Super Fun Workouts To Get You In Tip Top Hiking Shape!

Due to the fact that college graduation isn’t until the first week of May, I will be getting what is considered to be a late start on my thru-hike. I don’t tend to handle stress well, so instead of sprinting to finish my hike before Baxter closes* I opted to spend a lot of time training during the year before. My hope is to already (sorta) have my trail legs when taking those first steps on Springer Mountain** and be able to knock out more miles my first few weeks on the trail.

However, it’s no secret that the best way to get in shape for a thru hike is to… well… actually thru hike. Unfortunately work, life, and all sorts of crazy things tend to get in the way of letting most of us disappear into the woods for six months as much as we would like to. BUT, don’t be discouraged. There are tons of great workouts to help maintain and strengthen your hiker body.

I now bring you….

1. Cardio
What you’ll need: 1) A treadmill with an incline setting. 2) A sandbag, weight, or heavy object.

This workout is my personal favorite, but don’t let that fool you. It is sure to kick your ass and make you cry for your mommy the first few times you try it out.

To start, figure out how much weight you want to train with (think the weight of the pack you plan on carrying). If you plan on carrying 40lbs or more of supply on your back, it might be a good idea to start at 10 or 20lbs and work up to your goal.

Now comes the hard part: get on the treadmill with the weight on your back, and set the incline to 10% with a speed of 3.5 mph. Do this for 5 minutes, and then raise the incline to 15% and lower the speed to 3.0 mph. After another 5 minutes, set the incline back to 10% and raise your speed to 3.5 mph. Finally, after 4 minutes, raise the incline back up to 15% with a speed of 4.0 mph and give it everything you have for the final 60 seconds.

This is a quick, but very intense workout that will not only help you with strength and cardio, but will help with your speed while climbing. I encourage you to experiment with different speeds, inclines, and weights depending on which part of your hiking technique you want to work on.

2. Arms
What you’ll need: A rock gym and $20 (you might be able to find a rock gym that’s close to home right here)

My absolute favorite way to do a really great arm workout is by climbing. Not only does it strength multiple parts of your arms and shoulders, but it is way more fun to climb up a wall than to do 50 reps.

Personally, since I am not a member of a rock gym, I try to go once or twice a month. But if you are lucky enough to belong to a rock gym, or a gym that has a climbing wall (like my college does!) then it’s easy to incorporate climbing into your weekly routine. Start small, and on easy courses. Climb 3-5 times, or until your forearms simply can’t take it anymore. As you get stronger, move up to courses with an over hang, or try your hand at bouldering.

Although climbing isn’t a HUGE part of an AT thru-hike, it does help to overall have a strong upper body for supporting your pack weight. Plus, I hear there are a few tricky peaks in New England where climbing experience might be nice…

3. Legs
What you’ll need: A steep, long, unpaved hill

Everyone’s favorite day is leg day… right?! Hills are a given when training for a thru-hike, so I usually find the steepest and longest unpaved hill in my neighborhood (look in state parks). A paved route works fine as well, I just find that the grass/dirt are easier on my knees and are more practical when training for a hike. Hike to the top of the hill as fast as you possibly can, then jog down. Try not to take any breaks in between and really break a sweat. Do this between 5-10 times depending on how long and steep your hill is.

If you really want a challenge, then alternate between speed hiking and running up the hill. Following up with lunges, calf raises, and a few mile run is sure to have your legs ready to climb Katadhin.

Having trouble finding the motivation to workout?
Sign up for a race that you never in a million years think you will be able to finish. In doing this, you basically scare yourself into working out. Spartan Races and Tough Mudders are great places to start because they are intimidating, yet all sorts of ordinary people finish these races each year. In addition, many of them take place on mountains, so it will force you to work on your hiking/mountain climbing muscles when preparing for the race.

Remember, some of the best gear items you can bring on any trail are a strong mind and body. If your muscles aren’t able perform the way you need them to, your joints will ultimately take the pressure of the climb and injured joints hurt a whole lot more than sore muscles. So, get out there and go get that hiker bod!

Happy hiking!


Cheat sheet for my mom who has no idea what I’m talking about:

*For anyone not aware, Baxter State Park is home to Mt. Katadhin aka the finish line of the AT. The park closes the mountain sometime in October each year, or when the weather on this 5,270 ft monster gets too extreme for hikers.

**Springer Mountain: the very start of the Appalachian Trail

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