These exercises work muscles you’ll need for carrying big loads over long miles. Use an exercise ball to engage more muscles, especially your core, which will improve balance. Aim for three workouts a week, starting at least two months before a big trip.
Payoff Lift your pack easily and carry it with less shoulder fatigue.
Push-ups Begin with your stomach on the ball and, using your arms, walk yourself out to a push-up position, with the ball under your waist (beginners), thighs, or ankles. Lower your chest toward the floor until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Use good form: neck and back in line; don’t tuck your chin or arch your back. Goal: As many push-ups as you can do in a row. Begin with one set; work up to three.
Dips Using a bench or heavy chair, place your palms on the seat (shoulder width apart) and extend your legs out straight. Keep your back close to the bench and lower yourself until your elbows are at 90 degrees, then raise back up. Easy? Elevate your feet to the level of your hands. Still easy? Elevate your feet higher than your hands. Goal: three sets of 10 to 20 reps.
Payoff Improve endurance over long days and power up hills—with less soreness.
Ball squats Stand against a wall with the exercise ball just below your shoulder blades (lean into the ball slightly). Lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor (keep knees behind toes), then raise back up. Easy? Try it on one leg. Goal: three sets of 15 to 25 reps.
Calf raises Prep for the steeps with this classic. Stand with the balls of your feet on a step. Drop your heels, keeping your body straight, and then raise to a tip-toe position. Lower in a controlled motion. Advanced: Lift yourself with one leg, or add a loaded pack (increase weight slowly). Goal: three sets of 15 to 25 reps.
Payoff Improve stability under a load and increase balance on uneven terrain, reducing the risk of injury.
Crunches With your lower back resting on the exercise ball, feet shoulder width apart on the floor and hands behind your head, lift your torso up using your ab muscles. Keep your back straight. Hold for a few seconds at the top of the crunch, lower, and repeat. Advanced: Twist to alternating sides at the top. Goal: three sets of 15 to 25 reps.
Supermans Lie on your stomach and lift your arms, chest, and legs as high as possible. Hold for several seconds. (Alternative: Lift opposite limbs.) As your lower-back muscles strengthen, increase the time you hold the contraction. Goal: three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Jackknives Begin with your stomach on the ball and walk yourself out to the push-up position with the ball under your ankles. Maintain a plank position and draw your knees up to your chest, rolling the ball forward, then extend them back out straight. Advanced: Rest the ball under your toes. Goal: three sets of 15 to 25 reps.