- Step Up Your Hiking Workout
- What are the Benefits of Hiking?
- 1. Improves overall fitness, and builds muscles
- 2. Helps you lose weight
- 3. Improves blood pressure, and lowers risk of heart disease
- 4. Makes you more creative
- 5. It can help your body heal
- 6. Improves overall mental health
- 7. It helps you unplug
- 8. Hiking makes us happier
- 9. Hiking can be a great boost to our social lives
- The Many Benefits of Hiking
- Hiking Can Help Your Kids, Too!
- The benefits of hiking
- The health benefits of hiking
- The mental benefits of hiking
- The physical benefits of hiking
- Social benefits of hiking
- Why Hiking Is the Perfect Mind-Body Workout
- Thank you!
- Muscles worked hiking
- Benefits of hiking
- Does Hiking Count as Cardio?
- How Can You Make Hiking a Better Workout?
- Start With These Basic Hiking Fitness Tips
- Training for a Day Hike
- The Three Best Exercises to Get in Shape for Hiking
- How to Avoid Injury on Steep and Rocky Trails
- How to Choose Hiking Boots and Shoes
- Preparing Physically for a Backpacking Trip
- Tips for Getting in Shape for Mountain Hiking
- Getting in Shape for a Thru-Hike
Step Up Your Hiking Workout
You can get more out of your hiking with these fitness-boosting strategies.
Start slow. A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills or uneven terrain.
Use poles. Digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you a stronger cardio workout.
Head for the hills. Even a small hill will intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories. Miller says a 5% to 10% incline equals a 30% to 40% increase in calorie burn.
Bump it up. Uneven terrain can work muscles while improving balance and stability.
Weigh yourself down. Stock your day pack with extra weight. (Water’s a good option.) According to Miller, a 10- to 15-pound day pack will boost your calorie burn by 10% to 15% while strengthening your lower back muscles.
Get into a groove. On the days you can’t make it to the trails, power-walk on a hilly terrain while carrying various degrees of weight in a backpack — it will keep your hiking skills and fitness level on track.
Last month, I took a 7.5-mile hike near Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia. Thanks to a nearly 1,900 foot-elevation gain, my hike definitely gave me a good cardiovascular workout. But there may be some additional health benefits of hiking, as I learned from Dr. Aaron L. Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
“The nice thing about hiking is that it exists along an entire continuum, from a gentle walk on a flat wooded path to mountain climbing,” says Dr. Baggish. Nearly everyone, regardless of age or athletic ability, can find a hike that offers the right level of personal challenge. And hiking may even offer some unique physical and mental benefits, he says.
One benefit of hiking is more for the core
Like brisk walking, hiking is a good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, particularly if your route includes some hills, which will force your heart to work harder. Taking a hike on the slightly uneven surface of a trail also provides a natural way to engage the core muscles in your torso and to hone your balance skills. “You usually don’t get that type of lateral motion from walking on a treadmill or riding a bike,” says Dr. Baggish.
However, if you have problems with stability or vision, using walking or trekking poles can give you an added level of security on uneven terrain. Use poles with a spiked metal tip when walking on dirt or grass. Plant the pole out in front of you as you walk to take a little pressure off your knee joints.
Going for a hike can offer natural stress relief?
Yet another benefit of hiking may be the restorative and stress-relieving powers of being outside in nature. A number of small studies hint that spending time in green space — nature preserves, woodlands, and even urban parks — may ease people’s stress levels. Giving the growing consensus that stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease risk, anything you can do to mitigate stress is likely helpful. In that realm, the benefits of hiking remain anecdotal, but outdoor enthusiasts tend to agree. “There’s a real sense of peace and composure you get from being outside and away from everything,” says Dr. Baggish, whose own passion is not going for hikes but running on trails in the rugged peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Here are his tips to take a and enjoyable hike:
- Bring a map and hike with a partner. A companion is good for both company and safety. If you go alone, let someone know when you plan to return.
- Wear hiking boots. Choose well-fitting footwear with good ankle support. Make sure to break them in with shorter walks so you don’t get blisters when you’re miles from a trailhead.
- Stay hydrated. Don’t forget to take plenty of water along on your hike, especially in warm, sunny weather.
Finding trails near you
Looking for hiking venues? Local, state, and national parks are a good place to start. American Trails is a national nonprofit organization that supports local, regional, and long-distance trails for hiking and other uses; check the “Trails” tab to search by state to find hikes in your area.
Hiking wellness is increasingly becoming popular for people that take care their health. Yet scientists also agree that hiking is a good wellness activity to do.
In addition hiking is more than a simple physical activity. Hence walking in rural areas with beautiful landscapes holds more health benefits that you may think.
Therefore hiking is a new tool for wellness and mental health. It is an activity that brings you in nature and decrease you negative feelings.
Hiking wellness in nature retreats
If you have been to any retreats in rural areas you will know that hiking is usually an option. Even wellness and yoga retreats are including hiking among their sessions.
The main reason is that hiking is providing us what these retreats aim for. For example one of their objective is for visitors to have inner peace which come through meditation.
Yet walking next to trees and rivers, hearing bird songs and seeing butterflies can also give inner peace to hikers. So being in nature stimulates all your senses towards a peaceful mind state.
Shutting down your anxiety and your gadgets
Most of us have hectic lives in cities. More often our mental health suffers the most leading to illnesses of the body. One reason is the stress and anxiety we experience daily.
Yet even we live a simpler life with our high tech gadgets in our smart cities, the problem is getting worst. For instant our mobile and computer screens can give us chronic insomnia.
However escaping in nature allows us to leave that world behind. Hiking decreases our ‘stress hormone’. Moreover it changes the computer images in our minds with the sense of wonder for nature.
Improving your physical health
Yet hiking is a physical activity that can get us fit. It is a good workout good for our muscles and joins.
Moreover is an activity everyone can join regardless their age or weight. Depending on the intensity and the trail difficulty, anyone can hike.
This is why hiking wellness is also recommended for weight loss and fitness.
But getting fit with hiking can also trigger mental health.
For example our body produce vitamin D while we walk under the sun. However this vitamin has a big impact on your mood.
More importantly vitamin D activates hormones that protect you from depression.
Reconnect with yourself and others
Relationships are difficult. Yet hiking wellness is a fun activity to do with your family and friends. Moreover it is a good opportunity to talk about things you fail to do so in your daily routine.
Among nature you are all in a different peaceful environment to reconnect and bond. Hence facing together the challenges of hiking can boost your relationships.
However it is also a way to build your self-esteem as a solo hiker. By walking along on a trail, you have now the time to think and meditate.
These reasons are why hiking is increasingly included in personal development activities in schools but also for adults.
Meeting wanderlust through hiking can lead to motivation and inspiration for life changes. These many personal stories of people that found themselves while hiking.
For example Cheryl Strayed’s story turned to book turned to movie ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail‘ is a story of a woman that thought she lost everything when her mother and her marriage died. She is storytelling her experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and how that experience healed her.
Yet Cheryl chose not to take any help with her on her hike.
However you can. There are many books and guides that can give you insights of trails.
One good example is the book titled ‘Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails‘. The book presents the best walking routes with inviting maps, practical tips, and inspiring landscape photographs.
However I like it most because it make references on the flora and fauna of the trails.
Originally published at www.konstantiaachilleos.com
Health and Fitness
Looking to improve your overall fitness, both physically and mentally? Are you aware of the untold benefits of hiking? Read on as I think you will be truly amazed at the incredible advantages that this simple activity can bring you
What are the Benefits of Hiking?
There’s a reason why, for decades, the answer to all kinds of ailments has been to ‘walk it off’. Heading out into the great outdoors has been a widely accepted cure for all kinds of problems, from stress and anxiety, to feeling sluggish after an extra-large roast dinner.
