3 Perfect Exercises to Keep You Pain-Free and Pack-Ready

Whether it’s a moderate overnight load or 45 pounds of expedition gear, the moment you put on a pack your body must acclimate to additional pressure on your joints, muscles, and spine. Add these exercises to your workout routine to feel like a champ no matter how much you're carrying.

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Rotating Lunges

This exercise works quads and glutes, and strengthens the muscles that support the spine when carrying a heavy load.

Reps 10 each side Sets 3

1. Interlock your fingers and clasp your palms together with your hands near your chest.

2. Take a large stride forward with the left foot. Lower your hips toward the ground, bending both knees into a lunge. (Make sure that the front knee does not travel beyond the front foot.)

3. As you drop to the ground, extend your arms until your elbows are straight, with your clasped hands pointing straight ahead. Rotate to the left so that your arms point perpendicular over your forward leg. As you stand up, rotate back so you are facing forward and reposition your hands in front of your chest.

4. Repeat with the right leg, pointing over the right thigh.

Single-leg rotations with egyptian hold illustration
Peter Sucheski

Single-Leg Rotations with Egyptian Hold

Increase your core strength by challenging your overall stability.

Reps 10 each side Sets 3

1. Standing on one foot, lift your arms to the sides, shoulder high, then bend the elbows to 90 degrees. Face your palms up and rest a small plate (5 pounds each is a good place to start) on your hands. (Pretend you are a waiter carrying two small trays .)

2. Keep your upper body in this position as you slowly rotate your shoulders and spine 90 degrees to the right. Return to center and rotate to the left. Repeat.

loaded shoulder rolls illustration
Peter Sucheski

Loaded Shoulder Rolls

As the miles pass, we tend to let our shoulders droop forward. This exercise builds strength to keep your shoulder blades properly positioned.

Reps 10 each direction Sets 3

1. Hold a 10- to 20-pound dumbbell, kettlebell, or similar weight in each hand.

2. Stand up tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and arms at your sides. Grip the weight so that your palms face your thighs.

3. Pull your shoulder blades back toward your spine as you push your breastbone forward.

4. In a slow, fluid motion, lift your shoulders up, then forward, then down, emphasizing the diameter of the circle you are creating. Complete 10 circles, then switch directions.

The Expert

Kaelyn Silva, CSCS, is the owner of Pasadena Sport Science. When she’s not training clients, she enjoys loading up her pack and hiking with her dogs in California’s Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Make Your Own Weights

Is your home gym lacking gear? There are substitutions all around you.

  • In place of dumbbells or kettlebells, use a liquid laundry detergent container
  • (or other gallon-sized container with a built-in handle filled with fluid or sand).
  • If you need a heavy item for deadlifts or a farmer’s carry, load up a reusable grocery bag or a bucket with small weights, a bag of flour, rice, or water bottles.
  • Need a barbell substitute? Load your pack with textbooks or that bag of potting mix you forgot about.

From 2023