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Backpacking Fitness

The Best Hiking Workouts for Every Fitness Level

Reality check: Hitting the gym is the quickest way to hike farther, easier, faster, and pain-free. Get into a routine—or take yours to the next level—with these smart workouts for three different levels.

The Best Beginner Hiking Workout

Ready to get started? Use this workout to ease into a new fitness regime.

Rear Lunges

None

From a standing position with shoulders back, chest lifted, and spine straight, step backward with the right leg. Both knees should be bent at 90 degrees at the end of the movement, and your front knee should align with your ankle and 2nd or 3rd toe. Step your back foot even with your front foot, then repeat the movement with the left leg. Make it harder by using weights. Gear Two dumbbells (up to 10 lbs.; optional) Reps 8-10

Ball Wall Squats

None

Start with an exercise ball behind you at hip level, and keep your shoulders rolled back and feet parallel. Over a count of four, lower to a squat with a 90-degree bend at your knees. Hold for 2 seconds, then stand halfway up for one rep. Your knees should be slightly in front of your ankles at the bottom of the squat. Start with no weight and work up to a 10-pound dumbbell in each hand. Gear Exercise ball; two dumbbells (up to 10 lbs.) Reps 8-10

Lateral DA Walk

None

Start with your shoulders back and hands extended in front of you holding the handle of a cable machine. In a brace stance (tailbone tucked under and lower abs engaged), walk laterally three steps away from the anchor, then three steps back while moving your arms as little as possible. That’s one rep. Gear Cable machine with 15-30 lbs. of weight Reps 5-8 each side

Side Plank with Hip Drop

None

Start in a side plank position with spine straight and shoulders, knees, and ankles stacked. Drop your hip to the floor and lift it back to the starting position for one rep. (Make it easier by resting your lower knee on the ground while you do the hip drops.) Gear None Reps 8-10 each side

Standing Single Leg Scaption

None

Stand on one foot with a dumbbell in each hand. Simultaneously lift weights up to shoulder height and forward to a 45-degree angle to midline of your body. Switch feet halfway through set. Gear Two dumbbells (3-8 lbs.) Reps 10-12 (5-6 each foot) 

Wall Shin Raises

None

Stand with your heels 6 inches from a wall and lean back. Lift the balls of your feet by flexing the fronts of your shins. Pause, then lower for one rep. Gear None Reps 15-20

Wide Arm Scapular Retraction

None

Hold a resistance band between your hands and stand with your back against the wall. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and open your chest as you pull your hands apart. Slowly release to center. Gear 15-30 lb. graded resistance band Reps 10-12

Cardio: Shoot for hikes or walks of up to 2 miles once or twice per week. “Even half a mile will go a long way toward getting your joints ready for longer hikes on uneven terrain,” Fog-Wiltse says. This can be as simple as going for a walk around the block.

The Best Intermediate Hiking Workout

Established your base fitness? Take the next step by adding short, intense bursts of training to your workout.

Single-Leg Squats

None

Lift one foot just off the ground and place your hands on your hips. Squat, keeping your hips level and your weight on your heel. When the bend in your knee hits 90 degrees, stand back up. Make it harder: Lift your free leg forward until it is parallel to the ground. Gear None Reps 8-10 each leg

Calf Raises

None

With dumbbells in hand, hang both heels off of a step as far as you can, then lift as high as you can onto your toes. Gear Two dumbbells (8-20 lbs.) Reps 8-10 each side

Lunge with Sagittal Press and Rotation

None

Start in a lunge with your right foot forward. In your left hand, grasp a kettle bell by the handle, bulb up, and with your palm facing right. Press the weight up overhead while rotating your palm to the front. Slowly lower to starting position, moving your elbow in-line with your shoulder. Hold the lunge throughout the entire set. Gear Kettle bell (8-10 lbs.) Reps 8-12 each side

Renegade Rows

None

From the push-up position with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, lift weights one at a time toward your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blade toward your spine while engaging your core. Widen your stance to make it easier. Gear Two dumbbells (8-20 lbs.) Reps 8-12