But, unlike avoiding swimming within an hour of eating, this is no old wives’ tale. Walking outside really does actively benefit us – and there’s arguably no better way to engage in this ancient practice than to strap on your finest walking boots, grab some walking poles and head out on a hike. But what exactly are the benefits of hiking?
From boosting fitness, to improving mental wellbeing – and even helping us in our social lives, hiking offers all kinds of tangible benefits. We thought that we’d break a few of these down in a handy list, so that next time you’re heading out into the wilderness on a long walk, you’ll not only feel fantastic – you’ll know why.
And if you ever need a little extra justification for bringing a friend or loved one along for the experience – you’ll have plenty of reasons as to why hiking is so good for us…
1. Improves overall fitness, and builds muscles
We all know just how important exercise is for our overall health. We’re constantly reminded how vital it is that we factor in regular exercise into our daily and weekly routines, but for many of us, this can be tricky.
Physical Benefits of Hiking
The ever-looming presence of the gym, with its sterile machines and intimidating hardcore patrons, can make the concept of regularly working out less than appealing – which is where hiking comes in. One of the biggest benefits of hiking is that it actively contributes to our overall levels of fitness in a big way.
While cardiovascular activities like running and cycling are great (depending on your definition of ‘great’, admittedly), hiking can actually offer equal – if not even better – benefits in terms of fitness. The muscle groups stimulated during a good hike include quadriceps, hamstrings, and our lower leg and hip muscles – and hiking with a backpack is a great boost to core strength. Plus, walking is a weight-bearing exercise, so it helps to build bone density.
2. Helps you lose weight
It’s not just our core fitness levels and muscles that receive a vital boost during a good walk – one of the other great health benefits of hiking is that it helps us to lose weight. Lots and lots of weight. According to Livestrong, hiking can burn between 440 and 550 calories per hour.
That is a lot. A big lot. If you weigh an average of 160lbs, and you went for a 3-hour hike, you could potentially burn upwards of 1200 calories – more than half of the recommended daily intake for an adult. Do this twice a week? You’ve effectively burned off 1-1.5 days’ worth of calories. Phew!
It’s worth pointing out that the way we all think about weight and calories intake and burn is deeply personal – everyone will have different goals, and it will be more important to some than others. There are also a lot of other factors to our weight profiles, particularly diet, but if weight-loss is something you’re actively pursuing, hiking could be a fantastic addition to your routine.
3. Improves blood pressure, and lowers risk of heart disease
One of the great things about regularly engaging in a spot of good exercise is the fact that the benefits are all-encompassing. This is particularly true when it comes to blood pressure and how healthy our hearts are – and it’s not surprising to hear that the health benefits of hiking don’t just include weight loss and a boost to fitness: it’s a fantastic way to lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease as well as other serious conditions.
Research by the CDC has found that walking for an hour a day, five days a week, can cut the risk of a person experiencing a stroke in half. The aerobic activity of walking also strengthens the heart, and gives a fantastic boost to our HDL levels (“good cholesterol”) and lowers levels of LDL and triglyceride (the bad stuff).
The CDC also found that those who engage with cardiovascular exercise like hiking are half as likely to experience heart problems as people who don’t exercise – those are some stats we can get behind!
Now that we have looked into the numerous physical benefits of hiking, it’s time to focus on what hiking can do for the mind. So, let’s move on to the wide-ranging mental benefits of hiking.
4. Makes you more creative
Hiking isn’t just great for the body; it’s also great for the mind – and soul. And this is one of the great things about this activity; there is so much more than just a single benefit of hiking. Engaging in regular hiking can even make us more creative. Forgive us if that seems like rather a wishy-washy statement, and bear with us, as there’s actually a fair amount of evidence to corroborate these claims.
Mental Benefits of Hiking
It’s not quite as simple as strapping on some boots, walking for 3 hours, and then composing a Concerto in time for tea – but hiking does actively boost how creative we are:
One of the biggest things that hinders our creative progress and mind power is our attention spans – in the modern world, we are beset upon by emails, texts, notifications and the bleeping, buzzing ‘PAY ME ATTENTION’ sounds of our mobile phones and other devices; all of which condition us into becoming easily distracted, and hindering our ability to focus for extended periods.
Research by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that spending time outdoors increases our ability to focus, our attention spans, and our problem-solving skills by up to 50 per cent. If ever there were a case for the mind-numbing impact of modern life, this was it, and this is possibly one of the most socially insightful and profound benefits of hiking.
Crucially, the researchers don’t simply put this down to one thing, but the variety of benefits that venturing into the great outdoors can have. Hiking offers us the chance to get fresh air, plenty of vitamin D-boosting sunlight, along with getting us away from our electronic devices for hours at a time – something that we all-too-rarely get to experience.
Combine this with the fact that Stanford University researchers found that participants gave more creative responses to questions when walking on a treadmill than those sat in a chair.
5. It can help your body heal
While there’s plenty of evidence to support the argument that hiking can help prevent all kinds of health problems, there’s even some indication that it can help the body to recover after serious conditions such as cancer.
There are a lot of forces at play in conditions such as cancer, many of which we don’t fully understand, but there’s some evidence that indicates hiking might play a role in improving the antioxidative capacity in oncological patients.
If that all sounds a little too sciency, the essence of these findings is that among the many benefits of hiking may be the indication that the activity helps patients either suffering with cancer, or in recovery from treatment, fight off disease – and help the body in its work to reduce the progression, recurrence, and onset of cancer.
It’s also important not to underestimate the psychological benefits it can provide, with many people living with cancer citing how much better hiking can make them feel, and how well it can fit into their recovery.
6. Improves overall mental health
It’s hard to underestimate the psychological benefits of hiking. Simply getting out of the house, flat, or other indoor space you spend most of your time, and enjoying the tranquillity of nature and a stimulating fresh breeze can do wonders for the soul – and there’s plenty of evidence that hiking can actively improve our overall mental health.
Conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties, are more prominent than ever – in fact, mental health charity Mind notes that in the UK, 1 in 4, yes, a quarter of the population, will experience a mental health problem every year.
It’s not at all uncommon for us to struggle with conditions like depression – but new research has found that even a 90-minute walk in nature can have a dramatic effect on the brain, and the way we feel.
Research already exists that indicates how a walk outside can provide an uplifting boost to our mood, but new data collected by researchers at Stanford University, have found that the roots go much deeper than that.
They asked participants to fill in a rumination questionnaire (rumination is basically repetitive and usually negative self-reflection – and it’s a key element of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety) and conducted a brain scan, before participants complete a walk in either an urban or an outdoor environment. They then asked participants to fill in the questionnaire again and took a comparative brain scan. Their findings? We’ll give you one guess.
The participants who had taken the walk in a natural environment showed significant and consistent reductions in ruminative thought, both through the questionnaire responses and their brain scan.
This suggests that hiking doesn’t just perk you up a bit, it actually changes the way your brain works, and draws focus away from negative, repetitive thought. There’s plenty more to be discovered, and these findings suggest that we’ve only just scratched the surface of the potential psychological benefits of hiking.
7. It helps you unplug
We spend a frankly astonishing amount of time ‘plugged in’. A few statistics on how much time we spend in the digital world offer a stark and undisputable view into the modern world, and how prominent our screens are in our lives:
- The average (American) adult, spends 4 hours a day – or 86 hours a month – on their phones
- Children aged 8 and under spend 48 minutes a day in front of mobile screens alone – up from 15 minutes only 4 years ago
- If trends remain the same, the average adult will spend a staggering 5 years and 4 months of their life on social media
- Our growing obsession with mobile phones and iPads has led to a 13 per cent drop in time spent with friends over the last 15 years
We’ve not put these figures in to berate our readers (as we appreciate that as you’re reading Roaming Spices, you’re almost certainly using a screen right now…), or to try and make anyone feel bad – our new modern world of technology is a wonderful thing, and we can do things we once never dreamed about, with ease.
What is important, however, is to retain a sense of perspective. The statistics listed above are just a few examples of how our world is actively changing, and if we don’t stay aware of the impact, we can lose sight of just how important it is to actively disconnect from time to time.
