ESSENTIAL SKILLS

Which Exercises Helps Prepare for Uphill Hiking: Prepping for a Challenge

a person on the top of the hill watching the landscape
John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

One of the great things about hiking is that most anyone can do it.  At its basic form, it is merely walking.  However, you will find that hiking calls for covering longer distances and over more varied terrain than most of us experience walking for our day to day needs.

This means that you will probably want to work on some exercises to ensure that you are ready to conquer that next hike.  It will call for some planning, so you know what you will come across during your next outing.

new-zealand mountains landscape

Let’s say for example that the hike you are planning will call or you to be heading uphill.  Which exercise helps prepare for uphill hiking?  Let’s dive into the subject to ensure that you are ready for the challenge.

Planning out the Hike

It is always a good idea to know the challenge that will be waiting for you.  This gives you a good idea how much preparation is needed based on your previous experience.  In our case, we are looking at a hike that will take us mostly uphill. First, you’ll want to look into how long the hike is.

Next, you will want to consider how steep the hill that you are headed up is. For some hikes, it may just be rolling hills, for others you may find yourself one step away from calling your hike “mountaineering”.

Woman Wearing Black Jacket Using Binoculars Sitting on Mountain

Lastly, you will also want to consider the terrain and the trail itself.  Some uphill routes take the shortest course, giving you a rather steep path to go along.  Others will use switchbacks, these will lengthen the distance that you walk and make it seem like you aren’t making progress up the hill at times, but will be a much gentler graded.  Some trails will employ steps which can end up using a whole different set of muscles.

Now that you have an idea what the next hike will call for, it is time to think back to the hike that you’ve done that was most similar to the planned one. Compare all three areas we discussed above.  If you have done a hike that was rather close to the one you are looking at doing think about how long ago it was.

Have you remained active at the elapsed time?  If you are doing a hike that it in your comfort zone, then you might not need to worry about working out as much to prep, but if this next hike will be the biggest you’ve tackled you’ll want to spend some time preparing.

You will also need to know a few things that are not on the trail.  When you go out hiking how heavy of a pack do you take with you.  For this hike, do you think that your pack weight will be the same or not?

2 Person Hiking on Top of a Hill during Daytime

Also, think about your hiking partners. Are they going to be able to keep pace with you or will you be able to keep pace with them?  If you both need some work, your hiking buddy may be a natural choice to be your workout buddy as well.  Often times people report that having someone to work out with keeps them doing exercises even when they would rather skip it for something more entertaining.

Planning out your Exercise

When you are looking at preparing for a hike and an uphill one, in particular, you’ll need to focus on the muscles that will do most of the work. Obviously, you will want to do some leg work, but there is more that those that you should work on. Strengthening your core will help you to remain upright and move about easier, especially if you are carrying a pack.

It would be wise to do some arm work, at times on the trail you might have to pull yourself up or you may simply wish to use hiking poles to give yourself extra balance.

Lastly, don’t forget that your heart is a muscle. Depending on how steep your chosen trail is you can end up putting some strain on your heart as you push to continue.  You’ll want to consider some cardio training in your exercise plan.

A woman on the top of the mountain

When planning out an exercise regimen you want to be honest with yourself. You have already determined what your goal is and from looking at your past hikes and considering the shape that you are currently in you can set a timeline. For some people, the distance to get from their current shape to their plan is rather short. However, if you need to put in some work to be able to accomplish your plan, give yourself adequate time for preparation. Our piece on backpack training to get you in shape will be a tremendous help, so do read it.

Exercises to consider

Remember that there is no single exercise that will help you to be ready for your hike.  Below you will find some information a number of exercises that you may want to consider.  You will want to come up with your plan that focuses on the areas that you feel are most important to you.

Squats

Squats are a simple exercise that can be done where ever you find yourself.  You lower yourself by bending at the knees, keeping your back straight.  You will want to keep your knees in line with your feet and it is best if you stop when your knees reach a 90-degree bend.  Then you go back up to standing.  If you are just starting out, squats with body weight are a good way to go.

