a pack, start carrying a backpack one or two times a week.
Try carrying 15# the first time and add 5# every other week until
you’re at your target hiking weight.
Training Guidelines for Proper
This part is a little harder to learn simply by reading about
it, so the in-class practice with the exercises will be quite
useful. Strength training can help make every outdoor activity
feel much easier and hence a lot more enjoyable, can help prevent
injury by allowing you to maintain appropriate muscle balance,
and also is crucial for weight reduction, if that is of any concern
to you. Check out Lunges, Reverse Step-Ups, Dirt Digger, and 1-Leg
Deadlift, all of which are included on our web site. All of these
exercises develop your balance, coordination, and require that
you maintain good form throughout. All can be done standing, just
as you’d need for hiking, and each will help you with a
particular group of hiking muscles. Form will be discussed and
practiced in the lecture. Try to remember that anytime you try
a new exercise, your muscles are not used to them, so you may
feel a bit of soreness 24-48 hours afterwards. That is normal.
With practice, your body will get used to the exercises and the
soreness will go away. However, if you experience something beyond
soreness, and the affected body part is really painful, then you
may have overdone it. It’s best to try with no weight first
and gradually add.
If you have access to some gallon jugs
filled with water, a backpack, or several dumbbells, you have
all you need to strengthen your legs and core (abdominals and
lower back muscles) for hiking. We highly recommend that you try
to use free weights for your strength training, rather than machines,
as machines support too much of your body and require very little
integration of various large muscle groups together. For each
exercise, a general rule of thumb is to start with a weight that
is light enough to allow you to perform anywhere from 1 to 3 sets
of 8-15 repetitions with perfect form, and gradually add sets,
reps or weight as you increase your strength. Be sure to change
your workouts every 4-6 weeks or so as your body adapts to the
program, so that you continue to stay interested, make good progress,
challenge your body, and have fun.
Training Guidelines for Proper
Flexibility and Balance
If you know ahead of time that you are stiff in certain muscle
groups, you may want to invest in a good stretching video or take
a yoga class. A qualified exercise instructor can also help you
develop a program that will address your needs. In general, stretching
should always feel good, not painful. Be sure to warm up well
before doing your stretching, and if that means putting your stretches
at the end of the workout, that’s probably better than putting
it first thing, before you’ve had a chance to warm up. Try
holding your stretches for 20-30 seconds, and gradually increase
the stretch as you ease into it, rather than going for maximum
range the very first second to you into the stretch. Three that
we’ll do in class are for the lower back (roadkill) and
hips, hips and thighs (frog stretch), as well as the calves (step
Putting it all together
Once you understand the components you need to include for a well-balanced
hiking conditioning program, the final step is to determine what
your unique goals will be. Would you like to attempt a few easy
hikes that gain less than 1000 feet of elevation and are shorter
than five miles in length with your family or friends? The conditioning
program needed to attain the first goal will look considerably
different from that necessary to attain the second goal. If your
goal is to be able to get to the top of your local mountain then
your program for the first two months might look something like
Weeks 1-2: Get moving!
Cardio: 2x/wk. 20-30 min. each, 60-70% MHR. Choose walking, jogging,
stairs, stairmaster, treadmill, Elliptical machine, or hill hiking
to train appropriately
Activity Specific: Weekend hike (Tiger, little Si) w/10# pack,
gain 800-1000’ elevation, gentle pace.
Weeks 3-4: Develop a stronger
fitness foundation 3-5x/wk.
Cardio: 2x/wk, 30-45 min., 65-70% MHR. Same choices as weeks 1-2.
Activity Specific: Weekend hike w/10-15# pack, gaining 1000-1200’
Strength: 2x/wk, full body, 20 min. 2 sets of 12-15 reps, 6-8
major muscle group free-weight exercises specific to climbing/hiking/scrambling.
Weeks 5-6: Build muscular strength
Cardio: 3x/wk, 45 min., 65-75% MHR; one day city hill hike w/15-20#
Activity Specific: Weekend hike w/15-20# pack, gaining 1200-1500’
Strength: 2x/wk, 20-30 min, 2-3x8-10 reps, full body strength,
Weeks 7-8: Increase muscular
Cardio: 3x/wk, 45-60 min, 60-75% MHR; 1 of 3: hill intervals or
stairs w/20# pack
Activity Specific: Weekend hike w/20# pack; 1500-2000’ elevation
Strength: 2x/wk, 30-45 min, 2-3x12-15 reps, change exercises from
As always, listen closely to your body.
If you are brand new to exercise, it might be a good idea to have
a complete physical before starting on any exercise program. If
you are familiar with exercise, or already have some knowledge
of training for hiking and have an aerobic base established already,
you might be ready for more elevation gain earlier in the program.
The best way to train is safely, gradually, and carefully.
Happy hiking and like with any summit,
it takes ‘One Step at a Time’ even to the top of Canada
and Mount Logan.
Enjoy being healthy in your journey.