Enter hiking. It’s a simple point, but in modern times, it’s become one of the biggest benefits of hiking – it gives us a chance to unplug. A long hike is a physical reminder that the world we live in is beautiful, vast, and varied – and yes, it’s still there even when we have our heads buried in the bottomless pit of content that is Twitter.
Making hiking a regular part of your routine is an absolutely fantastic way to deliberately pull your attention away from the digital world, and reconnect with the things that really matter.
8. Hiking makes us happier
We’ll caveat this point by the fact that everyone is different. The assertion that hiking makes us happier would probably be viciously refuted by the average 14-year-old, whose cries of ‘But do we have to?!’ will strike a resonating chord with any outdoorsy parents or relatives who have ever dared ask the kids to lace up their boots and help them pack a picnic.
With that said, it’s worth noting that one of the best benefits of hiking is that it can actively contribute to increased feelings of happiness – particularly among those who struggle with depression, or low self-esteem. One study found that in the most extreme cases of high-risk suicide patients, mountain hiking led to a drastic decrease in feelings of hopelessness.
This may sound like a slightly backwards point, as this seems to suggest that hiking doesn’t actually make you happy, it just makes you less sad (not quite the same thing). But happiness is a complicated thing – and the chance to share an afternoon with loved ones, out in the beauty of nature? Ok, maybe we’re being self-centred, but it certainly makes us happy…
This one depends a lot on how you approach hiking, and the way it fits into your own routine and lifestyle, but there’s a solid case to be made for the benefits of hiking on our social lives. One of the great things about hiking and walking as a hobby is that there are almost no restrictions on who can take part, and how they can go about it.
Social Benefits of Hiking
Granted, if you plan to soar up Mount Snowdon, you might want to prepare a bit first, and it might not be suitable for complete newcomers (see our account of our own experience climbing Snowdon for a few useful tips!) but generally speaking, hiking is an incredibly inclusive thing to try.
This means that as activities go, there are few better ways to enjoy the company of friends, loved ones, and even strangers, than by engaging in a hike together. What’s the main way to pass the time during a long hike?
Chat, about anything and everything that comes to mind. It’s an inherently social activity, and by inviting along those dear to you, it can give you a fantastic chance to spend some real, quality time together. What better way to embrace these social benefits of hiking!
It’s also worth pointing out that, depending on where you live, there might even be a local hiking group you can join. Sites like Meetup provide a platform for like-minded strangers to share experiences, with the intention of making new friends and enjoying something together as a way to bond.
It’s always worth doing a little research to see if there’s anything like this that you could take part in, as it could turn hiking from an excuse to drag the kids away from Call of Duty, to an opportunity to widen your network of friends. And even when it is just the kids – after an hour or so on the trail, even the most stoic of grumpy teens tend to soften up a bit. Particularly at the promise of a Kit Kat at the next stop!
Well, there you have it! 9 of the best benefits of hiking, all summarised and tied up neatly (or not, we make no promises – but hopefully, you get the gist!). The key takeaways from all of this isn’t that hiking is the cure to this or that or the perfect fix for one problem or another. It’s much more than that.
Hiking is one of the most natural, fulfilling things we can do. It puts us back in touch with the world we inhabit, it gives us a chance to exercise, bond with loved ones, and just breathe a bit. All the evidence is there – it’s not just hokum; hiking really does have tangible benefits.
We’d love to hear about your own experiences, too. Have you found that hiking has had a particularly profound effect on one area of your life? Have you got any hiking experiences you’d like to share? Do you disagree with all of the above, and in fact believe that hiking is REALLY bad for us?
Feel free to leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you! And if you’ve enjoyed this article, do feel free to share it with your friends across any and all social media platforms, we greatly appreciate it!
The Many Benefits of Hiking
Next to fishing down at the lake and roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire, it’s hard to imagine a more iconic camping activity than hiking: marching single file across a grassy clearing, wandering quietly in dappled shade among tall trees, and finally making it to the top of a challenging summit.
The hike is often rewarding enough, but the benefits of hiking go far beyond good vistas. Did you know that it’s good for your health, too? It’s true, and in a surprisingly large number of ways.
More: 5 Reasons to Take a Hike
Categorized as an aerobic exercise, hiking can help improve:
- Cardiorespiratory fitness including heart, lungs and blood vessels
- Muscle strength
- Bone density (or slow its loss)
- Sleep quality
- Weight control. On average hiking burns up about 250 calories an hour—and people who lose weight through hiking or walking generally maintain that loss and continue to lose, while those who depend on diets tend to gain weight back.
Tramping through the forest can also help reduce your risk for:
- Heart disease and stroke
- High blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- Colon, breast, lung and endometrial cancers
- Depression (if so afflicted)
- Early death (Studies have shown that someone who is active for seven hours a week has a 40 percent lower chance of dying early than someone active for less than 30 minutes a week.)
- Negative effects of osteoporosis and arthritis
- Tension and anxiety
More: Get Fit With Hiking
Hiking Can Help Your Kids, Too!
Your kids are more likely to be physically fit and have a lower risk of becoming obese, developing high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. They’ll may also sleep better at night and be more alert in class. Plus, if they’re fit, they may have a greater self-confidence and be less vulnerable to schoolyard bullying.
But, before you jump out of your folding camp recliner and start for the summit of Mt. Rainer, there are a few questions you should consider.
More: 6 Tips for Hiking With Kids
It’s easy to dismiss hiking as something reserved for those who live in wild places, or for the super fit and adventurous. However, one of the greatest benefits of hiking is that it’s actually really accessible, inclusive and easy to do, regardless of your fitness levels. You don’t have to walk a million miles, you don’t need fancy gear, and you don’t even need to travel very far from home to do it.
As well as it being an excellent activity for those new to adventure in the outdoors, there are also loads of health benefits of hiking, both physical and mental. Plus, there are some social benefits of hiking, if you want them! Or you can enjoy the meditative effects of solo hiking, if you’d rather. Either way, there’s very little that is negative about embarking upon a hike, and you’ll almost always finish it feeling like a better human being than when you started.
If you are totally new to hiking and don’t know where to start then read our hiking guide for beginners.
- The benefits of hiking
- The health benefits of hiking
- The mental benefits of hiking
- The physical benefits of hiking
- Social benefits of hiking
The benefits of hiking
Before I get onto the health and social benefits of hiking, it’s important to note these other reasons why taking a hike is a great idea.
01It’s free to do
You can take a hike almost anywhere without having to pay money to do it. Sure, some national parks charge an entry fee. However, there are thousands of trails of all distances that are totally free of charge.
02You don’t need much gear
Unless you plan on hiking in adverse weather conditions and on challenging terrain for prolonged periods, you don’t need much gear to go hiking. A solid pair of sneakers or running shoes will be just fine for short, easy hikes. Comfortable sportswear is fine to wear, and you’ll need something comfortable to carry your water, food and other items in. Of course, there is loads of great hiking gear available to make your time on the trail more comfortable and safe. But to start out you just need a few hiking essentials.
03It’s great to do with the family
Hiking is an excellent family-friendly activity that allows your little ones to get closer to nature and encourages exploration and adventure. If you’re worried they’ll get bored then chose an interesting route with lots of features (streams, trees, boulders etc). Or for them to do.
04You can tailor the distance to your fitness
You don’t have to be mega fit to go hiking. In fact, many people start hiking to get fitter. Start by doing short and easy hikes and slowly make them longer and more challenging as your fitness improves. Soon you’ll be hiking the PCT!
05You can do it on your own
Many people like the social side of hiking. However, if you like time on your own then hiking is ideal, so long as you make sure you take the right safety precautions and tell someone where you are going. Plus, there are times when no-one else is available to go adventuring with you. So head out hiking on your own to get your nature fix.