Person doing Squats Exercises With Bands

After you’ve worked on it for a while start doing them with a pack on, adding 10 pounds or so of weight when you feel comfortable.  You will want to be able to get up to your standard pack weight, but if you can comfortably do so with more weight than that you’ll be in a good position.

Core Exercises (Crunches, Sit Ups, Planks, Etc.)

Crunches have you lay on the floor with your knees bent so your feet are firmly on the floor near your bottom.  Your hands and arms can either be behind your head or on your chest.  Then, by using your abs, you will curl up so that your head and shoulder blades are off the floor.

For sit-ups, you’ll be in a similar position, but you will bring your chest up to meet your thighs.  In a plank, you’ll start laying face down on the ground.  Then you will bring yourself up so that your body weight is resting on your toes and elbows.  Your goal is to keep your back and legs in a straight line for as long as possible.

Person doing Crunches Exercises in the morning

Core strength is important in that it helps you maintain your upright position.  Perhaps even more important is that it can help you maintain stability.  Consider if you are on a trail of loose gravel and your slip.  That core strength can end up being the difference between you regaining your balance and you ending up on your face.

Push Ups

While holding yourself up on your hand and toes, you lower your body down by bending your arms. Then you will extend them back to your starting position. You will want to keep your back as straight as possible during the movement. This will work on your torso and your arms. While many hikers might not feel they need to work on these areas, consider lifting a full pack, pulling yourself up a steep part of the trail or helping a hiking companion that has fallen get back up.

Strong young woman doing push ups exercise with dumbbells

Cardio

Don’t forget to work your heart to prepare it for your uphill endeavors as well.  There are any number of ways to get in cardio and the choices are truly yours.  You may feel more comfortable going for a jog or perhaps you like some of the cardio machines that your local gym has.  Any way you go about it, this should be a core part of your training plan.

group of people doing cardio exercises together

Lunges

You will want to start from a standing position and take a step forward. While doing this your back leg will bend down so that the knee touches or nearly touches the ground.  Return to your starting position and then step with the other leg. You have the option of returning back to the spot you started or using this motion to walk forward. These are great exercises to do uphill or downhill if you have a good spot to tackle that, however, even doing them in your home will provide benefit to you.

Lunges are one of the best body weight moves for your legs

Steps

This one could be as simple as finding a staircase and walking up and down it.  To add some more to the exercise, you can find a bench or sturdy object that will allow you to step up higher than normal stairs.  You can do your steps straight on to step up to the side.  It is important to remember to alternate which foot goes first.

This is another great exercise to add a pack with some weight as you get more and more comfortable with it.  Again, if you can get yourself to being able to do this with more than the weight of the pack you normally carry you should be in a good position.

You can also try these exercises to strengthen your ankles, as shown in a previous post – just click the link.

group-exercising together

Calf Raise

While laying on your back have your legs stretched out with the knees straight. Then you will raise your legs and lower them back down. There are a number of variations that can be done, raising one leg at a time; going up to 45 degrees, hold, then up to 90 degrees, hold, and then return; simply holding your legs six inches off the ground.

When you start, you might want to do these barefoot or in athletic shoes, but you should work on building up to doing them in your hiking boots.  If you need even more, you can always add ankle weights as well.

Person doing calf raise exercise

Burpee

This one is also called the body builder at times, but it is an eight-count exercise.  First, you begin standing upright, then you drop down so that you are on your hand and toes, knees bent in under you (one).  Next, you kick your legs out so you are in the pushup position (two).

