As anyone who has ever hiked before knows, climbing mountains and walking long, sometimes slippery distances can be a strenuous endeavor and is generally harder than you think before you set out. If you’re preparing to do something like hiking the 48 4,000 footers of New Hampshire, physical preparation is a must. We’ve compiled a summary of circumstances one should train for: elevation gain hiking (short distance but very steep) and endurance hiking (longer distance with more gradual inclines).
Training for endurance hiking is exactly the same as training for just about any other endurance sport. Generally, you want to train by doing prolonged physical activity that is slightly more intense than what you’re training for, but do it for slightly less time. You also want to vary your training program on a regular schedule: increase your training day by day from the beginning to the middle of the week (or whatever term you’re using), and then gradually decrease throughout the second half of the cycle, and repeat.
For example, if you’re training by running, start by running 2.5 miles on Monday, 4 miles on Tuesday, 7 on Wednesday, 5 on Thursday and 3 on Friday. It is important to incorporate rest days into your routine to give your muscles time to grow and recover, so in this example routine you would take weekends off and reserve those days for light stretching or yoga.
You should also incorporate HII’s (high-intensity intervals) into your training, i.e.: if you’re running 10 miles, you should sprint for the last 100 yards of every mile or half mile to incorporate HII’s.
Activities you can do to increase your overall physical endurance include (but are not limited to): running/jogging, cycling, elliptical running, stair climbing, swimming, XC skiing, and rowing. It’s a good idea to incorporate multiple different types of endurance exercise into your routine, especially ones that use different muscle groups. For example, a moderate routine might include jogging 2-3 times per week, and also throw in 1-2 half-hour swim sessions. You use your muscles differently while jogging than you do while swimming, and incorporating both activities into your routine helps to ensure an equal balance of strength throughout your body while also improving your overall cardiovascular endurance.
Elevation Gain Hiking
For elevation gain hiking, the reality is that it requires both strength and endurance training. The best way (in my experience at least) to achieve this balance is to do pure HIIT (high-intensity interval training). This means doing highly strenuous activity in repeated, short bursts for a more significant amount of time.
When it comes to preparing for elevation gain hiking, probably the best HIIT workout you could do is stadium stairs. Find a local stadium that is open to the public. Jog around the track or just lightly jog up and down the stairs once to warm up, then stretch. For the actual workout, sprint up the stairs as fast as you can, and then slowly jog down. To make it more intense (and effective), do this while wearing a fully loaded backpack, or incorporate ankle and wrist weights. If you’re wearing a backpack (or actually, just in general), keep your posture in mind and be careful not to over-strain your back.
Just sitting in the stadium will not help...
Other workouts you could do are hill-sprints incorporated into a long run or bike ride, or a balanced gym routine using moderately heavy weights and very short breaks (achieve this by setting yourself up to alternate between two activities that work different muscle groups with the shortest amount of time possible between sets).
Elevation gain hiking is extremely difficult on the glutes, hamstrings and calves, while the descent will also put a lot of pressure on your quads. The best way to strengthen your legs for this is squats (using weights if you can). Lots and lots of squats. And lunges. You can also step it up and do burpees (squat, jump, drop down to plank, do a push-up, pull your legs in and spring back to standing, repeat). Box jumps (jump from a squatting position onto a stable, high surface - usually a wooden box) are also a great way to train your legs for pure strength and also stability, which can come in handy in tough terrain.
There are so many possible ways you can train for hiking, but the most important things to do are listen to your body and do things that you enjoy. If you have bad knees, trade stadium stairs for cycling or the elliptical. If you hate the gym and prefer to exercise outside, go for a run. The main thing is to incorporate a mix of activities that will increase your overall cardiovascular endurance and also your lower-body (and upper-body couldn’t hurt) strength.