11 Bodyweight Exercises for Hikers - Backpacker

No Gear Required: 11 Bodyweight Exercises to Train for Hiking

Stay ready for the trails with these simple exercises you can do at home.
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Photos by Isak Kvam

Photos by Isak Kvam

You don’t need to hike to start getting ready for the trail. In fact, you don’t need anything: Bodyweight training strengthens your legs, glutes, and core, preventing injuries and preparing you for big mile days. The following exercises from William Sturgeon, CPT, don’t require equipment. Work them into your training regimen and get ready to jet when the trails reopen.

The Expert: William Sturgeon, CPT, is the owner of Restored Strength in Marshall, Minnesota. 

Squat Jumps

Squat jumps strengthen the entire lower body and build stability, which is essential for navigating terrain with a heavy backpack.

Sets 3 Reps 8 Rest 20 seconds

1. Stand with your hips shoulder-width apart.

2. Hinge at the hips and knees to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push your butt back and don’t allow your knees to pass in front of your toes.

3. Press into your feet and jump as high as you can, raising your hands toward the ceiling, then immediately drop back down into a squat when your feet land. Repeat.

Tip: Land on the balls of the feet to absorb the impact of the fall.

Single-Leg Glute Bridges

This exercise targets the glutes and hamstrings to prepare you for climbing steeps.

Sets 3 Reps 10 (each side) Rest 20 seconds

1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down.

2. Bend your right leg and place the right foot flat on the floor in front of your buttocks. Extend and raise the left leg straight ahead.

3. Drive through the right heel and squeeze the glutes to raise your hips high into the air. Lower your hips to return. Complete all 10 reps with your left leg raised before switching sides.

Tip: If this is too strenuous with one leg extended, perform the exercise with both feet on the floor.

Dead Bugs

Strengthen your core to comfortably carry a heavy load on the trail all day.
Sets
3 Reps 8 (each side) Rest 15 seconds

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent in the air at a 90° angle and your arms stretched toward the ceiling.

2. Push your lower back into the floor and extend your left leg so it is parallel with the ground. Simultaneously lower your right arm to the floor above your head. Return to starting position and repeat using alternate limbs.

Tip: Use your breath. Exhale as you lower your limbs to the floor, then inhale as you bring them back to the starting position.

Split Squats

This squat variation targets your glutes, hamstrings, and quads to build up those trail legs.

Sets 3 Reps 8 (each side) Rest 20 seconds

1. Start in a half-kneeling position with your right knee on the ground and your left foot flat on the floor in front of you. Your right toes should be engaged, ready to stand. Make sure your left knee is directly over your left foot.

2. Place your hands on your hips and keep your spine neutral.

3. Press through your left heel to push upward until your front leg is fully extended.

4. Slowly lower yourself down until your right knee is on the ground. Repeat all reps, then perform on other side.

Tip: Keep your chest raised and open to avoid collapsing inward and rounding the back.

Single-Leg Deadlifts

This exercise trains the hamstrings and posterior chain for smooth, controlled descents.

Sets 3 Reps 8 (each side) Rest 20 seconds

1. Stand with your feet together. Lean forward slightly and shift all your weight onto your right foot. Allow a small bend in your right knee.

2. Keeping your back and left leg straight, press your left heel backward and up toward the ceiling. Simultaneously hinge forward at the hip until your torso is parallel to the floor and reach your arms toward the ground. Don’t twist or open your hips to the side.

3. Pause for one second, then return to standing by engaging your glutes and hamstrings.

Tip: If you’re unable to bring your torso and raised leg parallel to the floor, it’s likely caused by tight hips. Continue to perform this exercise to build strength and mobility.

Push-Ups

Strengthen your chest, shoulders, and back to increase your stability on trekking poles and help you scramble better.

Sets 3 Reps 10-15 Rest 20 seconds

1. Begin in a plank position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your toes curled under. Keep your arms, back, and legs straight.

2. Bend your elbows to lower down until your nose is a few inches from the floor, keeping your elbows tucked in and your back and hips neutral.

3. Straighten your arms to push up until they’re fully extended. Repeat.

Tip: You can increase the intensity by slowly descending to the floor then pushing up as quickly as possible.

Leopard Crawl

Leopard crawling promotes core stability to keep you agile on uneven terrain.

Sets 3 Time 30 seconds Rest 15 seconds

1. Start in a tabletop position with your hands, knees, and toes on the floor. Raise your knees off the floor 2 to 3 inches.

2. Keeping your head up and your hips neutral, begin crawling forward by moving your right arm then left leg forward, then the left arm and right leg. Continue for several paces.

3. Reverse the exercise by crawling several paces backward. Repeat for 30 seconds total.

Tip: To keep the spine neutral, imagine there’s a glass of water resting on your lower back. If leopard crawling is too strenuous, crawl on your hands and knees instead.

Hip Hinge

Do this exercise to strengthen your posterior chain and train your hips to efficiently carry weight.

Sets 3 Reps 15 Rest 15 seconds

1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.

2. Hinge at your hips and push them backward so that your tailbone faces the ceiling and your navel faces the ground. You should feel a slight pull through the back of the leg.

3. Stand up tall by squeezing the glutes. Repeat.

Tip: Place your fists on the front of your hips and imagine they’re cans. As you hinge, picture trying to crush the cans between your hips and your torso.

Side Plank

This plank variation activates the core and lateral leg muscles, keeping you more balanced and comfortable on the trail.

Sets 3 Reps 10 (each side) Rest 20 seconds

1. Start by laying on your side and placing your bottom elbow directly beneath your shoulder with your forearm on the floor. Stack your legs or bend your lower knee 90°.

2. Engage your core, glutes and legs as you lift your hips off the floor to form a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold for 5 seconds. Complete all reps, then perform on the opposite side.

Tip: To make sure your hips aren’t sagging, tighten your core as if bracing for a punch.

Shoulder CARs

This range of motion exercise keeps your shoulder joint capsules healthy—which is very important when you’re carrying a heavy backpack all day.

Sets 3 Reps 3 (both directions, each side) Rest 20 seconds

1. Stand tall with your arms at your sides and your thumbs facing forward. Begin by raising your right arm straight in front of you then up overhead until your fingers point to the ceiling.

2. When your right arm is fully extended toward the ceiling, complete the circle by turning your palm away from your body. Then, continue rotating your arm backward and behind you until it’s pointing toward the ground at your hip. Return to starting position by turning your palm inward so that the thumb is facing forward again, then repeat.

3. Reverse the exercise by tracing a circle back to front, then perform with the other arm.

Tip: Work to keep your ribs down throughout the entire exercise.

Plank

A proper plank doesn’t just target your core, but your entire body. This will give you better control and stability on the trail.

Sets 3 Time 45 seconds Rest 30 seconds

1. Start in a high plank position on your hands and feet, toes curled underneath. Make sure your entire body forms a straight line from head to toe.

2. Engage your abs, keep your hips lifted, and keep your neck long by looking at the ground. Hold!

Tip: Make sure you don’t sag your core. It’s better to perform planks for a shorter amount of time with proper form than to sag and damage your joints.