Now you will kick your legs out to the side so that you are spread eagle (three) and then return to the push-up position (four).  Then do a push-up, down (five), up (six).   You will next return to the position from two (seven) and lastly, you will jump up (eight).

a woman doing burpee exercise

Weights

There are any number of weight machines that you can use to do variations on these exercises by using weights, either free or machines.  However, since they will probably require a trip to the gym we will leave them off of this list for now.

man exercises by using weights

Other Considerations

There are a number of other things to consider when you are preparing.  One of the first things is the elevation of your hike.  You will want to consider not only the elevation gain and lost during the hike, but the overall numbers as well.  If you are used to hiking around sea level and go up a few thousand feet your body won’t be as used to the lower levels of oxygen and will have to work harder just walking around normally.

man watching the clouds on top of the mountains

You will also want to consider the weather.  In cold weather, your body will be working to stay warm while you hike.  It is possible to help out by wearing warm clothes, but you need to have layers so you can remove and put on stuff as needed. You can check out our previous article on the best base layering to help you stay comfortably warm.

The Best Hiking Preparation Exercise

If you want the one best thing that you can do to prepare for uphill hiking, we have found it.  The answer is hiking.  By going on hikes that are just a little bit longer or just a little more uphill you will build your endurance and your body will build up the muscles that you need to use.  If you only have a single trail near to home you can do that one and simply carry more weight to give it that bumped up factor.

Person in Black Shirt and Blue Denim Jeans Wearing Orange Black Hiking Bag Standing on Hiking Trail during Daytime

This approach lets you build your endurance while also giving you a chance to vary your “work out”.  While there are only so many ways to switch up a set of exercises if you find trails you can take on a new one every week.  This also allows you to not only break in your hiking boots, but a chance to use them along with any other hiking gear you have purchased.  Now you are getting more use out of your hiking gear that you’ve sunk money into.

This method can also be very helpful in cutting out the excuses that crop up.  For example, if you tend to work out in the morning it can be rather hard to talk yourself out of a warm comfy bed to do a core routine.  On the other hand, if you are excited about going out for a hike, then you are more likely to make sure that you don’t talk yourself out of it by saying things like I’ll do it tomorrow or missing one day won’t matter. You can also read our informative article on what exercises are best to boost uphill hiking.

Concluding Thoughts on This Topic

Hiking is not difficult, though based on the route you choose, it can be rather hard.  You will want to make sure that you are prepared, not only with the right gear, but having your body in the right condition to do well and enjoy the hike.  If you are fit and ready for the hike you’ll be able to enjoy the views, spend some good quality time with your hiking companions and enjoy yourself. If not, you may find yourself huffing and puffing along, wondering “Why did I think this was a good idea?”

2 People Walking Towards the Mountain during Daytime

When you are looking at, which exercises you will do to prepare for your trip, you need, to be honest about where you are and what shape you’re in.  If you can’t be honest here, you may push yourself too hard working out and injure yourself.  Perhaps even worse, you could talk yourself into not needing to work out and injuring yourself on the trail, where help is less easily come across.

You will need to come up with your own plan for how long to do the exercises and how many repetitions and sets will work for you.  These will base an awful lot on where you are starting and where you are trying to get to.  For starters, the answer may simply be five of each, but remember that no matter how much you are doing your workout is someone else’s warm up.  Remember that the workout is not the goal, it is just the path that gets you to longer hikes.

Finally, we’d love to hear from you.  Have you done any of these exercises to prepare for a hike?  Or are there some that we missed that you’ve found particularly helpful in your prep work?

Mountain during Sunrise

Don’t forget to share this out on social media as well.  You never know when a friend may be trying to get ready for a hike.  And you never know, you might just end up with another hiking buddy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John C. Porter
John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

  • Steve Dangle

    Great exercises. I hope to do this everyday, but I’ll probably get less motivated. How can I motivate myself better and stick to it?

    • John C. Porter

      Set goals for yourself. Write them down. Figure out some exercises you need to do and stick with them at the gym. You can always hire a personal trainer, too!

  • Dimithri Lenov

    I am a person who like to take the risk. I have been in Sri Lanka and had some really really good time in a place call ELLA. There you can have a really good experience.

  • John C. Porter

    That’s for sure!

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