Training for hiking beginner: The most important factors to your training include three parts. First, build your aerobic base. Second, focus on strength training. Third, but still very important is gear. know how to use your gear and pick comfortable hiking shoes. If you train for the first two right they ultimately won’t matter if you pick the wrong shoes for your hike.
I have researched the best training advice for hiking beginners and collected different methods from pros. Then I summarized only the most important aspects to focus on so you can implement this info into your training. I have also learned a few misconceptions I had about hiking. Also, Some of the facts that people were claiming I discovered to be false under careful analysis.
Training prevents injury: If you are a beginner, and planning a big hike, don’t do it with just a month of doing weights and walking a little here and there. Ultimately your training schedule depends on what type of trip you’re planning for and when you plan on leaving.
Training prevents you from sounding like a huffing puffing dog during your long hike. To prevent you from getting the jelly legs on descents, to prevent falls, and injuries. Training also improves your balance while passing difficult and unpredictable terrain.
In this article, I will be covering essential factors to implement into your training. I will also list some calisthenic and weight workouts that you can try. I’ll also cover some specific areas you should strengthen which make managing your backpack easier.
There will be some information on hydration, and how you should practice hydrating correctly for your hikes to stay healthy. I will also go include some additional exercises and exercises to avoid because they are unhelpful. I’ll offer some alternatives to the bad exercises so you can train more efficiently.
Well…let’s get started!
Training for hiking beginner, Day 1. First off, we all know that trying to focus on two complex tasks at once wastes time, and makes you terrible at both of them. If you’re chasing two chickens at a time you end up catching none of them. The same is true for training your aerobic base and doing strength training at the same time.
Instead, Pick a priority and learn your limits and or what problems you may have with certain activities. I have seen a lot of people flat out ignore this core element of training and focus completely on strength training. While strength training is also important, building an aerobic base will serve as the foundation for your training.
So what does building your aerobic base mean? If you’re thinking cardio, and intense sweating you would be wrong. Aerobic training is essentially the opposite of the no pain no gain mentality. Aerobic training is good for beginners to start with.
If you aren’t very active, suddenly starting an intense training regime with the no pain no gain approach can lead to injury. Building an Aerobic base builds your endurance.
It will also make you aware of any issues with your joints and posture rather than aggravate them further through unwarranted intensity and stress. Before training buy a heart-rate monitor, keep in mind It doesn’t have to be an expensive one.
What does aerobic base training look like? Slow, long sessions completed without increasing stress. This is where the heart-rate monitor comes in. Find your maximum heart rate, then work 10 beats below your maximum heart rate. Also, you may find it surprising how slow you have to work at times during this element of training.
How to tell you are training correctly?
1. Breathing through your nose
2. Able to have a conversation without huffing and puffing
3. Light to moderate breathing
4. Light sweating (although if it’s a hotter day outside you may sweat more)
Practice aerobic training more if you plan on hiking a big peak or mountain. About 6-8 months of aerobics training will massively help for training as a beginner.
Even if you’re not training specifically for a mountain, aerobic training will still be helpful for you. And remember the more time you spend with this training the better it will serve you.
Helpful and unhelpful exercises
Unhelpful exercises: The Stairmaster is a bad hiking exercise and here’s why. Stairmasters are limited by the range of motion for that machine. In reality, you will not face repetitive motions, instead, you will have to hike across unpredictable terrain.
Hill repeats, stair ascents and descents. Going up and down a hill is a helpful exercise because you are navigating across changing terrain, unlike using a Stairmaster. Don’t forget to train for your descent as well.
Most accidents happen on the descent phase of hiking, which makes sense because a lot of your energy was spent hiking up the trail. More likely than not you will get injured from descending, avoid this by remembering to incorporate hill repeats.
Train for hiking by hiking: Go on some short hikes near your neighborhood to train. There are probably different hiking trails you don’t know about which are near you. Do a little research and find out where those places are. As you progress you can move on from easy to moderate leveled trails to build your confidence.
Develop your core: Having developed abs will serve as a strong central foundation for your body during fatigues. Ab training is often overlooked, but the rewards for training them cannot be ignored. Developing your core can make the difference between quitting your hike halfway, and making your goal. You don’t have to have a full-on shredded six pack, just some ab muscle.
Carry your backpack on your walks: Fill your backpack with a small amount of weight. Start by just taking a walk with your pack around the neighborhood. Each week, add a little more weight. Eventually, you will be able to carry your full load and walk without it feeling like such a burden.
Make a consistency goal: (for example, 4-5 workouts a week for a month), and after you complete this goal reward yourself. This will help you stay motivated during your training.
Planning your exercises: I would recommend planning and researching your workout routine on the weekend, and doing it on the weekdays. That way you know what you’re going to do once the week begins, and you don’t have to guess what you’re doing next during the middle of the week.
Exercises for hiking
There are plenty of detailed science-based hiking training programs out there which show you what to do step by step, which I cannot outline here in this article. Instead, I will list some exercises which can give you a good start to training.
Before I list the exercises, here is some advice. If you feel like you need to take a rest day then take it! One more thing, if your body doesn’t feel good while performing some of these exercises, listen to it, skip it, and pick an alternative. Don’t make the exercises fit your body, instead make sure the exercises work for your body! This distinction is key!
- Jump Squats
- Hip roll
- heel down
- squat curl
- bridge+hamstring curl
- side plank leg raise
- hip clock
- Wall angles
Exercises you can do with weights
- Good mornings or Romanian deadlifts
- Glute bridges
- Hip thrusters
- Kettlebell swings
- Bent over rows or cable pull-throughs
- Calf raises
- Reverse Lunges
- Side lunges
These are some exercises that target specific muscles used during hiking. If you are looking for other exercises, then it’s important to select ones that will target the right muscles.
