Get in Shape for Hiking

Learn What it Takes to Hike

Get in Shape for Hiking

Introduction

Are you in shape for hiking? Do you know the steps to get there? You’ll learn all that plus how to prepare yourself, where to go hiking, exercises you can do, and other tools to use. I’m not a fitness expert, so make sure you consult with your doctor before you start any new fitness routine,  especially if you have a health condition.

Are You Ready?

Your entry barrier to hiking is lower than you think. In fact, it’s as low as the ground you’re on now because that elevation is all it takes to get started. If you’re the kind of person who wants to be an expert at something right away and it prevents you from starting things, take my advice here. You don’t have to be athletic to hike. You don’t even have to be mildly active. The only physical requirement, in my opinion, is the ability to walk. If you can walk, you can hike. (Hiking is just walking anyway!)

You may want to hike way out in the wilderness to get the best views or the most awesome challenges. That’s great motivation and will help you identify your goals, but don’t give up if you can’t do your bucket list hike today.

Where Do You Want To Be?

How to get in shape for hiking

The first task in getting where you want to be is to decide where you want to be. You want to hike, but you need to be more specific. Identify your goal.

If you don’t already have a particular hike or a type of hiking in mind, start thinking about it. Close your eyes and envision yourself hiking, without self-judgement. What do you see? Hiking three miles in a city park? Backpacking eight miles in a state or national park? Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Regardless of what it is, if it makes you feel good thinking about it, maybe this is what your goal is. If you’re having trouble with this part, that’s ok too! Just hike and maybe you’ll be inspired.

The next vital step to identify your values. What’s your why behind your goal? What’s going to keep you motivated when you are miserable with sweat and achy muscles? Or when you’re in your comfy bed when you need to be up early to get to the trail head? Knowing and living by your values is fulfilling and motivating to keep you moving towards your hiking goal. If you need help with this step, I highly recommend checking out The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT for $14. It’s transformed how I live my life. (By the way, if you make a purchase from that link, it’ll help support this blog’s expenses and won’t cost any extra to you.)

With your goals and values in order, you now need a plan of action to get in shape for hiking your big hike.

Where Are You?

How to get in shape for hiking
Samantha backpacking in Peru.

When I hiked at 17,000 feet above sea level in Peru, my plan of action didn’t start there. I started where I was and that’s the first thing you have to do. Where are you? 

Is walking 1 mile on a flat track a challenge? Does walking up a hill wind you? Or are you a trail runner with a high VO2 Max? Regardless of where you are, it’s perfect! It doesn’t really matter where you are, as long as you give yourself the time, grace, and commitment to get to where you want to be.

Once you realize where you are and where you want to be, you can lay out the steps of your journey. There are a couple of ways you can go about laying that out, but my favorite is to work backwards from my goal. Answering these questions is how:

  • How will you know you are ready to go on that goal hike?
  • What’s the next hardest hike that would test and prepare you for this hike?
  • What’s the third hardest hike that would test and prepare you for the second hardest hike?

You keep answering those questions until you get to your current level. Ultimately, you will ask what hike can you do right now that will prepare you for the next level up. The most important thing about training is to push yourself incrementally. Find a trail in a park close to you that matches your desired intensity level. (AllTrails is a great app to help match you up with trail difficulty, elevation gain, and length.)

Not everyone can get outside year-round, so the alternative is to walk on a treadmill, stair master, or similar gym equipment where you can control the speed, intensity, and incline. Don’t consider these as absolute substitutes, though. I have not met a treadmill that mimics rocks and tree roots that can trip you up on a real trail. There are some other non-hiking ways you should use to train for your hiking goals too!

What Else Can You Do?

How to get in shape for hiking
 If you want to keep your body in move-ready condition, consider adding these to your routine:
 
  • Active Stretching – This is necessary when you’re pushing your body’s limits. It helps prevent muscle pain, cramps, and muscular fatigue by releasing lactic acid from your muscles. And if you have a chronic back problem like I do, this is even more important. Make sure you check out Yoga with Adrienne to do this at home for free. I stretch before and after every hike and other workouts.
  • Strength Training – Hiking works out every part of your body! So strength training on just about any part of your body can improve your hiking game. I have two types to suggest. First, if backpacking is something you want to try, wear a weighted backpack while day hiking on a trail you’ve hiked before. You’ll build muscle and confidence as well! Second, when the pandemic shut gyms and Tennessee parks down, I fell in love (hate?) with Chloe Ting’s free online workouts. She’s good at showing modified versions of the exercises for low-impact/beginners. Plus her instruction and pacing make it easy for me to keep up. Consider working on the following:
    • Legs
    • Your core, as carrying backpacks tests your core
    • Your arms, especially if you use trekking poles to hike, which elevates your heart rate
  • Running (OPTIONAL) – If your big goal includes hiking at a high elevation, consider running. It may help fend off altitude sickness by increasing your body’s oxygen processing efficiency, aka VO2 Max. (10,000 ft. is where 75% of people begin to feel mild symptoms of altitude sickness. For reference, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River is 6,684 ft.) 

Track Your Progress

How to get in shape for hiking
My Suunto Watch and Heart Rate Belt

Track your progress with a high tech option, like a smart watch. Or go low tech and record your mileage, heart rate, time, etc. in a notebook. Like running, this step is completely optional. But it’s fun if you like metrics and tracking your progress over time. 

I’ve been using a Suunto Ambit3 Peak for a few years, because it measures altitude, barometric pressure, has GPS and a compass, connects to my Suunto heart rate belt, and has amazing battery life. Unfortunately, those aren’t in production anymore. While I haven’t tried this watch, it seems like the closest match to my Ambit3. Of course, if you purchase one at my link, you’ll help contribute to the upkeep of this site. 

Conclusion

You have what it takes to hike. Identify your goal and the steps it to get there or just start hiking and let it inspire you! Now that you have an idea of some things you can do to prepare yourself for hiking and have some tools, what will you do with them? Are you going to get out in the wild? Whether you’re ready or want to learn more about hiking here, make sure you subscribe to my email list so you can be the first to learn about new posts!