As a physical education teacher and a slightly washed-up collegiate athlete, I spend a significant amount of my day participating in, teaching or thinking about physical activity. Despite my gym membership and active lifestyle I still find the first few high elevation hikes of the season the toughest.
If you’re looking to get into your best mountain shape before the summer hiking season is in full swing, you have come to the right place. I’m going to share with you the top 5 exercises to help kick your butt into its best high elevation hiking shape!
- STRENGTHEN YOUR LOWER BODY. If you do nothing else to prepare for a serious season of hiking, do these: squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Please click the links to view a video of how to complete the exercises. The main muscles propelling you (and generally some kind of pack) higher and higher are your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius. The stronger these muscles are the easier you will find it to maneuver the uneven, vertical terrain. If you’re new to these exercises, begin using just your body weight. As this gets easier, first add repetitions and then add weight to create a greater challenge.
- DEVELOP A STRONG CORE. Your core holds the rest of your body together and is arguably one of the more important groups of muscles for any athletes success. A strong core does not necessarily mean you have a ripped 6 pack, although that would be nice. You spend a majority of your climb leaning forwards, for forward propulsion, balance, and stability purposes – often this motion is accompanied by a 10 to 40 point pack depending on your needs. Your midsection bares the brunt of this weight and needs to be conditioned to do so. Completing daily exercises for the lower back, obliques, and abdominals such as sit-ups, back extensions, Russian twists, leg raises, planks and side planks, and more will help to create a strong core!
- BASIC UPPER BODY STRENGTH. The back and shoulders carry a significant amount of weight over a long period of time while you’re hiking. Making sure the muscles associated with this region and prepared will prevent back pain and fatigue throughout your hike. Push-ups, shoulder press, bent over rows (barbell or dumbbell), reverse fly’s, lat pull-downs, face pull’s and high pulls, and their many variations, can all strengthen the upper body appropriately for carrying a few extra pounds up a mountain. You also never know when you might need a little help up those steeper rock faces; your upper body might be the only assistance for miles.
- ENDURANCE. Hikes involving elevation change tend to take a couple of hours – depending on where you’re starting from, they can also take a short 25-ish minutes – and although short breaks are a necessity, the more you stop the longer it takes to get to the summit. Also, depending on the hike or backpacking route you have planned you may or may not have the time to take so many breaks. Basic endurance is incredibly helpful in preparing yourself for a day of climbing. The easiest way this can be achieved, and probably the most relevant activity, is distance running. This can be done a variety of way and can be more or less challenging depending on your personal level of fitness as a runner. If anyone wants any personal endurance workout suggestions, please feel free to contact me and I can provide you with some suggestions (reminder: I have two degrees in this kind of stuff).
- SPECIFIC ENDURANCE. What sets mountain endurance apart from the rest is the nature of the climb. Using a stair master to practice endurance is probably the best way to embody the true nature of ascending a mountain. If this is not an option, throw a pack on and find a place with a lot of stairs (hotel tower, office building, etc.). Vary your step length, pack weight and speed up and back down each flight to get the most out of your endurance training.