Backpacking Fitness

The Hike Forever Fitness Plan: Exercises for Everyone

Use these proven exercises to get in the best hiking shape of your life.

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Backpack for life with the Hike Forever Fitness Plan

Hip Swing

Build explosive, fast-twitch strength to power up steep, big-stride climbs.

None

How
Sit on a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp a 25-pound kettlebell (or free weight). Stand up, thrusting your hips forward and penduluming the kettlebell until it’s straight in front of you. Keep your shoulders back, stomach muscles tensed, and eyes ahead. In harmony with the kettlebell’s motion, return to the starting position by whipping your hips back and sitting down.

Do it
30-60 seconds; 1-2 times

Progression
Beginner: Chose a weight that works your muscles without overtaxing them–even if that’s no weight to start.
Intermediate: Use 25 pounds.
Advanced: Use 50-60 pounds.

Box Squat

None

How: Sit like you did for Hip Swing, but wearing a weighted pack (beginners go packless). Lift your feet, plant them in front of you, and push through your heels into a standing position. Keep your back straight and stomach muscles tense. Pause for one count, and return to a seated position.

Do it: 6-8 reps; 1-2 sets

Progression
Beginner: Work eccentric muscles by standing fast and sitting slowly. Intermediate:
Load your pack with 40 pounds and do 3-5 sets: gradually decrease chair height.
Advanced: Use 40-50 pounds and alternate pack from one shoulder to the other. Do 90-degree squats with no chair.

Prone Extension

A core-strength builder that guards against spine injuries and bolsters balance for knife-edge walking.

None

How: Lie on your stomach with forearms planted under you, palms down. Bring your legs together and straighten them, lifting your torso into a plank position so that your toes and forearms are the only points of contact with the ground. Reach your left arm forward and lift your right leg. Hold for one count, return to plank. Alternate sides.

Do it : 30-90 seconds; 1 set

Progression
Beginner: Start on your knees and forearms.
Intermediate: If you can hold here for more than 90 seconds, put on a pack loaded with 15 pounds.
Advanced: Add pack weight until you tire in less than 90 seconds.

Turkish Get-Up

A full-body workout unto itself, this balance-boosting move will make your legs like pylons during river crossings.

None

How: Begin on your back with your legs shoulder-width apart and left arm at a 45-degree angle to your body. Bend your right knee; place your foot on the ground. Grasp a 15-pound kettlebell (or free weight) with your right hand, and hold it above you (lock your right lat and scapula to avoid shoulder injury). Perform the following as fluidly as possible:

1. Push with your right foot until your hip comes off the floor; shift your weight onto your left forearm.

2. Transfer your body weight onto your left palm, keeping your left leg straight and lifting your trunk.

3. Push your left hip off the floor while bending your right knee. Plant your knee behind you in a lunge position.

4. Lift your left hand, square your hips forward, and stand up, keeping the weight overhead and your right lat and scapula locked in place.

5. Fold back down to your starting position, reversing the motions.

Do it: 2-5 reps per side; 1 set. If 2 reps are too difficult, decrease the weight. If you can do more than 5 reps, add some.

Progression
Beginner: Start in the standing position with no weight, and slowly fold yourself into the supine position. Progress to 2-5 pounds and do the full range of motion.
Intermediate: Use a 15-pound weight.
Advanced: Use 30-40 pounds and do fewer reps.

Chins/Negative Chins

No single move provides as much upper-body strength as this exercise. Strong arms are vital for class IV (and up) scrambling and for transferring weight onto hiking poles (and off of stiff joints).

None

How: Grip a chin-up bar with hands shoulder-width apart. Use either an over- or underhand grip, but be sure to mix it up. From a fully extended hanging position, pull your chin above the bar. Lower your body back to starting position.

Do it: Until you can’t do any more, twice

Progression
Beginner: Start with negative chins. Stand on a chair to get your chin above the bar; lower on an 8-count.
Intermediate: Max out on chin-ups; switch to negative chins until your muscles quit.
Advanced: Do chin-ups with a weighted pack.

Last updated December 2021