Which Exercise Helps Prepare for Uphill Hiking

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Find out which exercise gives explosive power for hiking uphill

Article Written by James Lantz

Do you need to train for uphill hiking?

The question is not simple to answer because everyone is in a different situation. It depends on many factors such as what type of terrain will you be hiking, is it a short or long hike, at what altitude, multiple days or just an afternoon hike, what type of weather will you expect, how much gear will you be caring in your backpack, what is your physical condition, and will there be a lot of hills or switchbacks? Are you hiking with a heavy boot or a light sandal?

Recently, I hiked up a mountain that was above 19,000 ft with two others. I’m in my early 30’s and started to train three months in advance. The other was in his mid 30’s and never prepared and also smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. The 3rd person was in his 60’s and started training six months in advance. We all made it to the summit, but some of us had to train more than others, and some are more like a mountain goat than a human.

It is recommended that you do train for your uphill hike. The more prepared you are, the better experience you will have. If you are huffing and puffing the whole way up, you might not be able to enjoy your time. Hiking preparation is key to enjoying the hike.

How walking uphill builds muscle

When walking on a flat surface, your body doesn’t use most of its muscle tissue in your legs. When you begin to hike uphill, more and more muscle groups are engaged from your lower body and even some of your upper body. That’s one reason why anytime you start to go uphill; you notice your body working harder. The main muscles used when walking uphill are the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Which hiking exercise helps prepare for uphill hiking and mountain hiking?

There are several exercises and activities you can do to prepare for hiking uphill. Training for hills will help improve your overall experience, whether you are training to climb your first 14k ft mountain or planning on hiking a trail with lots of hills with switchbacks. The three main principles that you need to focus on is endurance, strength, and flexibility for your hiking workout.

Start with improving your endurance

There are many exercises that you can find that will help strengthen your legs and core, but nothing will prepare you better for uphill hiking than endurance activities such as hiking, walking, or running. If you are planning a trip that includes a lot of elevation gain, but you live in a relatively flat area, then there are a few exercises that you can do to help improve your endurance. Walking or running is the most natural way to enhance your leg strength, and that is the most important thing you can focus on.

Preparing for Hiking Uphill on a Treadmill

If you are looking for a comfortable and controlled environment, then treadmills are a great option to train for your next hike, try walking on a treadmill with an incline. Every person will be at a different physical level, so make sure not to overdo it at first. Find a pace and slope that is comfortable, and as you go, you can increase the speed or incline. If you are first starting, try walking at an incline for 15 minutes. Again, depending on your physical condition, you will need to adjust your speed and incline. Another tip, walking on a treadmill at a constant speed and incline is not natural. When you are hiking, there will be parts of the trail that are steeper than others. When you are walking on the treadmill, change the incline up and down every couple of minutes.

Alternatives to Treadmill

If you live in an area that has hills, then walking or running outside is the best option. There will never be a better replacement than walking or running outside. Treadmills are great, but they are easier to walk or run because the machine is literally pushing your legs for you.

Prepare for Hiking Uphill on a Stairmasters

Stairmasters are a great way to train for your next big hike or summit. Like the treadmill, Stairmasters are a great way to build strength and endurance. You can adjust the speed and intensity. The faster you go, the more calories you will burn. It is a great way to get a quick workout in. In a half-hour workout, (depending on your weight and difficulty of workout) you can burn 180-260 calories.

Another great benefit of the Stairmasters is that it helps strengthen your core and works on balance. It is harder to maintain your balance on a Stairmaster than a treadmill because you are climbing a hill while pumping your legs and arms.

Alternative Stairmaster Exercises

If you do not have access to a gym, take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Go to a local track or football field where there are stands. Run or walk up and down the stands. One substantial benefit of doing this is that walking down the stands will help train your legs for hiking downhill. Many hikers believe that hiking downhill is harder on your knees than uphill. The weight of your body and the momentum of walking downhill adds to the stress on your legs and knees. Hiking up stadiums is a more realistic exercise than a Stairmaster machine at the gym.

The Mayo Clinic states that climbing stairs helps strengthen and tone your leg muscles. It keeps your leg arteries flexible, allowing blood to move more quickly. Improved blood flow in your legs helps the health of your heart.

Bridge Workout

When you first read ‘bridge workout,’ you must have thought that this was a mistake, but it’s not. If you dislike going to the gym, then this is a great option. Bridge workouts only work if you can find the right type of bridge. If you live in a flat area, like Florida, which has a lot of bridges over waterways and canals. These bridges are long enough and steep enough to replicate a hill. Most of all of them have a sidewalk to keep you safe from the traffic.

