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Backpacking Fitness

6 Hiking Exercises for When You’re Too Busy to Work Out

Finding time to train is hard. Get trail-ready while you go about your day with these do-anywhere exercises.

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Good trail fitness keeps you hiking injury-free and makes your trips more fun, easier, and less, well, achy. That’s why we’re sharing this hiker-specific workout for free. Want more tips on keeping your body in shape for the trail? Get access to our full fitness archive by signing up for Outside+. Members can also read the rest of our stories, skills, trips, and gear reviews and get access to all of our other titles, like SkiClimbingYoga JournalTriathlete, and more. Sign up for Outside+ today!

Feeling the pressure to train but don’t have time to get to the gym? Even imperfect action keeps the momentum, and these tips can keep you on track mentally and physically for your next hike.

We all know we should be staying active between hikes, but sometimes, you just don’t have the time. These strategies will build activity into your day, though they aren’t as effective as an entire gym session. Follow these tips to help maintain fitness levels and keep you on track during hectic weeks, then build in more comprehensive workouts when you have time.

Walk More

It’s good to aim for 10,000 steps a day, which is an average of about 5 miles. Walking is valuable for hikers since it gives you meaningful time on your feet. If it’s hard to collect your steps, try going for a short walk after meals, parking farther away, or walking during phone/virtual meetings if you’re able. Adding a weight vest or wearing your loaded backpack can help you feel more comfortable on your next adventure. 

Fartlek Intervals

Fartlek, or “speed play”, intervals are excellent at improving speed and endurance for hiking and fit perfectly with most cardio activities. What makes fartlek intervals so great is that they don’t follow a hard and fast rule for time or distance. While walking, pick a tree, mailbox, or telephone pole and increase your pace until you reach that target (aim for 30 t0 60 seconds of increased speed). Once there, slow your speed until you’ve fully recovered. When you feel ready for the next interval, repeat. Mix these in throughout your walk or next hike, aiming for 8 to 10 intervals for each mile of walking.

Workout Blitz

This is an excellent strategy when the day suddenly gets away from you, and a complete workout seems unlikely. Using your phone, set a timer for anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes. For the duration, alternate between upper and lower body exercises. One example would be a circuit of 10 squats and 5 pushups. Reverse lunges and wall rows work well here too.

If you need to strengthen your core, try holding a plank position for 10 seconds, followed by 5 seconds of rest. Repeat until the clock has expired. 

Take the Stairs

It sounds obvious, but walking uphill will help you prepare for, well, walking uphill. Skip the elevator whenever possible and take the stairs instead. Hitting a couple of flights during a work break is a great way to boost your energy in the afternoon. While there, you can also practice step-ups, lateral step-downs, and lateral step-ups. These movements are great exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee and reduce common aches and pains.

Calf Raises

While the coffee is brewing in the morning, use the time to do 3-way calf raises. To begin, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed straight ahead. Complete 15 regular-paced heel raises followed by 10 fast repetitions. Pivot your feet outward at 45° angles, so your toes are pointing diagonally away from you. Complete another 15 and 10 reps. For the final position, point your toes inward and work to keep your ankles from moving inward as you perform the repetitions. Finish this series by holding your favorite calf stretch for 20 seconds and repeating the stretch three times.

Balance

Hikers need balance to cross logs and streams without hurting themselves, and you shouldn’t overlook it in your training. One easy way to work balance into your day is while brushing your teeth. Having an electric toothbrush makes this easy since they generally alert you in 30-second intervals to change where to brush. Simply stand on one foot for 30 seconds as you brush. Every 30 seconds, switch feet until 2 minutes are up. You can also sneak in balance while pumping gas or standing in line at the grocery store.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in Southeast Idaho. He thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and has trekked through the Dolomites in Italy. He can typically be found hiking and exploring the trails in Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos, and resources from Welton, visit trailsidefitness.com.