The health benefits of hiking
The list of health benefits of hiking is endless. Have you ever read a report on the negative health effects of hiking? Thought not. More and more research is being done on just how great this simple pastime is for our health, and not just our physical health. The health benefits of hiking are so significant, in fact, that doctors have even started prescribing hiking to patients with chronic illnesses.
The mental benefits of hiking
06Improves mental wellbeing
Getting closer to nature has many proven positive effects on mental wellbeing. So much so that in 1996 the term “ecotherapy” was coined. Also known as nature therapy, ecotherapy is a formal therapeutic treatment that aims to improve the mental wellbeing of those suffering from depression and anxiety.
Disconnecting from devices and technology is an excellent way to tap into our creative sides as it allows our brains to become idle, even bored! But there is also research suggesting that time in the wild can boost creativity. Whether that’s as a result of limited screen time and an increase in spare time is yet to be proven. Whatever the root of it, however, the results are clearly beneficial to those wanting to access their inner Picasso!
In our world of growing over-stimulation, getting away from it all and switching off is becoming more and more essential. Taking a hike is the perfect way to unwind and quieten a busy mind. A recent study found that hiking reduces repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self (rumination). Plus, the rhythmic motion and repetitiveness of walking can be an excellent way to practice walking meditation.
If taking a hike feels like too much of a challenge right now then start small by simply getting outside and interacting with nature. Try creating a list of things to do each month in your local area, like this calendar.
The physical benefits of hiking
09Builds leg strength
Hiking on flat terrain is a good way to slowly gain endurance in your legs and maintain strength. Start hiking on steep terrain, however, and you’ll also build strength in your legs. Hiking up and downhill is like doing hundreds of lunges. It’ll be tough going to start with, but as your strength improves you’ll be able to climb for longer and with more confidence.
10Activates your core
Whether you realise it or not, every step you take on the trail will engage the muscles in your core. Sure, you won’t finish a hike with sore abs or anything. But you’ll activate the small, deep muscles of the core in a subtle and natural way. The more challenging the hike, the more you’ll have to engage your core. And if you’re carrying lots of gear on your back then all the muscles around the torso will get a very good workout.
11Improves cardio fitness
Just like running, cycling or swimming, hiking gives your lungs an excellent workout that can be sustained over a number of hours. Hit the hills and you’ll feel the benefits of hiking for fitness sooner than if you stay on the flat. But if you are new to hiking then you may find that a short, flat hike is plenty tough enough to get your lungs working hard.
12Stabilises joints and improves balance
Hiking on uneven terrain is one of the most natural ways to help stabilise the joints of your lower body. Unlike walking or running on the treadmill, every step on an outdoor trail is different, with your feet hitting the floor at a different angle each time. The result is that all the tiny supporting muscles that surround the joints have to fire up. The more they fire up, the stronger and more stable they become. This in turn helps to improve your balance on the more tricky sections of the trail and prevents injury.
Hiking is a superb activity for people who want to lose weight. Firstly, the idea of it doesn’t feel as daunting as going for a run and a short hike is manageable even for those starting with very low fitness levels. Secondly, it’s the sort of fitness that doesn’t always feel like fitness! Sometimes it can be tough, of course. But most moderately fit people can maintain hiking for many hours without really feeling like they’re ‘working out’, as such. Add some weight into your backpack, and choose hilly hikes and the calorie-burning potential will soar.
As mentioned at the start of the health benefits of hiking section, the evidence supporting hiking as a positive choice for a healthy lifestyle is so strong that doctors are prescribing it! Regular hiking lowers the risk of heart disease, improves blood pressure and stabilised blood sugar levels. New research also indicates that exercise may be the key for preventing Alzheimers. Get hiking everyone!
Social benefits of hiking
15Meet new people
The simplicity of hiking means that there are loads of social groups in existence that welcome new members and are open to anyone. Join a hiking Meetup group near where you live and have the added benefit of exploring your local area. Plus, joining a group means that you can share transport to and from the trail, if needed.
16Time to talk
If you want to really get to know your friends and family, take a hike with them! There are very few other scenarios in life where you spend several hours at a time with a person without the distractions of everyday life. Think of all the things you could talk about on a 6 hour hike! Plus, because you’ve ditched your devices and given your brain time to de-stress, your creative juices will start to flow encouraging all sorts of interesting things to talk about.
Whether you want to get fit or lose weight, or need some downtime away from everyday life, taking a hike is guaranteed to make you feel great. And with the benefits of hiking effecting so many areas of your life, including disease prevention and mental wellbeing, it’s hard to justify NOT getting out on the trail.
Happy hiking, healthy hikers!
Why Hiking Is the Perfect Mind-Body Workout
At first, walking and hiking may sound like two words for the same form of exercise. The footwear and scenery may vary, but the lower-body mechanics seem the same.
Surprisingly, though, they’re radically different. Research shows that your joints, heart and muscles perform in distinct ways during a hike compared to what they do during a jaunt around the block.
“When you walk on a level surface, your body does a really good job of what’s known as passive dynamics,” says Daniel Ferris, a professor of engineering and biomechanics at the University of Florida. Your walking stride, he says, is like the swing of a pendulum. “Thanks to gravitational and kinetic energy, if I start that pendulum swinging, it’s going to keep moving back and forth for a long time without any additional energy input,” he says.
Like a pendulum, walking on flat terrain allows you to keep moving with little effort. “But when you walk on uneven terrain”—the type you’d encounter on nature trails, deep-sand beaches or other natural surfaces—“that knocks out a lot of that energy transfer,” Ferris says. “Your heart rate and metabolic rate go up, and you burn more calories.”
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In fact, hiking on uneven terrain increases the amount of energy your body uses by 28% compared to walking on flat ground, Ferris found in a study he conducted at the University of Michigan. The varying ground slopes you encounter while hiking also make it different from flat-ground walking. Paths that go up, down and sideways require subtle shifts in the way your leg muscles lengthen or shorten while performing work, and those shifts increase the amount of energy you’re expending during your trek.
But the benefits of hiking extend well beyond the extra calorie burn.
Navigating uneven ground—whether you’re hiking or trail-running—recruits different muscles than you would use on flat, man-made surfaces. “You’re turning on and strengthening a lot of muscles in your hips and knees and ankles that you don’t normally use,” Ferris says.
MORE: How Camping Helps You Sleep Better
Pumping up those oft-neglected muscles may improve your balance and stability, which helps protect you from falls. Using those muscles may also knock down your risk for the kinds of overuse injuries—like knee or hip pains, or band issues—that can result from the repetitive nature of level-ground walking or running.
Of course, hiking isn’t without its own risks. If you’re not careful (and sure-footed), missteps can lead to rolled ankles, sprained knees, or even tumbles. Just as a novice runner or weightlifter is asking for trouble by kicking off a new routine with an extended, arduous workout, Ferris says inexperienced hikers may be more likely to injure themselves if they tackle a long, rocky hike right off the bat. You need to give those little-used leg muscles time to build up strength.
While variable terrain works your body into shape, the sights, sounds and smells of nature may be performing a similar kind of alchemy in your brain. A 2015 study from Stanford University found that time spent in natural environments (as opposed to busy city settings) calmed activity in a part of the brain that research has linked to mental illness. Hanging out with Mother Nature also seems to reduce your mind’s propensity to “ruminate”—a word psychologists use for negative, self-focused patterns of thought that are linked with anxiety and depression. “I’d say there’s mounting evidence that, for urbanites and suburbanites, nature experience increases positive mood and decreases negative mood,” says Greg Bratman, a Stanford research fellow and coauthor of that study.
More research is needed to back up these benefits. But, Bratman adds, “the idea that nature helps our mental state goes back hundreds if not thousands of years.”
For both your mind and body, a walk in the woods may be tough to beat.
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Hiking is a powerful cardiovascular activity and provides plenty of benefits to the body. The most obvious is the improved endurance and stamina, but it will also strengthen and tone muscle.
