So maybe you’re friend has just asked you to join them on a hike you think will be extremely challenging. Or you want to try and push yourself to conquer that legendary trail you’ve always wanted to hike. You’re probably excited to go but also anxious about completely gassing out half way up the hills.
If you’re an experienced hiker or a total novice some of the following information will help you increase your uphill hiking performance.
Strength Training For Mountain Hiking
Why should you train for strength when you are trying to train for mountain hiking, shouldn’t you just be running and hiking more?
Actually no, while cardiovascular fitness is very important, increasing your strength might be just as important.
If you can walk or hike more than 2 steps hiking is a sub-maximal movement (you can perform more than 1 rep). If you’re able to increase your strength each step becomes even more sub-maximal. E.g. you can perform more reps/steps with less effort when you become stronger than before.
This is a simplified explanation and there are more factors to consider but increasing your absolute strength will generally decrease the effort needed when hiking.
How to get stronger?
So how do you get stronger? I highly recommend Starting Strength as a program for anyone new to strength training. It’s something I’ve followed more than once that quickly improved my strength and performance. In the program there is a big emphasis on squatting in particular. It’s a very simple program to follow and doesn’t take up much time out of your week.
It’s around 45 mins a session 3x a week. You’ll only need access to a barbell, power rack and some weights. Most decent gyms should have these or if you are more serious about it you can build a garage gym.
The idea is to start at a weight where you can perform each movement without breaking down in form for 5 reps. Then each new training day you’ll add 5lbs in weight from the previous weight.
The general program I’ve followed is:
Day A: Squats 5 reps x 3 sets, Bench press 5 reps x 3 sets, Dead lifts 5 reps x 1 set.
Day B: Squats 5 reps x 3 sets, Overhead Press 5 reps x 3 sets, Barbell rows / Power cleans 5 reps x 3 sets
You’ll alternate between each day 3x a week.
So week 1 will be: Day A Monday,Day B Wednesday and Day A Friday with the weekend off.
Week 2 will be: Day B Monday, Day A Wednesday and Day B Friday.
I warm up using just the barbell and adding weights until I’m at the work weight. Then I rest 3-5 mins between each set. There is room to change it up a bit and they tend to make small changes over time. You can learn more from the official Starting Strength website.
How to perform the strength training movements
The program is built around these core movements that I’m not going to try and explain but I’ve found these videos very helpful to learn from:
Squats (Low Bar)
Regular Trail Running and Hiking
You might not live close to epic uphill trails but don’t let that stop you from training for them.
Regular hikes (Obviously)
– It’s a good way to build up your steady state cardio. This type of training is the closets to the real thing. You’ll learn to use all the muscles necessary and increase your balance along the way.
I’d recommend using a heart rate monitor to try and measure the effort put in along with time to finish. As your performance increases your times should drop and or heart rate decrease.
– Find a good sized hill and run to the top. Walk back to the bottom and repeat.
To state the obvious, running up hills regularly will probably make you better at uphill hiking.
Ideally start with a smaller hill, one that will take you 30-60 seconds to run to the top. It might be best to start with only a couple of reps and increase those reps over days and weeks. Than build up to larger hills that will take more than 2 mins after several weeks. As it’s more challenging it might be best to do less reps and increase over time again.
Weighted uphill hikes
– Use a heavy backpack or weighted vest and hike up the hill at walking pace. You could also use a treadmill. Repeat the process for several reps or increase the weight on your back next time.
All of these training methods will not only increase physical performance but mental performance also. Making sure you stick to a training schedule even when you don’t feel like it or continuing to train when you want to quit will increase your mental toughness.
One of the main benefits of HIIT Training or High-intensity interval training is how efficient it is. When done correctly you’ll get a killer session in on very little time. So if you are short on time but want to get in an effective cardio workout in this should be to your liking.
You’ll use short timed amounts of high intensity work followed by a timed recovery period.
An Example of How to Perform HIIT Training
Start with a light warm up. This can be 10-15 mins or a slow to moderate pace running. Enough to get your muscles warm and heart rate up a bit.
Begin The Intervals. Run at a very fast pace for 3 mins. When the time is up run at a slow pace for a 3 minute recovery. Repeat this 4-5 times with no extra rest in between intervals.
Cool Down. Once you have finished the intervals you shouldn’t just stop running. Take 5-10 minutes to jog at a moderate pace. Slowly decrease your speed over time until you’re at a slow walking pace.
This is just one simple example but there are lots of ways you can use and adjust this method. Adding in more intervals, changing the times or changing the exercises used. Here are some good guides to follow on HIIT Training:
- Coach Mag 45 min workout for runners uses a variety of exercises instead of just running.
- My Fitness Pal’s walking HIIT workout. If you’re really out of shape this could be a great way to get started but you’ll probably need to increase the intensity soon after.
- BodyRock 20 minute HITT Treadmill workout
Body weight exercises
The great thing about body weight exercises is you don’t need a fancy gym just yourself and some space. You’ve probably performed or have seen most of these before, they also show up in some HITT and circuit training programs.
Some of the core exercises include:
A good bodyweight workout I’ve used in the past:
- 20 Squats
- 15 push ups
- 25 box step ups
- 3-5 pull ups
- 60 sec planks
- 15 burpees
If that’s to hard or easy you could adjust the reps or add in/take out exercises. I’m not an expert and you might want to look at some good body weight workout programs like the following:
Summing things up…
I wouldn’t recommend using all of these methods at once. In fact it’s probably best to start with one thing, get it right and once you’re comfortable start incorporating other methods in.
I believe strength training is probably utilised the least by hikers out of everything therefore usually the most beneficial, so I’d start with that.
Then make a plan to add in the cardiovascular focused exercises on the days off from strength training. Trying to do both in one day could lead to a lack of performance and burnout. It’s a balancing act and you’ll need to make sure you get enough rest in.