For example, your lower back, neck, and shoulders will have to undergo a lot of stress from carrying your backpack. Also, your hike may possibly last many months depending on your plans, meaning months of carrying your heavy backpack.
Pick exercises targeting the neck, lower back, and shoulders to counter the heavyweight from your backpack. After your hike, you won’t be as sore, and your risk of injury will decrease.
During training people often develop imbalances between the anterior chain and the posterior chain from overdoing quad and ab exercises. Make sure you don’t overtrain these areas. While they are important, having muscular symmetry is also important to help you maintain balance.
Use gear correctly
Hiking shoes: Arguably the most important gear for a hike, and the first piece of gear you will regret neglecting. Hiking shoes will make the difference between an enjoyable hike, and a very short hike leaving you with blisters.
My advice to you, go on a walk in your hiking shoes. A short walk in the park is the time to find out that they hurt not 5 miles into a multi-day trip. Also, keep in mind some boots have features for specific terrain and walking strides. Do a good amount of research before you make your selection, and most importantly test it before you hike!
Learn how to use your items: Practice making your tent so you can set it up quickly in case a rainstorm should suddenly strike. Having this knowledge will make you feel more confident during your hike.
Learn how to use your trekking poles, they alleviate the stress put on your knees. Know how to use bear spray if you are going into bear territory. Knowing how to read topographic maps is helpful, and while you’re at it, master the compass.
Since you’re a beginner, you are more likely to get lost, having this navigation knowledge will be invaluable to finding your way back to the trail.
Lastly, I would recommend learning how to properly pack a backpacker’s backpack. There are a lot of gear new hikers end up throwing away in the trash at rest stops because the little things add up. Know what you need to take vs what you want to take.
How to use your trekking poles: Put your arms in a neutral position. Only slightly bending your elbows and using your shoulders to move yourself forward. Use your straps to maintain a relaxed loose grip on your poles. When hiking downhill, keep your poles slightly in front of you.
Shorten your stride to reduce stress on your knees. If the trail is steep and muddy, try ramming the poles into the ground and take side steps up to the pole.
If you are hiking uphill with poles, then use the poles to push off, not pull yourself up the hill. Try to avoid placing the tip of your pole in front of your lead foot (your dominant foot).
Educate yourself about local poisonous plants, snakes, and insects so you can be prepared to avoid them. It is especially important to know if you are hiking near bear territory, in that case, you will have to take extra precautions.
If you are training for a very long and intense hike, I would recommend getting a medical check-up before you go.
It’s good to know if you have any underlying problems before they become known to you during your hike.
I would not recommend going alone during your first major hiking trip. Go with a hiking group, or with a friend. Better yet a friend who knows a thing or two about hiking.
Also, you can get lost easier during your first trip if you are alone, that’s why it’s good to be with someone who knows the trail, and how to read maps while hiking. This can better equip you for solo hikes in the future.
Training is a good place to instill good habits which will become second nature once you hit your big hike. Hydration may seem simple enough, but it’s good to practice hydrating efficiently.
For example, drinking water quickly in big chugs means the majority of water you’re drinking becomes secreted. This leaves lots of water from reaching vital areas of the body. Also if you drink quite randomly, or if you are the type of person to forget to drink, dehydration can become an issue.
The habits you have in life such as forgetting to drink water and suddenly feeling very thirsty will carry on to your hiking. In daily matters, it’s not nearly as crucial to hydrate as it is while sweating on the trail. After all, the human body is 90% water, which means we need a lot of it!
Instead of taking big chugs of water randomly rather than consistently, and giving it bottom priority, place water as a high priority.
Be conscious of how much water you have been drinking while on the trail in the same way you would be aware of snakes after seeing a snake sign.
Drinking water alone is important, and all, but it’s also important to hydrate efficiently so it can reach your body.
In order for water to reach your body, you will have to develop a new habit. On the next hike, you go on, bring a camel, or a small water bottle, and follow these steps. Hydrate at least 1 liter of water every two hours. Then drink slowly so the water can reach your body.
For your big hike, I would recommend drinking small and slow sips of water every 30 seconds to a minute for around 10 to 30 minutes. Building this habit while hiking is often overlooked, but it’s helpful to start forming this habit at the beginning rather than later on in your training.
What to do next?
Summary: Now let us do a little bit of recap, then I can tell you what the first few steps are to begin training. First off, keep the three factors to training in mind. Develop your Aerobic base, then focus on strength training.
Next make sure you know how to use your gear, like your tent, and bear spray if you need it for where you are going. Focus on one thing at a time, that’s important. Focus on the aerobic base first, the longer you build your base, the more it will pay off in the long run.
Pick good exercises which target hiking muscles, and make sure you don’t go out with untested hiking shoes. Also, I would recommend you take a rest week before you reach the trail. Lay low and don’t do a bunch of weights.
You want to be in optimal condition for the trail so that when you hit the trail you are feeling fresh. You won’t want to feel tired at the start of your thru-hike which could last months.
The first step I would recommend is to simply walk for a little bit each day for about 30-40 mins. This is a great first step to begin your hiking journey. After you get off the couch and get on a good consistent walking schedule, follow the three factors to your training.
Rest for a week before your hike, you can do some stuff but don’t train intensely during this week. After all that it’s time to finally start your hike. Have fun on your next adventure, and train well!