Muscles worked hiking
The muscles worked hiking include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, and hip muscles.
Here are six of the muscles put under strain while hiking in the wilderness:
A primary muscle used on a hiking trip includes the quadriceps which is situated at the front of the thigh. This large group of muscles is constantly engaged while hiking and helps to proper the hiker in a forward motion.
Plus, the quadriceps help to straighten or extend the knee while walking on the trail.
The hamstrings (rear, upper thigh) work in combination with the quads to help bend or flex the knee.
The hamstrings help with pulling the quads back when the body is making a forward motion. Hiking is quite strenuous on the hamstrings compared to other physical activities such as running.
The calves (rear, lower leg) are constantly active in hiking and experience changes in intensity and level of use.
Less stress is put on the calves when walking on the flat terrain compared to the strenuous hike that includes walking uphill with a heavy backpack.
Calf stretches can benefit the hiker and should be performed at regular intervals to avoid injury.
The glutes are a series of muscles which help to support the torso while engaged in all types of physical activities.
On a hiking trip the glutes are needed to support both the bodyweight and the load of the backpack. The glutes are given a much more rigorous workout when hiking uphill compared to a flat surface.
Use squats to help strength the muscles in the region of the rear.
The hip muscles are crucial while hiking and should be flexible and limber to properly perform the physical activity. Hip muscles include the adductors, abductors, and flexors.
These muscles on a hiking trip help to support the lower back and glutes and minimize issues with strain and improve shock absorbing.
Strong abdominal muscles are helpful to promote better support and strength in the region of the core. The abdominal muscles while hiking is useful for keeping the upright posture while also helping to support the load on the back.
Build the strength of the abs to minimize issues with a back injury while out on a long hiking season.
Benefits of hiking
Hiking is a useful cardiovascular workout that has plenty of benefits including:
- Improves blood sugar levels and blood pressure
- Increases bone density similar to other types of weight-bearing exercise
- Lowers the risk heart disease
- Better balance
- Strengthens the muscles in the lower legs and hips
- Tightens up the core muscles
- Increases the ability to lose weight
- Boosts the mood and relieves stress
Hiking is great exercise. Yes, it works your lower body more, but you will get a good workout on your core too. If you go with trekking poles, as many do, you can also work your arms and upper body too, turning it into a full body workout.
We would advise having a certain level of fitness before starting out on a long hike into the wilderness, but the great thing about hiking is you can start with a walk around the block and build up.
By Lindsay Leffelman / Washington Trails Association
If you’ve ever had to catch your breath on an uphill stretch of trail or if your legs have felt sore after a hike, you know that hiking is a workout. You’ve also likely experienced some of the health benefits of hiking: improved cardiovascular performance, more endurance, stronger muscles and a better mood.
While many people hike simply for the enjoyment of it, there is no denying how beneficial a walk through the woods can be for your physical health.
In an age of trendy fitness studios, high-tech workout trackers and expensive personal trainers, it can be easy to forget that the simple act of hiking is an exercise powerhouse. However, scientific research and health professionals alike agree that hitting the trails is advantageous for all aspects of physical fitness.
For many people, the idea of burning calories is one of the first things that comes to mind when they think about working out. Our bodies use stored energy (calories) to support normal body functions and to fuel us during physical activity. While any type of physical movement will result in the body using its stored energy, the unique nature of hiking can result in greater calorie burn than other forms of exercise. In fact, research from the University of Florida concluded that walking on uneven terrain, like that of hiking trails, causes the body to use 28 percent more energy than walking on flat, even ground due to the subtle shifts in the way your leg muscles must lengthen or shorten while hiking.
So, exactly how many calories will you burn while hiking? That’s a difficult question to answer. On average, a moderate hike can burn 300 to 400 calories per hour. However, this number can be heavily impacted by a variety of factors. The weight of your pack, the speed at which you hike and the type of terrain you’re traversing all play a role in how many calories you burn. Hiking with an overnight pack on steep, rocky terrain is going to burn more calories than leisurely hiking with a light pack on a flat trail.
Working out isn’t all about burning calories, though. Improved cardiovascular performance, increased endurance and toned muscles are also important outcomes of a well-designed exercise program. For hikers, the varied terrain of your favorite trails makes all of these workout goals possible.
Typically, when you’re hitting the trails, you climb on the way to your destination and descend on the way back. Climbing equates to using the stairclimber at the gym; the large muscles in your legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves) are getting quite a workout. However, hiking downhill is actually what will tone your muscles the most. On the descent, your glutes and quads are working nonstop to stabilize your knees and hips. These muscles are continually going through eccentric contractions, similar to lowering a heavy weight at the gym. Because your muscles are resisting the force of gravity against your body weight, the toning effects are maximized.
Predictably, we tend to think of hiking as a lower-body workout. However, Doug Diekema, a doctor and wilderness medicine educator, says that carrying a pack and using poles engages the whole body and builds core and upper-body strength in addition to leg strength.
Additionally, hiking on a rough, rocky or root-filled path forces the body to activate seldom-used muscles around the hips, knees and ankles. It also helps build core strength. All of this improves your stability and balance. As a result, you are less likely to stumble or fall both on the trail and in everyday life.
Any time you hit the trails above 4,000 feet, your body is adapting to using less oxygen. In a study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology,” researchers found that male endurance runners who exercised at high altitudes twice a week for six weeks took 35 percent longer to fatigue than runners who worked out at sea level over the same time period. The same principle applies to hikers: If you hike at high elevations, your body will learn to function with less oxygen. Consequently, lower-elevation trails will be easier.
Improving mental health
Physical health can be greatly improved by hiking — and so can your mental health. Research continually shows that spending time outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, contributes to a healthy mind.
A 2015 study from Stanford University found that time spent in nature calms the portion of the brain linked to mental illness and reduces your mind’s tendency toward negative thought patterns. Similarly, the journal “Environmental Science and Technology” published study results showing that outdoor exercise has a direct correlation to greater feelings of positivity and energy and fewer feelings of tension, anger and depression.
Doug explains that immersing ourselves in wilderness also increases attention span, improves problem-solving skills and allows hikers to reconnect with themselves and others. The research is clear — hiking is just as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health.
Hiking tips and reminders
Here’s how to get the most out of your hikes:
Fuel and hydrate properly. Drinking water and snacking on energy bars, dried fruits and nuts before, during and after a hike will give your body the fuel and hydration it needs to function effectively. Jessica Kelley, owner and coach at Evergreen Endurance, recommends taking in around 150 to 200 calories per hour while hiking. She also emphasizes the need to carry enough water to respond to your thirst but not so much water that it weighs you down.
An occasional hike is not an exercise plan. Since most of us are able to lace up our boots and hit the trails once per week (or less!), relying on hiking as your primary source of exercise won’t offer significant results. However, a regular exercise program, which includes hiking, can lead to weight loss and improved strength.
Begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. Jessica and Doug recommend starting your hike at a mellow pace. This allows your muscles to warm up gradually. At the end of your hike, slow your pace to allow your heart rate to return to normal before hopping in the car. Gently stretching the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves may also be beneficial before and after the hike — just be sure not to stretch cold muscles.
Variety is another key to successful workouts. Hikers can vary their trail experiences in order to maximize results. Hiking long, flat trails will build endurance and stamina, while hiking short, steep trails will tone muscles and develop a strong cardiovascular and respiratory system.
Don’t forget about the importance of recovery. Hiking breaks down muscle fibers, which the body then has to repair through a process of fusing the fibers together to form new protein strands. Strength is built during the repair process. Jessica reminds hikers that if you never give your body a chance to repair and rebuild, you are likely to end up sick or injured.
Any opportunity to hike is worth it. Any chance to breathe in fresh mountain air, plod along a series of switchbacks or stroll past wildflowers is valuable. Whether long or short, steep or gentle, any hike will benefit your mind and your body.
Washington Trails Association is the nation’s largest state-based hiking advocacy nonprofit. WTA promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places through collaboration, education, advocacy and volunteer trail maintenance. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.
