Become a hiking hero: aka How to get in shape for hiking

Did you know that it’s possible to get super fit without ever having to run? Really, I mean it and all you need to do is walk. Today we’re going to look at how to get in shape for hiking without breaking a sweat, or any bones.

If you’re doubtful, don’t be. The military is a fine example of a group of men and women who have honed their physical and mental fitness to a fine edge using a weighted ruck and fast walking. If you find the thought of a tough workout appealing, then check out this rucking training plan – six weeks to rucking fit.

So, how do you improve your conditioning for hiking? Like this…

Make a Fitness Plan

You already know this, but having a plan is key to keeping you on track and motivated.

Before you pull up a Word document and start adding tables, columns, exercises, etc pause for a moment and consider some of the wider questions.

For example: how much time do you have to commit to a training schedule? Creating a plan that requires six hours of your time every week when you’re already overloaded with work and life will only lead to disappointment and a corresponding failure to meet your training goals.

Instead, work backwards. On your document, plot out your week including work commitments, family time, hobbies, etc.

Once you have a clear picture of what normal life looks like you can factor in hiking training sessions.

If you’re unsure of what this type of plan looks like, you can download this template that I’ve created. As you’ll see, the various columns and rows are already filled in and all you need do is modify them with your timetable.

Now that you know how much time you have free to start your hiking training journey; you need to think about the various exercises that will give you most bang for your money.

What exercises will you need?

The best combination of training for all round hiking fitness comes from a mix of indoors and outdoors workouts. Although useful, you don’t need to have access to a gym.

Indoor Training or Gym Work

Building a strength training for hiking plan is essential and your focus should be conditioning the key hiking muscles. Lower body exercises that build the strong, enduring muscles you’ll need for hiking include:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Sit-ups (this exercise will improve your core strength, help to keep you upright when walking and provide support when you’re wearing a heavy ruck).

If you don’t have a gym membership, or any weights at home, use a weighted rucksack as an alternative means of doing strength training for hiking.

I’m not going to add a plan here as we’ve already written this guide on how to train for hiking in the gym.

Outdoor Training Activities

This is where you training plan gets a little more interesting.

One vital consideration you should have when getting into shape is how to improve your cardiovascular fitness. The most obvious way to achieve this goal is through running, but some people don’t like running, or may have a condition or injury that prevents them from even jogging.

So, you need to get a little creative.

Raising your heartrate by even 30 beats per minute for a prolonged period of time will create improvements in your fitness. If you’re unable to run, try walking at a pace that, for the first few weeks, leaves you feeling a little out of breath.

As your body adapts simply increase the pace a little more until you’re once again feeling breathless. Keep on adapting until you can cover the distance and terrain without feeling overly tired at the end of the route.

In addition to learning how to stress your heart and lung for positive gains, you want to factor in the type of hike you’re planning and adapt your training to meet the demands.

For example, if you’re planning to be hiking in the mountains your training sessions must include plenty of walking up really big hills and stamina building exercises for your legs. Thru-hikers will want to include long, endurance sessions in their training schedule. should focus on the specific type of hike – thru-hiking, hillwalking aka mountain hiking

How often should you train?

The first question you need to ask yourself is, ‘How often can I train?’ The table you created earlier will give you an indication of how much freed time you have to get your body into the very best shape for you hiking adventures.

Let’s assume you have 5 – 6 hours per week to allocate to you training. Here are a couple of schedules you can use:

Day on day off

3 days one week, 4 days the next. The day on, day off approach to improving your hiking fitness gives you a huge amount of flexibility in your fitness plan.

I’ve used this approach when coming back from injury or a long layoff as this schedule allows you to alternate intensity on a week by week basis. For example, let’s say you train four days of the first with of your sessions being shorter and more intense. On the second week your hiking training plan might consist of 3 longer endurance-type sessions.

Exercising 7 days in every 14 also gives your body plenty of time to recover.

Five Days Per Week

A more common approach to training is to build a plan to be working out 5 days of the week. There are a number of ways you can structure your schedule, but I like to train on Tuesdays, Wednesday’s Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Monday and Friday are rest days.

The reason this works well is that most of you will likely be doing your serious hiking distances on the weekend. Having Friday and Monday off gives your body time to rest and recover.

You don’t need to stick to the schedule above. Some hikers, especially those who have more free time during the week, will plan two consecutive rest days.

Common Hiking Injuries

Knowing how to avoid common hiking injuries is vital. A simple blister can make for an uncomfortable experience and, at it the very worst, could result in your having to abandon your journey.

Image: these blisters were over 3cm in diameter and 1cm deep. They were also very painful.

Lower Limb

By far the most common lower limb injury you’re to experience is the dreaded blister. Here’s a detailed prevention guide.

Sprains are another injury that can rapidly shift from being a minor irritation to an intensely painful experience that will ruin your hike. Most strains and sprains are as a result of poor ankle support in your footwear and the key is to buy shoes, or boots, that are designed for the type of hike you’re going on.

Shin splints are another painful injury that many hikers have the misfortune to experience. In fact, let me just say they can be so painful that you have to abandon your hike. As a former soldier, I know all too well the searing agony that come with a severe case of splints. The injury is caused by pronation of the feet, a problem that can be identified by a Podiatrist and avoided by the use of footwear that fits with your walking style and gait.

Knee, hip and ankle pains used to be something that most hikers accepted as part of the price you pay for enjoying the great outdoors. But it turns out that even this aches and pains can be cured, with ease, by using walking poles which reduce the load and shock placed on your joints.

Upper Body

Upper body injuries tend to be less common but are equally capable of running your hike. The most common complaint is back ache, which is usually caused by a loose, or poorly fitting, rucksack. To reduce the risk, get your rucksack fitting advice from an expert and stick to the advice.

Frostbite is one of the injuries that straddles the boundary between intensely painful and life threatening. Although this type of cold injury can affect any exposed skin, it’s most commonly found on the fingers, nose and face. The early stage of frostbite, called frostnip, is easy to treat – insulate the affected area and keep warm.

Frostbite goes much deeper than frostnip and may require evacuation. Insulated, windproof gloves will keep the worst of the cold from getting at your fingers. And a buff and goggles will shield your eyes, face and ears from the dreaded chill.

Burns hurt and, unless you’re really unlucky or just doing something plain weird, are most commonly found on your hands and fingers. Think about it – how many times have you seared your fingertips trying to light a malfunctioning stove? Most burns tend to be minor and easily treated, major burns make you a candidate for evacuation.

Wrapping Up Your Hiking Training

Getting into shape for hiking doesn’t need to be hard, or painful. All that you see on this page is possible without too much strain, and the benefits of hiking can be achieved in a relatively short space of time (including the positive mental health boost you may or may not know about). We hope this guide has been useful and please do share both this page and the training template.