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Backpacking Fitness

Feeling Sore After a Long Hike? Time to Hit the Gym.

Feeling achy and serotonin-depleted after a couple months on the trail? This gym workout will help you out.

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It’s normal to feel sore and stiff when you finish your thru-hike. It’s also normal to feel a little unsure about what to do with yourself. You’ve been hiking all day every day for four to five months, after all. Returning to the gym will ease any lingering aches and pains and help you feel motivated and purposeful after your hike. These cardio and strength training regimens will help you out.


Cardio machines, such as the bike or rower, are great, low-impact workout options for sore and stiff joints. Hiking uses a relatively small range of motion for the knees and hips, so it doesn’t take much for these joints to feel stiff. Using machines like the bike or rower will help bring in blood flow and move the joints through more range of motion; they’ll also give you an endorphin boost. Got sore feet? Off-foot conditioning, on machines such as the bike and rower, will help your feet feel like themselves again.

Pyramid Workout

You can perform this type of workout with any piece of cardio equipment. Each interval will have an equal ratio of work and rest. In this workout, time intervals increase for three rounds and then decrease back down for two rounds.

For the working interval, keep the intensity at a level where you can still speak in short sentences. For the recovery pace, avoid completely stopping; keep the machine moving slowly to feel recovered and ready for the next interval.

Spend five minutes warming up at a comfortable pace, then perform the following:

1 minute interval, 1 minute recovery pace
2 minute interval, 2 minute recovery pace
3 minute interval, 3 minute recovery pace
2 minute interval, 2 minute recovery pace
1 minute interval, 1 minute recovery pace

Spend five minutes cooling down at a comfortable pace, followed by stretches for the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and repeat three times per side.

Hit The Weights

Easing back into resistance training after a months-long break doesn’t have to be complicated. Workouts can be like your routine before your thru-hike, especially if the goal is to stay in hiking shape during the off-season. Some muscle soreness should be expected, but not too much. The goal is to push yourself, but not overstress to the point of injury. Signs you may be pushing too hard are pain, post-workout soreness that lasts for days, and uncomfortably tight muscles.

Be sure to warm up properly and cool down with some stretches afterward. Aim to perform only one to two sets of each exercise, 10 to 15 repetitions at a time. Limit strength workouts to two to three each week and around 30 minutes to start.

Bodyweight exercises are great ways to gauge how the body responds to exercise after a long break. After a couple weeks and you can perform the exercises easily, introduce light weights to the movements, keeping the same repetitions and sets. For example, perform a squat with dumbbells or a light barbell instead of a bodyweight squat. As the body adjusts to the weights, add a third set. Just remember, slow progression over time is the best way to eliminate injury risk and develop momentum.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer in Southeast Idaho. He thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and 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

From 2022