Find a bridge that suites your needs and do interval training. You can walk fast up the bridge, then on the way down, walk slowly to catch your breath. As soon as you are at the bottom of the other side, turn around and begin walking up the bridge. You can take breaks if you need to before starting the following interval and adjust your effort accordingly.

Bridge workouts will mimic hiking up and down hills more naturally than any exercise equipment. It will be a little different than what is popular or well-known, but it is practical and fun.

Hill Workout

Hill workouts are another way to prepare for uphill hiking. If you are training for an intensive hike that will have a lot of elevation gain, then walking or running uphill is a great way to build endurance while naturally building muscles that will benefit you for uphill hiking.

If you live in the city, there may be parks within the city limits that offer trails that you can walk. You can also look for state parks that are a short drive away. You might have hills in your neighborhood that you can walk and up-down. Just like the bridge workout, you can do intervals on the hill. Another alternative is to go for a long walk or run to look for hills.

How to Train for Hiking – Strength Training

As mentioned earlier, hiking uphill uses a lot of your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. Strength training is an excellent option because there are a lot of different exercises that you can do from the comfort of your home.

Squats

Squats, when appropriately performed, engages and strengthens the ankle, knee, and hip joints all at the same time. They also strengthen your core. There are also many different varieties of squats that you can try to mix it up a bit.

Lunges

Like squats, lunges help engage and strengthen your core muscles, legs, and glutes. Lunges also help improve your balance because they train one part of your body independently from the other at a time. This will help simulate different situations on the hiking trail. Sometimes you might come across a down tree that you have to climb over. If hiking up a mountain, you may encounter boulders that cause you to climb or crawl over depending on the severity. Another benefit of lunges is that they help improve your hip flexibility.

Planks

Planks are great for improving your core muscle groups, especially your abdominal muscles. They will also help improve your flexibility because planks stretch your shoulders and shoulder blades. Another benefit is that planks help strengthen your arms. Your arms are essential for hiking uphill because the motion of pumping your arms up and down helps move your legs. Like the squats, there are many different variations you can try. Begin with the classic plank if you are just starting.

Leg Raises

Leg raise exercises help improve the flexibility of your abdomen and hips because of the constant moving of your joints. It’s a healthy exercise because you get to lay on your back, work your lower abdominal muscles while stretching.

Steps-Ups

Add step-up to your routine to help improve your leg strength, glutes, and thighs. During other exercises like squats, you may favor your stronger side, but that’s not possible with step-ups. Step-ups help improve your balance by forcing your body to use only one leg at a time. It is also more natural to hiking uphill because a path up a hill may require you to take significant steps because of the uneven surface.

Don’t Forget to Stretch

Stretching is one of the most important activities we can do. However, for some of us, it’s the hardest to get motivated for. After a long workout, many of us just want to take a seat and relax. Stretching is important because it helps prevent tightness and injuries from occurring. Stretching helps expand flexibility and improve your joints’ span of motion. Before stretching, make sure to warm up your first. Static stretching before exercising can do more harm than good because it can damage tissue.

Quad Stretch

Tight quadriceps muscles can lead to back and knee pain or overall stiffness. A simple quad stretch is to stand on your right foot, using your left hand, pull your right foot behind you until you feel a good stretch. Make sure to keep a good posture and your stomach from slouching.  Hold for 30 seconds or more than switch legs.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring stretch is another great stretch to help reduce the overall tension and pressure on the lower back. The hamstring muscle helps us walk and run, which is vital for hiking uphill. There are a lot of different ways to stretch your hamstring. One way is to use a table, chair, or anything like that, but make sure it is shorter than your hip height. Stand straight up, and place one leg on top of the table or chair. Keep the toes that are on the table pointed towards the sky. Bend forward at the waist and extend your arms toward your foot on the table until you feel a good stretch. Hold for 30 seconds or more.

Hip Flexor

The hip flexors are important because they allow you to lift your knees and flex around your waist. They are located on the upper thigh thighs and below the hipbones. This stretch is popular among those who sit in an office setting for hours at a time because it helps avoid lower back stiffness or pain. To perform this stretch, kneel with one knee on the ground, keep your other leg in front of you for stability. Keep your back straight and your core intact. Lean forward slowly while keeping the weight on your front leg. Hold the position for 30 seconds or more before switching legs.

Calf Stretch

Your calf muscle runs along the back of your lower leg. Find a wall or some structure that you can put your weight against. Place your right foot behind your left foot and slowly bend your left leg forward while keeping your right knee straight. Make sure to keep your back straight and your hips forward. Hold this for 30 seconds or more before switching legs and repeating.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to train for uphill hiking. The key take a ways are focus on your endurance, strength, and flexibility. With those three things you will be better prepared for your next up hill hike.

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