Training for a thru-hike

My workout plan to prepare for the AT

I’m lucky enough to have a husband with a degree in human nutrition, and a close friend who is a strength and conditioning coach for a MLB team (Thanks Haley). So I knew exactly who to turn to with questions about how to train for a thru hike. I’d need to strengthen my whole body, but also work on balance and impact my feet will encounter on trail. They say there’s no better way to train for a thru hike than letting the trail beat you up the first few weeks, but I’m trying to find the second best option. I’m trying to minimize the butt-kicking I’m sure to have the first weeks I’m out on trail.

There are three different workouts I try to do each week. Each has a different focus. I also have cardio classes and daily exercises, but I’ll get to those near the end!

Workout 1: Weightlifting

Arguably the most important workout of them all

For me, weightlifting is the one workout I kind of dread. But heavy lifting is one of the best ways to prepare your body for heavy impact, and so I must get on with it. This is also the one workout I see the most progress from. It’s extremely rewarding to know I can add more weight to the bar this week than last week.

Weightlifting needs to be started with low weight with a huge focus on form. I’d highly recommend a personal trainer or a friend who has experience with weightlifting to help you get your form right before you add more weight. I’ve done powerlifting competitions in the past and I still ask my husband to come check my form all the time. Any of these exercises you can google and find out how to perform them correctly.

Deadlifts: warmup set, then 3 sets of 5 reps

Squats: 3-5 sets of 10 reps

Calf Raises: 4 sets of 25 reps. Just make sure you get to 100, however you need to break it up. You can also hold weight in your hands to make the raises more challenging.

Kettlebell Swings: 4 sets of 20 swings. I usually go with a 15 pound kettlebell.

Seated Leg Curl: 3 sets of 10. This is a machine you can find at most gyms.

Workout 2: Control and Balance

How strong do you think your core is? Think again

This workout is super fun, in my opinion. It’s all about controlling every part of the movement, and works on your mind-body connection. Once again, you can google any of these moves.

All 4’s reach: 50 reps, pause as needed. Starting on your hands and knees, extend your hand out in front of you and your opposite leg behind you. Each reach is a rep. Focus on balancing and having full control throughout the movement. I go pretty slow when doing these, and feel my core, lower back, and glutes activate during this exercise.

Single-Leg Deadlift: 3 sets of 12, each leg. I use a kettlebell, but you can also use a dumbbell.

Overhead Lunges: 4 sets of 12. This is a full body exercise, and it feels like it!

Lateral Skiers: 5 minutes, focus on balancing onto each foot. You should be able to stop and balance on one foot. Take breaks as you need.

Russian Twists: 3 sets to max each time. You can also incorporate a med ball to make the exercise harder. All about engaging the core.

Workout 3: Pump Up Day

Burn, baby, burn!

Focus on burning out those muscles with low weights and high repetition. You’ll feel the effects of this workout quickly. I always love this workout, and it incorporates some upper body exercises so I’m not walking around looking like I skipped arm day (nobody skips arm day, they skip leg day, let’s be clear).

Lateral Band Walk: 3 sets of 15 steps, each way. Make sure you are stepping to the left just as many steps as you are stepping to the right. Most examples online have the band just above the ankles, but I prefer to have the band just above the knees. You can do both to see the difference in what muscles it targets.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 3 sets to failure. Start with light weight, 2-5 pounds. Do the raises until your arms give out, then take a break and repeat! Make sure to keep your head neutral and your torso still. You’ll feel yourself wanting to use your hips to gain momentum to bring the weight up. Please don’t do that, take a break!

Leg Extensions: 3 sets to failure with medium weight for your ability. This is a machine you can find at most gyms.

Tricep Pushdowns: 3 sets of 15 reps. I prefer to use the rope attachment, but there are other bars and attachments you can use if that is more comfortable for your wrists.

10 Minute Core Workout: I incorporate planks, bicycle crunches, russian twists with a med ball, and sit-ups. There are so many core exercises you can do, just make sure you’re out of breath by the end and you’ve accomplished your goal!

Cardio and Daily Exercises

I’m a group fitness girlie

I attend group fitness classes at Salsa City Fitness and get a great cardio workout in Zumba, and strength and balance training in barre and yoga. I usually try to attend one of each of these classes every week, and I love all of the classes for their own reason. I have a great time in group fitness classes and have learned so much about how to take care of not just my physical health, but my mental and emotional health.

Every day before and after workouts, I try to do at least a few moments of stretching and yoga. I’ll continue this on trail to help with sore muscles and fatigue. I really love yoga, so if you meet me out there and want to do a morning stretch before hiking, come join me!

My daily foot strengthening exercises

I know, I know! This is a lot of information. But this last bit is something I try to do everyday right before I go to bed (since it’s the only time I’ll remember to do it). I do some foot strengthening exercises to hopefully mitigate foot pain or injuries I might develop on trail. I do toe curls, lifts, and splays, then I try to keep all my toes down and only lift my big toe. I also do the opposite and keep my big toe down and lift all my other toes. I also stretch out my feet and might use a tennis ball to roll out the bottoms of my feet. This only takes about 5-10 minutes and I’ve noticed a big difference in how fatigued my feet feel at the end of a long day.


I hope at least some of these exercises inspires you to start training for your trip, or to start working on your own health journey. My goal is to be just a little bit better every day, and I’ve noticed a huge difference in my strength and overall fitness. It’s not linear progress but it’s progress nonetheless!

Happy adventuring out there!



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Comments 2

  • Jenny Reed : Feb 6th

    Great Tips Kara! I am working on my training for my end of March start date and weights are my biggest challenge as well. I found some new ones I will incorporate – thanks! Happy Hiking this year!

    • Kara Wise : Feb 6th

      Happy hiking to you as well!


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