Side Plank with Leg Lift

None

From a side-plank position, lift your top leg as high as you can while keeping the toes pointing forward. Lower with control. Too easy? Do this with your back against a wall, keeping as much of your body in contact with the wall as possible. Gear None Reps 8-10 each side

Sliding Lunges

None

With your left foot on a towel (on a smooth surface) and your chest lifted, slide your right foot out to the side. Squeeze your inner thighs together to stand back up. Next, extend your left foot straight behind you into a low lunge, then slide back up to standing. That’s one rep. Gear Towel or washcloth Reps 8-10 each leg

Single Leg V-Ups

None

Lie on a bosu ball with your arms and legs extended. Lift your hand to the opposite foot, pulling your shoulder blades up off the floor. To make it harder, lift both hands and feet simultaneously. Gear Bosu ball Reps 6-10 each side

Cardio: Grab a stopwatch: Variable Intensity Interval Training is your new best friend for netting cardio gains fast. Complete the following circuit three times in a row: Work for 30 seconds then rest for 30 seconds, totaling 12 minutes. Complete the circuit two to three times per week, alternating with strength days.

Plyojacks: Think of these as exaggerated jumping jacks, extending fully then retracting into a squat.

High-Knee Jog : Just what it sounds like.

Mountain Climbers: Place your hands on the floor in front of you and start in plank position. Alternate hopping your feet forward, quickly bringing each knee to your chest.

Skaters : Leap side to side, landing on one foot while touching the other foot in a low lunge behind you and reaching your inside hand toward the floor. Go for distance and speed.

The Best Advanced Hiking Workout

Want to crush any trail? From epic days to expeditions, you’ll need maximum power and endurance.

Side Plank with Knee Tuck

None

From a side plank position, pull your bottom knee up toward your chest then release. Make it harder: Execute the knee tuck after a hip drop. Gear None Reps 8-10 each side.

Ball Supine Lateral T-Roll

None

Lie on an exercise ball with your arms wide and your feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes to keep your hips elevated and shuffle three to five steps to the left until you feel your oblique abs engage, then walk to the right until you achieve the same sensation. Gear Exercise ball Reps 6-10

Cable High Rear Delt Fly

None

Set the cables to their highest position and cross hands. Lead the downward, cross-body movement with your elbows, keeping them at shoulder height as you extend them to the sides. Finish by straightening your arms, keeping your thumbs up. Slowly lower to the starting position, keeping the shoulders even. Gear Cable machine with 7.5-to-17.5 lb. weights on each side Reps 8-12

Landmine Squat and Single-Arm Press

None

Hinge your right arm up while gripping the elevated end of a long bar that’s resting on the ground. Keep your hips square as you squat but allow your right shoulder to move back slightly as you lower the bar. When you stand, extend your arm and rotate slightly as you press the bar forward and up. Gear Long bar Reps 8-10 each side

Single-Leg Calf Raises

None

Standing on a step, dumbbells in hand, drop one heel all the way down for full range of motion before going all the way up on your toes. Gear Two dumbbells (8-20 lbs.) Reps 8-12 each side

Split Lunges

None

Rest the top of one foot on a flat bench behind you, making sure your standing foot is far enough from the bench that your knee doesn’t move past your toes when you lunge. Now grab a dumbbell in each hand, bend your back knee to lunge, and press into your front heel firmly to rise. Gear Two dumbbells (5-20 lbs.) Reps 8-10 each side

Straight Bar Bent Over Row

None

Hinge forward at your hips with your back flat, shoulders engaged, and palms gripping the bar facing up (reverse grip). Activate your glutes and core as you squeeze your shoulder blades together to raise the bar. The movement should come primarily from your lats and back. Gear Straight bar (weight optional) Reps 8-12

Cardio: To go the long haul, you have to train for the long haul. Up your once- to three-times weekly cardio sessions to trail running 3 to 5 miles, hiking 5 to 10 miles, or mountain biking 12-plus miles, including hills in each. If you can only get one long session in, add two sessions of Level 2 cardio.

The Expert: Robyn Fog-Wiltse

A physiologist, personal trainer, and nutrition specialist, Fog-Wiltse runs Sasquatch Training, an online and in-person fitness platform.