How to Train for a Thru-Hike

Go from couch potato to trail monster with these simple tips from a personal trainer.
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Let's get it out of the way now: Yes, you can hike your way to good trail shape. But if you want to start off strong, finish in a reasonable amount of time, and make sure injuries don't derail your thru-hike, a little bit of prep goes a long way. 

When prepping for a thru-hike, backpackers should focus on strengthening the glutes and core as well as the legs, says Omega Zumpano, an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer. “Core and glute strength not only increases dynamic stability, but it also helps boost power output,” she says.

Simple Workout for Hikers

Perform these movements as a circuit four times, resting 90 seconds between sets. Train twice a week.

Ball Slam

30 seconds

1. With your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, stand behind a slam ball or medicine ball.

2. Keep your chest up and your shoulders back as you hinge at your hips. Push your butt back and bend your knees. As you lower into a squat, reach for the ball with both hands.

3. Straighten your legs, curling the ball to your chest and thrusting it overhead, arms straight.

4. Contract your abs and slam the ball between your feet as you drop into a squat. Release the ball when it is a foot above the ground.

5. Curl the ball to your chest and repeat.

Leg Press

12 reps

1. Sit on the leg press machine and place your feet shoulder-width apart in the middle of the platform.

2. Keep your back straight as you engage your core and release the safety bar. Drive through the heels and straighten your legs—don’t lock your knees. This is your starting position.

3. With control, bend your knees 90 degrees. Again, press through your heels and straighten your legs.

4. Hold for one second before the next rep.

Crab Walk

30 steps (each direction)

1. Sit on the ground, bend your knees, and place the soles of your feet on the ground hip-width apart.

2. Place your hands slightly behind your hips. Press into your palms and feet as you lift your hips, creating an inverted tabletop position with your torso and thighs.

3. Keep your glute muscles engaged and your hips lifted as you walk the right leg and left hand forward. Walk the left leg and the right hand forward. Continue to walk with opposing hands and feet.

4. Reverse the movement to crab walk back to your starting point.

Box Jump

30 seconds

1. Facing a plyo box that’s knee-height or lower, stand with your feet hip-width apart.

2. Bend your knees slightly, drive through the balls of your feet, and jump up onto the box. Keep your knees soft as you land with your feet in the center of the box.

3. Stand up and fully extend your hips.

4. Step off the box one leg at a time. 

Master Intervals

Intervals are the key to improving your cardio performance. Do this twice a week, starting nine months before your hike, and add 10 percent to your target distance every week.

• 5-minute warm up.

Target distance: 8 miles

• 3 minutes of hard hiking uphill.

• 5 minutes recovery. Walk at a normal pace on a flat (or near-flat) surface. Repeat until you complete your target mileage.

• 5-minute cool down.

Go on one long hike each weekend. Start with 4 miles and add weight and mileage as you go until you reach your target pack weight and daily distance.

Pro Tip: How Do You Toughen Up Your Feet?

“Hike or run in the sock and shoe combination you’ll wear on trail in the months leading up to your thru-hike. Conditioning your feet is a lot like conditioning your muscles and takes some time.” –Heather “Anish” Anderson

“Spray down your socks and shoes with water and get used to hiking with wet feet. The water creates extra friction, and when your feet are softened they can build those nice protective calluses faster than when they’re dry.” –Jennifer “Odyssa” Pharr Davis

“Walk barefoot on sand, adding time and weight as your trip approaches. Walking on such an uneven surface fires all the little muscles in your feet and low-grade abrasion will toughen your skin and fill any strength gaps.” –Casey Lyons

How to Deal With Common Thru-Hiking Injuries

Ouch!Ahhhh!

Sore back and shoulders

Tighten hipbelt and load lifters. Stretch by extending arms in front of you in an L shape, palms facing in. Put one arm under the other, then wrap your forearms so your palms touch. Keep your back straight, lift your elbows, and hold. Switch sides.

Chafing

Apply BodyGlide liberally.

Blisters

Lance, drain, and dress in a bandage (change daily).

Water-logged feet

Change socks midday; apply Miracle Foot Repair Cream before and after hiking.

Knee pain

Trekking poles and rest day(s)

Sore feet

Put feet up for 10 minutes nightly post-hiking; wear compression socks in camp and to bed.

Sore hips

Tighten shoulder straps; get a thicker sleeping pad and straighten your legs while you sleep.

Plantar fasciitis pain

Roll your foot on a lacrosse ball or curl feet under while in kneeling position to stretch. Rest day(s)