Using poles can help make hiking a whole body workout. (Doug Diekema)
Hydration is a critical part of any workout plan. (Doug Diekema)
It is known that you can’t build muscle with regular walks, but can you build muscle while hiking? I did some research and decided to share my findings in this article.
It is true that you will not build muscle with regular walks, but what about hiking? Does hiking build muscle? How different is hiking from regular walks? It all depends on the trail, the weight of your backpack, your pace, etc. The short answer is: yes, you can build muscle while hiking. However, it is not the most effective way to build muscle and there are limitations. Chances are that you are more interested in toning your muscles. And hiking is a lot more effective for toning your muscles than building them.
How do we build muscle
Before finding the answer on the question “can you build muscle while hiking” we have to know how muscles are built in general.
After doing exercise with a certain intensity, you will create micro tears in your muscle tissue, resulting in damaged muscle fibers. Protein will be responsible for repairing the damaged muscle fibers. The repaired muscle fiber will be increased in thickness.
This means that there are two things needed to build muscle: micro tears (by doing intensive exercise) and protein (from eating the right food).
When do we create micro tears
We create micro tears after doing exercise with a certain intensity. So how intense should the exercise be and what kind of exercise are we talking about? Let’s take a look.
Walking is obviously not intense enough to create these micro tears, this is the reason that you can’t build muscle while walking.
So what about hiking? Hiking can be intense enough to create these micro tears. There are multiple factors that come into play: the weight of your backpack, the trail itself, your pace, etc.
There is a big difference when hiking uphill with a heavy backpack and hiking on a plain surface with a lightweight bag. Hiking downhill also requires more muscle usage, especially when it is a bit more technical.
It also depends on your experience level. If you climb mountains every day, your body will eventually get used to that and micro tears will not occur as often. When it comes to muscle growth, you want to keep surprising your body, don’t do the same things every day. This is why bodybuilders often change their routines, they don’t want their body to get used to it.
Note that, even when you hike uphill with a heavy bag, you will not come close to the results you could achieve in the gym.
Long story short, you will create some micro tears and that could result in some muscle growth if your hike is intense enough, but the results will still be limited.
What muscles do we use while hiking
Most people think about legs when they hear the words “muscles” and “hiking” in the same sentence. This makes sense of course, but you do not only work out the muscles in your legs. On a high intensity hike, you will use your entire body.
Let’s go over some of the muscles we use while hiking.
- Quadriceps: One of the most important muscles for hiking. The quadriceps are situated at the front of the thigh. They are responsible for the forward motion and straightening the knee. This group of muscles is constantly engaged while hiking.
- Hamstrings: The hamstrings are situated at the rear of the thigh. They are also responsible for straightening the knee. Just like the quadriceps, the hamstrings are constantly engaged while hiking.
- Calves: I do not expect anyone would be surprised to find calves on the list. However, calves are mainly used when walking uphill and are less stressed when walking on flat terrain.
- Glutes: The glutes are mainly responsible for supporting the torso. The glutes will be given a much more intensive workout when the hiker is carrying a heavy backpack and walking uphill.
- Hip muscles: Hip muscles are responsible for extending the thigh at the hip, they also help with supporting the lower back and the glutes.
- Abdominal: Often referred to as “the core”. These muscles will help keeping your body straight while hiking with a heavy backpack.
Toning vs building muscles
By now, you should have realized that hiking is not optimal for building a lot of muscle. However, hiking is very effective at toning your body.
“To tone up means to reduce the appearance of body fat by tightening up the muscles and giving them shape. Bulking up means to increase muscle mass and make the muscles bigger”
The optimal way to increase muscle mass is to do very intensive weight lifting. For example: three times six reps with the heaviest weight possible. The optimal way to tone up is to do a lot of reps, but a lot less intensive.
When you think about it, hiking is almost like doing a lot of low intensity reps in the gym. Therefore, hiking is optimal at toning your body and not very effective at building muscle mass.
Also, hiking is perfect when it comes to burning fat. When you burn fat, your muscles will become more visible and your body will start to look more muscular. So it is not because you will not build a lot of actual muscle that you can’t look more muscular.
If you want the legs of a bodybuilder, you should probably hit the gym instead of the trail. If you just want a nicely toned body (especially legs), then hiking is perfect for you.
How to gain more muscles while hiking
if you read the part about “What muscles do we use while hiking”, you probably know that there are two factors that come into play when it comes to increasing muscle activity: backpack weight and elevation.
So if you want to increase muscle growth on a hike, you should get rid of your lightweight gear and find a challenging trail. The most important thing is to find a trail with a lot of changes in altitude.
Additionally, you should eat enough protein to repair the damaged muscle tissue. Since you will be hiking a lot, this means you should also consume a lot of protein. For most people, this is an issue, the snacks/meals that they are eating throughout the day do not contain enough protein.
To deal with this issue, I generally like to bring some protein powder on my hiking trips. I include some powder to my meals/snacks or I simply make a shake once in a while. This really helps me with reaching my recommended amount of daily protein. I try to get at least 30% of my calories from protein and I will recommend you do the same. If you are not familiar with healthy macro ratios, check out this article: How to eat healthy on the trail.
I realize that some people don’t really like the taste of protein powder (shakes). For you guys, I would recommend to bring protein bars as snacks instead of regular high-energy bars. It’s not as good as bringing protein powder (because they still contain a lot of carbs), but it will certainly help. Also, protein bars can actually taste very good, equally good -or sometimes even better- than a regular snack (Okay, I’ll be honest, most people don’t agree with me on this one).
Not convinced? No worries, there are other high protein snacks out there! Also, make sure to eat healthy balanced meals with enough protein.
Use trekking poles while hiking
Using trekking poles while hiking is a great way to improve the upper body workout that you are already getting.
Trekking poles will increase the usage of the muscles in the upper body, resulting in more toning of these muscles. Note that using trekking poles has a lot of additional benefits. Especially if you have bad knees, you should be using them anyway.
The usage of trekking poles will also make you burn more calories (apparently up to 20% more calories burned). However, you feel less exertion and it’s better for your joints. It’s a win-win. You can learn more about this in this article: Walking Poles: Burn More Calories, Feel Less Exertion.
If you are interested in buying trekking poles, my go-to recommendation are the trailbuddy trekking poles. They are one of the best value-for-money products you can buy today. You can check out the latest price on amazon: trailbuddy trekking poles.
So, does hiking build muscle? well, building muscle while hiking is definitely not impossible. However, it is far from optimal. If you want a bodybuilder’s body, you probably want to hit the gym instead of the trail. That being said, hiking is perfect when it comes to toning your legs, and even your entire body.
In contradiction with what a lot of people think, you do not only use the muscles in your legs when it comes to hiking. Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip muscles and the abdominal are the most important muscles/muscle groups.
The intensity of the trail and the weight of your backpack can influence your muscle growth.
Keep in mind that gaining muscle goes hand in hand with eating healthy. In this case, you might mainly be concerned with your protein intake, but a varied diet is crucial. You can read more about it in the following article How to eat healthy on the trail.
Coast, mountains, forest, desert — there are amazing hiking trails to be found in any kind of ecosystem (here are our must-do hikes for every state). When the weather gets warmer, there’s nothing we want to do more than explore the wilderness just beyond our backyards. As you’re lacing up your hiking shoes and rubbing in your sunscreen, it’s fair to start thinking about how hiking can fit into your fitness routine. Hitting the trails is a great way to unwind and appreciate the natural world, and it feels like a full-body workout when you’re done, too. So what’s the official take — can hiking count as your cardio workout for the day?
Does Hiking Count as Cardio?
