Backpacking Fitness

Strengthen Your Feet for the Trail

Your feet carry you every step of the way, so don’t neglect them in your training. This workout hits every major muscle group while building foot strength, which improves mobility and balance and safeguards against common injuries. Complete this circuit once a week along with a cardio and strength regimen, and allow yourself at least six weeks to train before a big hike.


Warmup (3 sets)

Illustration of athlete doing inchworms
Peter Sucheski

3 Inchworms

From standing, bend down and walk your hands into a plank position, then slowly step your feet forward to meet your hands. Keep your legs as straight as possible so that you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, calves, and toes.

12 Big Toe Raises (per foot)

From a standing position, lift just your right big toe. Hold for one second before lowering. Complete all reps on your right foot before switching sides.

Illustration of athlete doing forward/side/reverse lunges
Peter Sucheski

6 Forward/Side/Reverse Lunges

Complete all reps in the sequence, then switch legs.

Workout (3 sets)

25 Jumping Jacks

Athlete doing single-leg squats
Peter Sucheski

12 Single-Leg Squats (per leg)

To build up to unassisted single-leg squats, start by sitting back onto a chair or bench, then stand back up—all on one leg. The lower the bench, the greater the challenge.

50 Mountain Climbers

12 Reverse Lunges to Hop

Step your right foot back into a reverse lunge. As you bring your right foot forward to return to standing, drive your right knee up toward your chest and hop off your left foot. Immediately reverse lunge with the opposite leg.

12 Alternating Shoulder Taps (per side)

From a plank position, tap your left shoulder with your right hand. Keep your hips stable; avoid rocking from side to side. Switch hands.

Athlete doing single-leg deadlifts
Peter Sucheski

12 Single-Leg Deadlifts (per leg)

Perform these using just your bodyweight. Or, for an added challenge, hold a dumbbell in the hand opposite your standing leg.

Cool Down

10 Bear Squat to Downward Dog Transitions

Start in an elevated tabletop position, with just your palms and toes touching the floor. Push your hips back and straighten your legs, transitioning into downward dog. Hold for a few seconds then return to the starting position.

1- to 2-minute Self-Myofascial Release with Mobility Ball (per foot)

Place your foot on a mobility ball (or tennis or lacrosse ball) and, using the weight of your body, massage the arch, heel, and ball of your foot. Move your foot in small circles, spending more time on sections of the foot that feel tight or tender, and applying as much pressure as feels good.

1- to 2-minute Foam Rolling (per calf)

Sitting on the floor, cross your right ankle over your left and place your left calf on top of a foam roller. Using your hands to lift your hips, slowly roll your calf back and forth across the roller. Linger on any sore spots.  

The Expert

Pete McCall, CSCS, is the host of the All About Fitness podcast.