Going hiking is a great recreational activity which has grown in popularity over the years. A lot of people nowadays want to head out into the wild and become one with nature as they tramp through the scenery. There is, however, a slight problem that stops a lot of people; they don't have the fitness required for longer hikes.
Be it that they lack the stamina to hike for several hours per day, or the strength required to carry the heavy load of camping equipment, most people find they are simply unable to complete any longer hiking trips.
However, this problem can easily be fixed. You simply need to devote a little time to training prior to your trip, and you'll be able to hike for several days and enjoy the wonders of nature unhindered. This article will give you the best exercises to do while preparing for a longer hike into the wild.
The Important Muscle Groups to Strengthen
In order to train for a long hiking trip, one must first understand which muscles are involved that must be strengthened in order to endure the constant strain of walking with a backpack. And although most of the body's muscles are used to some degree during a longer hike, there are some key muscles that are vital for your outdoor experience:
Obviously, your legs are of great importance here, both for taking you forwards and holding up the added weight of your equipment. Therefore, it's important to put the main focus of your training on strengthening the various muscles in your legs.
Most important to train are the hamstrings and calf muscles, since these will be used heavily in almost all situations during the hike. However, it's important to do exercises that strengthen all of your leg muscles in order to achieve a fine balance that will ensure your legs will endure the hardship of the hike.
Although the legs are by far the most important part of your body to train, you must not forget about your back. Since you'll most likely be wearing a heavy backpack during your hike, there will be a lot of unusual strain added to the muscles in your upper and lower back, which can be devastating if you have not conditioned them properly. Therefore, it is important to effectively train both your upper back muscles as well as the lower ones.
Core, Shoulders and Hip Muscles
Next come the secondary muscle groups, which can prove equally important to prepare prior to your hike. As the straps of your pack create a lot of stress for your shoulders, it's only natural that you'll want to strengthen them. The same goes for your core and hip muscles, since they'll be struggling to keep up the balance of your increased weight during the main part of your hiking trip. If you neglect these balancing muscles, you stand a high risk of injuring yourself, or straining your various muscles.
The Best Exercises for the Various Muscle Groups
So now you know which muscles you need to train if you want to be strong enough for a long hiking trip - great! Now onto the practical stuff; how to actually strengthen them.
There is a number of different ways in which you can strengthen the various muscle groups required, but following is a short list of the ones that will provide the best results for the specific purpose of hiking.
Leg Muscle Exercises
Lunges - This awesome exercise is a must as it activates almost all the muscles in your legs. It is performed by taking a large step forwards and lowering the body until the back knee almost touches the ground, then raising your body back up to standing position.
For a stronger effect, it is advised to do this exercise with a backpack on your back, filled with as much weight as you can comfortably perform it with.
Heel Raises - Since the previous exercise trains pretty much everything in your legs but the calves, you just need to add heel raises to prepare your entire legs for hiking.
It is performed by standing with the tips of your feet on something elevated (i.e a treshold) and lowering and raising your heels off the edge. This will strengthen the muscles in your lower leg, and especially your calves.
Back Muscle Exercises
Back lifts - The back lifts is a great exercise which can be executed in a lot of different ways, which train pretty much all of the important back muscles.
For the upper back muscles, you just lie on your stomach and raise your upper body off the ground, and back down again. For the lower back muscles, however, you need to keep your arms straight forward and keep your feet in the air while doing the exercise.
Sit Ups - Ordinary sit ups; simply lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly on the ground as you lift your upper body towards your knees.
Crunches - This is performed just like a sit up, but with your legs held up in the air. This exercise will better train your upper core muscles, while the sit ups serves to develop the lower ones.
Shoulder Press - This exercise will provide all the shoulder training you need to strengthen your shoulders for that heavy backpack.
All you need to do is grab a barbell while in standing position, lift it to your chest and then raise it above your head until your arms are fully extended. Then lower it back to your chest, and repeat.
Squats - The hips are difficult to to target on their own, and will receive most of their training from the exercises of other muscle groups. However, one great exercise for the hips is regular squats.
Cardio Exercises for That Long Hike
Another aspect of preparing your body for longer hikes is cardio training, which is just as important as strengthening your muscles. Tramping through the wild for days is extremely exhausting, and you will need a strong cardio fitness if you are to make it all the way. Without it, you simply won't be able to get as far as you want in the time you have.
So how do you train your stamina and durability?
Just as with the strength training, there is a number of ways in which you can greatly improve your cardiovascular fitness level. However, some methods are far superior to others, especially when your goal is to be able to endure long trips into the wild.
The first thing you need to focus on is long-duration training. Since you will need to be able to stay on your feet for hours at a time in the wild, it only makes sense to train in the same fashion. Therefore, it is advisable to train your body using longer exercises that greatly improve your stamina. Great ways of doing this include long distance running (preferably in terrain), long distance cycling and going for long walks.
Hill and Backpack Training
Another great way of getting in shape for hiking is to do more specific exercises, such as hill training and backpack training. If your chosen destination for hiking involves a lot of variation in elevation, hill training is practically a must. It's great for a number of things, ranging from the strengthening of the vital leg muscles to improving your overall cardio.
Backpack training similarly has a lot of benefits when it comes to preparing you for your hike. For starters, going for walks while wearing a backpack will accustom your body to the added weight of your camping equipment, and will strengthen pretty much all the muscles used when tramping.
If you follow this guide and perform these exercises in preparation of your trip, you should have no physical difficulties with the hardship of the long hike.