In short: yes. “Hiking can be a great way to rev up your heart rate and get your muscles moving,” said Stephanie Blozy, MS, an exercise science expert and owner of running shoe store Fleet Feet in West Hartford, CT. And it’s especially effective if you’re hiking on a rugged surface, as opposed to a maintained dirt or asphalt path. “It takes extra energy to step up and walk over roots and rocks,” Stephanie told POPSUGAR. Many hikes also include elevation changes — hills and mountains — that add to the cardio benefits. (One of our editors hiked to Mount Everest base camp and back — now that’s cardio with elevation change.)
Compared to other forms of cardio, Stephanie acknowledged that hiking probably won’t spike your heart rate the way running does. But if you do choose one of those rougher, hilly trails, it can certainly be a more effective cardio workout than regular walking. In fact, Stephanie said, “hiking combines the best parts of walking and running:” it’s gentler on your joints than running is, but utilises more body movements than walking, “like stepping over a rock or swinging your arms harder to create momentum and drive your body up an incline.”
Plus, hiking is just more interesting. That potentially makes it more enjoyable than walking and running on a treadmill or road, which in turn makes it easier for you to go farther — you won’t get tired or bored as quickly. “A hike in the woods is an adventure that keeps all of your senses engaged: sight, sound, smell and touch,” Stephanie said.
How Can You Make Hiking a Better Workout?
To get the most cardio benefit out of your hike, Stephanie recommended grabbing a pair of trekking poles. They’ll help you bump up your speed and incorporate more body movement, which in turn burns more calories. You should also head for more challenging routes, especially ones that include hills, though if you’re just starting out, it’s fine to start on easier trails and work your way up. The elevation changes are tough, but Stephanie said, “I always love hiking up mountains because the view at the top is usually worth the extra effort!”
Of course, you probably don’t need us to tell you that hiking comes with a bunch of other benefits beyond just cardio. “A hike through nature rewards so many of your senses and doesn’t always feel like work or exercise,” Stephanie told POPSUGAR. “It’s more of an adventure with perks like views, a sense of accomplishment, calories burned, and muscles strengthened.” You’ll improve your balance and spatial awareness as you take on uneven surfaces. And hiking through nature comes with a sense of peace that a run or walk through the neighbourhood doesn’t always bring. “Time seems to slow down in the woods, so a hike can lead to you feeling much more refreshed and relaxed,” Stephanie said. “Not to mention the fresh air and vitamin D from the sun will do your body good!”
Not warm enough for hiking just yet? Start amping up your cardio endurance with this 20-minute treadmill walking workout that’s guaranteed to work up a sweat.
Image Source: Getty / Thomas Barwick
Hiking is a fantastic workout for burning calories and building muscles and often times you can even forget completely that you are technically exercising. In this article you will find calories burned by weight, learn what muscles are used most during mountaineering, and even pick up a few exercises that will help you push through your next outing.
Hiking builds multiple components of fitness simultaneously, predominantly cardiovascular health and strength – especially of the lower body.
What Muscles are Used Hiking?
Trekking up hills or mountainsides is hard work, and it engages multiple muscle groups in tandem, all while burning a serious number of calories and increasing your aerobic threshold. Here are the muscles used most strenuously:
• Lower Back
• Ankle and Knee Complex
• Inside and Outside Thigh
To burn even more calories and to engage the upper body further, consider walking with hiking poles.
Calories Burned Hiking
How many calories does it burn? The exact number depends on a extensive set of bodily variables, including but definitely not limited to your weight, muscle content, and current fitness level.
Environmental factors will also affect how many calories are burned, such as the incline of your hike, whether or not you are packing weight (and how much your pack weighs), the speed you maintain during your trek, weather conditions, and more.
Weight (lbs)..………………..Calories Burned Hiking
These calorie calculations are based off of a trip that involves covering mountains and/or hills.
Exercises & Training
Cardiovascular endurance is a huge necessity for this outdoor sport, especially if the distance you are covering involves a steep or steady incline. Putting yourself through hiking preparation workouts on the stair climber, or walking on incline on the treadmill at the gym are both good ways to prep your body for the challenge.
You can also use a workout in a safe, controlled environment on the treadmill to get an idea of how long of a distance you can comfortably cover before you start to feel too exhausted; useful information that can help you pick the distance and elevation of your trip before you’re actually on the trail.
Strength training is also imperative to well rounded fitness. This Fitness Blender 1000 Rep Workout is a great example of a routine that boosts both your muscle content and your endurance. Other good things to look out for in hiking workouts are ones built with exercises to build lower body and core strength, especially.
Other Benefits of this hobby
Aside from burning a great deal of calories and providing allover toning, hiking never gets boring. The last place you want to spend the day when it’s nice outside is inside the gym on a treadmill (especially here in Washington State -we don’t get a lot of warm sunny days). The next time the weather is good and you want to get in a good workout, skip the gym and go out and explore some of your local trails.
In the mountains, having the fitness to keep going without getting exhausted—and the fitness to retreat if foul weather happens—is an essential safety measure.
Ji Soo Song
There is no official hiking season. Some places are mild and hike-friendly year-round, but in many parts of the northern hemisphere, the weather and trail conditions are only good for trekking from late spring all the way to mid-November. That’s six solid months for day hikes, backpacking, mountain climbing, and scrambling. Add snowshoes or skis, and there’s no reason you can’t get into the backcountry all year round.
But if you think you can just hop off the couch after a long layoff, slip on your boots, and hit the trail, think again. Most trails are uneven and have at least some elevation gain, so even the easiest hiking requires balance and strength to avoid injury. The good news: getting back into the swing of things isn’t as hard as you think.
Start With These Basic Hiking Fitness Tips
Two of the most common hiking injuries are ankle rolling and ankle sprains. If you’re out of shape or just haven’t been active for a while, start with some basic exercises to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.
- Run or walk in sand: It builds the muscles that protect your knees and ankles.
- Build range of motion: Get a resistance band to strengthen your muscles through their full extension. Standing on a tennis ball or balance disc is great for this too as it builds the small stablizer muscles around the ankle and knee.
- Crunches: Building your core strength will help you keep your balance on uneven surfaces.
- Squats and lunges: Keep your back straight and take each squat and lunge slowly to strengthen your core muscles.
- Push-ups: Good upper body strength (especially in your back) will serve you well on long trips where you need to carry a heavier pack.
- Cardio: Getting this is as easy as walking on a trail. (City-dweller? Hitting the treadmill or stationary bike at your local gym works too.) Whichever you choose, make sure to get your heart rate up. This will help build your lung capacity so you can hike longer.
- Step-ups: Before a backpacking trip, weight your pack (use 20 lbs. to start) and step up onto a park bench 16 to 18 inches high. Add 5 pounds a week until your pack is as heavy as it will be on your hike. To prepare for an extended, multi-day hike, do this exercise three times a week until you can do 700 steps in less than 30 minutes.
The best way to start working your way toward bigger goals is to get out on day hikes.
Training for a Day Hike
If you’re a beginner or haven’t been out hiking for a while, celebrate the good weather with a day hike. But first, let your body know you’re going to be pushing it beyond your afternoon stroll. If you’re planning a hike for the weekend, here are some tips to get your body in shape.
- Take yourself out for a walk two or three times during the week. Make sure to move briskly enough to get your heart rate up, and then keep it up for at least 30 minutes.
- Be sure to wear the same shoes that you’ll be wearing on your hike. A sure-fire way to get blisters is to walk for a long time in shoes you haven’t worn in a long time (or at all).
- Carry a lightly-weighted daypack on your weekday walks. That way, you’ll make sure you’re prepared to tote your essential gear.
The Three Best Exercises to Get in Shape for Hiking
Hold equal weights in both hands. From a standing position, step forward until both legs are bent at 90 degrees. Push up, bringing rear foot forward. Repeat with the other leg.
Poor Man’s Leg Curl
Lay flat on the floor and scoot your hips toward an elevated bench. Place your left foot on the bench. Lift your right leg up as high as you can bear. Press your left foot down into the bench, clench your glutes and hamstrings, and raise your hips off the ground. Do 10, then repeat on the other side.
