Preparing for the Trail: Exercises You Can Do to Be Better Suited for Your Thru-Hike
Though it may seem like there is an obvious answer to this, I want to provide you with an overview of some exercises you can do to adequately prepare for your thru-hike.
The Obvious Answer
Yes, I know. You are probably sitting there thinking, “All you have to do is hike as much as possible for whatever distance you possibly can”. Turns out, you’re right. That would be the best preparation for a thru-hike: to hike, a lot.
But let us assume that you can’t always do that. Like myself, maybe you work a bit too much to go on hikes any other days other than the weekends. You get up early and you get home late. It’s 7:00 PM and you still have to eat dinner (maybe after preparing it) and shower. You can’t go to the nearest state park and do a bit of hiking on a whim or go to the gym that’s 30 minutes away.
Let us also assume that you don’t have any workout equipment either. You don’t have free weights, barbells, all of that jazz. You just have you, your pack, and you need to get ready for the longest hike you’ve ever done.
You know your limits. At some point, you will experience a wall where you feel as if you cannot go further. It is your choice whether or not to push past it. I can only tell you what I have been doing and I am in no way a physical therapist or a trained professional. These exercises are what have worked for me and perhaps they may not work for someone else.
You’re a thru-hiker. You walk. That’s what you do.
Leg strength is extremely important. When you can’t go on a hike with a full pack containing all of your gear, here are some things you can do to help you strengthen your most important hiking assets:
Squats, or jumping squats
I would try this for several weeks first without your pack and then add your pack when you feel like it has become too easy for you.
Keeping your legs between hip and shoulder-length apart, bend your knees while keeping your back straight and lower yourself down as far as possible. Then, rise slowly or jump back up, continuing to keep your upper body straight. Repeat.
I would probably start with doing this in three to five sets of ten and then increase from there.
Lunges, walking lunges
Straighten your back leg behind you and bend your front leg to about a 90° angle. Keep your back knee off of the ground. Then switch positions of the legs and do the same thing. Keep switching as necessary.
Alternatively, you can assume this position and hold it for as long as possible, switch legs, and then hold it again.
I would recommend three sets of ten for this to start.
With your back flat against a wall, bend both kneed 90° as if you are sitting in an invisible chair. Hold that position for thirty seconds or more.
Repeat five times and increase as it becomes easier.
Mix and Match
As you become more accustomed to these exercises, you can write your own exercise plans for the day and mix and match these techniques.
Your core is responsible for holding up your pack and for promoting balance. It is always good to work on strengthening your core as well as your legs.
Here are some exercises to help with that.
Get into the position of a pushup and then lower yourself onto your elbows. Keep your arms at a 90° angle with your forearms touching the ground and your feet seated on your toes. This is more of an endurance exercise. Hold it for at least a minute starting out and then increase as you get used to it.
While laying on your back, place your feet flat on the floor. Breathe normally. On the exhale, while keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed, lift your upper body forward. On the inhale, let it back down.
You can also do this to each side to exercise the muscles on the side of your stomach.
I would start doing 20 on each side, alternating between sides, and then move to this next exercise:
Laying on your back with your feet together, lift your legs so that they are about six inches off of the ground. Hold them there for 30 seconds and then switch again to one of the above-mentioned exercises. Repeat.
I only have one of these I really do frequently and it is one everyone knows how to do. As I’m sure you can guess, that exercise is:
Everyone knows how to do a pushup. I recommend doing at least 100 a day and increasing as possible. Maybe you start with doing ten every two minutes, and then do that ten times. Maybe you choose another combination. As you continue to do this every day it will get significantly easier and you will be able to do 50 at a time without much effort. That will make your count go much faster.
Upping the Ante
Once you become really good at all of these exercises, you can start doing them with your pack on, adding weight as you see fit.
Maybe you already have an exercise routine and you know what you’re doing. That’s fine.
Maybe you have enough time that you can go out and hike often, for as long as you want. That is fine also.
I wrote this for the people who don’t have enough time to really hike more than once or less a week. Hopefully, this helps some of you worker bees out there.
See you all on trail!
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