Tie a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees, so there’s tension while you stand with legs at hip-width. Stand straight, tuck your abs, put your hands on your hips, and walk sideways while maintaining the band’s tension between your shins.
Take your fitness to the next level with our 16 exercises to help you train like a guide.
Getting injured is no fun anywhere, but in the backcountry, it can be a dire problem.
How to Avoid Injury on Steep and Rocky Trails
It may seem like a welcome break after a hard hike to the top of a peak, but don’t be deceived: Downhill hiking is tough on your legs, toes, and especially knees. On the downhill segment of a hike, your body is holding its own weight back, plus whatever you have in your backpack, to avoid falling. This repeated pressure can lead to injury. Scrambling over rocks and uneven surfaces can also strain joints. The best prevention is to exercise in advance of the hike to build your body’s strength for the task.
How to Avoid “Hiker’s Knee”
- Exercise during the week to build up your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings. Brisk walking, either outside or on a treadmill, is good for this. Riding a bike also targets these muscles.
- Try exercises with ankle weights. Start small—5 pounds is a good goal if you haven’t done this workout before. Lie on your back with one leg bent. Slowly lift the other leg keeping your knee slightly flexed. Repeat with the other leg. To work your hamstrings, stand and lift one weighted leg behind you until it is at a 90-degree angle. Hold for a few seconds and lower to the floor slowly. Repeat on the other side.
- Do bodyweight exercises including lunges and step-ups.
- Use trekking poles (see tips below on how) to help reduce the impact on your knees.
How to Use Trekking Poles
If you’re concerned about your knees or ankles, consider getting a pair of trekking poles. They aren’t just for newbies or older hikers: Poles help anyone keep their balance on very rocky or uneven terrain. They give you an extra two “limbs” to hold yourself up while you navigating the trail. People with joint issues are especially wise to invest in a pair. Here’s how to use them:
- Keep your arms in a fairly neutral position, only slightly bent at the elbows and use your shoulders to propel yourself forwards.
- Keep a relaxed and loose grip on the poles by using the straps.
- When hiking downhill, keep the poles slightly in front of you. Shorten your stride to reduce the impact on your knees. If the trail is very steep or muddy, try ramming the poles into the ground and taking side-steps up to the pole.
- When hiking uphill with poles, you should use the poles to push off, not pull yourself up the hill. Avoid planting the tip of the pole in front of your lead foot.
How to Choose Hiking Boots and Shoes
We cannot stress it enough: No matter how fit you are, your footwear will make or break your hike. More to the point, it will either protect and support your feet and ankles, or it won’t and you’ll want to rip it off your feet at mile two and throw them off the cliff. When shopping for hiking boots and shoes, make sure your pick complements your fitness and packing style: While you’ll spend a lot less energy hiking in trail-running shoes, you may need the extra support of a mid-cut boot if you’ve injured your ankles in the past. Likewise, ultralighters won’t need as much support as everything-but-the-kitchen-sink packers. Buy your boots someplace where you can be fitted by someone who knows what to look for. Some boots are designed for specific terrain and even certain strides, so it’s worth doing some research before making a purchase.
Preparing Physically for a Backpacking Trip
If you’re planning a multi-day hiking trip, the last thing you want is to wake up on day three too sore to keep going. Give yourself time to prepare for several days of hiking—like anything else, you’ll want to work your way back up.
Tips for Getting in Shape for Backpacking:
- Depending on how long your backpacking trip will be, give yourself up to a month to prepare. Take yourself on walks and shorter hikes three times a week.
- Make sure to wear the same boots you’ll wear on your trip. If you’ve just bought new boots, give yourself time to break them in. Wear them around the house for a few days, Then build up to a short walk. Finally, take a hike with them on, paying attention to any sore spots on your feet.
- Wear your backpack on hikes. Gradually increase the load until it’s as heavy as it’ll be on your trip.
- Lift weights to build up your strength.
- Sore joints? Swim to build strength and lung capacity while they recover.
Basic 9-Week Early Season Training Program
Fitness coach Jordan Smothermon recommends building a good strength base early in the season (early spring, for those who live where winter isn’t good for hiking). As you need more endurance, you can easily trade short-burst power for long-burn performance. Think of your muscles as a savings account for fitness. As you move from segment to segment, build on the fitness and strength gains you’ve made.
- Weeks 1-3: Strength-training 3 days per week, 1 hour/session. “Put on strength now and you’ll have muscle that you can later sacrifice to build up your endurance,” Smothermon says. Keep rest periods to a minute or two: “No time to flex in front of the mirror.”
- Weeks 4-6: Add one endurance workout every week for 45 minutes at moderate intensity (e.g. jogging, hiking).
- Weeks 7-9: Increase the intensity of your weekly endurance workouts to 1.5 to 2 hours and add 1 day of high-intensity exercise with high output but less weight (e.g. speed hiking).
Altitude sickness can strike even the fittest of hikers.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
Anyone planning a hike that will take them above 8,000 feet, especially flatlanders, needs to know how to recognize and treat altitude sickness. Medical experts have researched the best ways to beat altitude sickness and stay healthy overall at high elevation, but here are the most important tips to keep in mind.
- Give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation. Gradual gain spread out over a number of days is key.
- Symptoms including headaches, insomnia, and nausea usually wear off in a day or two
- Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
- Eat a lot. Trekking burns a lot of calories.
- Keep your pace slow.
- If you do have headaches, ordinary painkillers, along with rest and hydration, may help.
- The surest cure for altitude sickness: go down. If your symptoms fail to improve or worsen, retreat to a lower elevation.
Tips for Getting in Shape for Mountain Hiking
Mountaineering, technical or not, is a huge strain on the body. Steep ascents to high altitude tests your lung capacity and requires extra strength. At higher elevations, the weather is also less predictable, which can create challenges for hikers.
“Mountain athletes put their bodies on the line,” says Smothermon,. “The way to test our fitness is, if the weather changes, can we get down or out quickly and safely?”
Training for mountain hiking requires all of the same gradual conditioning as backpacking, Smothermon recommends starting earlier and adding weight-bearing exercises. It takes at least six months to prepare for a basic mountaineering trip. Mt. Rainier, for example, is a 9,000-foot elevation gain on snowy and crevassed with only ⅔ of the available oxygen compared to sea level. Add a 50-pound pack and you’re looking at a major undertaking.
Six-Month Training Program for Mountain Hiking
If you’re planning a mountaineering trip in the summer, start your conditioning around New Year’s. (Pro tip: Training for a big goal makes for a great resolution.) Conditioning for a mountain hike is best done in three phases:
- January/February: Foundational strength and cardio exercises to get in shape, focusing on lower back muscles, thighs, and calves. Alternate during the week between taking a run and hitting the gym.
- March/April: Push yourself further during this phase by running further and faster. Add to your load while weight-training. This will help you build lung capacity and strength.
- May/June: Taper off on the weight-training. This is the time to maintain fitness. Keep up the cardio and weights, but just back off a bit so you’re in peak condition for the mountain.
Getting in Shape for a Thru-Hike
A thru-hike is a commitment. Hiking a trail end-to-end involves long distances and takes multiple weeks, if not months. If you’re planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, you’ll need to consider mental as well as physical preparation. A thru-hike is like a pilgrimage. Give yourself six months to get ready, both physically and mentally. It’s smart to really consider what weeks of hiking will feel like and prepare for what to expect.
The Pacific Coast Trail is 2,650 miles long and takes about five months (the entire snow-free season) to complete. A thru-hike of this length is different than a backpacking trip because the first weeks can act as part of the training. Use shorter hikes to train for your thru-hike and set up a six-month conditioning schedule with cardio and strength-building exercises.
The best way to prepare is to check out the advice that long trail alumni and other thru-hikers have to offer. You might be wondering how to condition for your first thru-hike, or even how to work a months-long hike into your life without quitting your job. Whatever your question, the thru-hike experts will have the answer.