The Mountains are Calling Part 2: Increasing your Hiking Fitness Pre-Season

In the Mountains are Calling Part 1, we discussed how to prepare for the next hiking season during the 0ff-season. In this Part, we will discuss how to prepare a month or two away from the season’s beginning.

In The Mountains are Calling Part 1, we discussed the importance of general health and fitness during the off-season. But now the hiking season is just around the corner, and we need to get more specific with our training. The law of specificity is a fitness term that tells us that to get better at a sport or activity, one must practice that activity. Hiking is no different. To get better at hiking, you need to hike. That is why to avoid getting beaten by the unbeaten trail, you must begin to practice hiking before the season begins.

That doesn’t mean completely stop your general health and fitness routine that you were doing during the off-season. It just means that a month or two before you get back out hiking, you should ease back into it. To practice getting back into hiking shape, you should first set your goals for the season. If your goal is to through hike a thousand mile section of trail, then your training will take longer than someone trying to accomplish a 15-mile day hike. Regardless, it all starts with strapping on your pack and getting out walking as part of your workout. A couple months away from the hiking season, start with shorter hikes with the weight you plan on carrying with you during the season. If you plan on having a 30-pound pack, then throw on 30 pounds and go for a three-mile walk. If you feel like your goal weight is still too heavy, start with lower weight and work your way up to it. To add weight to your pack without actually loading it up with food and water, you can put a medicine ball or a plate weight in the pack to give you the weight you want. If you are unable to get outside to do some pre-season hiking and/or walking, then you can use a treadmill to train. This works very well when it’s cold out, or when you want to train for steep hills. Just set the treadmill to the elevation you want to keep walking!

As the season draws closer, you can walk more and add additional weight. During this time you also want to continue with your general fitness routine. Keep doing resistance training a couple times per week, eating healthy, doing calisthenics, and jogging/running. Here is what a sample plan may look like for someone preparing for a 1 week, 100-mile hike in the mountains with a 40-pound pack.

Last Week of Off-Season Training:

  • Sunday: Recovery day
  • Monday: Resistance Training Upper Body
  • Tuesday: 3-mile walk or jog
  • Wednesday: Resistance Training Lower Body
  • Thursday: Cardio exercise of choice
  • Friday: Recovery day
  • Saturday: Full-body calisthenics circuit

First Week of Pre-Season Training (4 weeks until hiking trip):

  • Sunday: Recovery day
  • Monday: 3-mile variable incline walk on treadmill with 30-pound pack
  • Tuesday: Resistance Training Upper Body
  • Wednesday: Resistance Training Lower Body
  • Thursday: Recovery Day
  • Friday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
  • Saturday: 15-mile outside day hike with 20-pound pack (trail food permitted)

Second Week of Pre-Season Training (3 weeks until hiking trip):

  • Sunday: Recovery day
  • Monday: 3-mile incline walk on treadmill with 40-pound pack
  • Tuesday: Resistance training (upper and lower body)
  • Wednesday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
  • Thursday: Recovery Day
  • Friday: Full-body calisthenics circuit
  • Saturday: 15-mile outside day hike with 30-pound pack (trail food permitted)

Third Week of Pre-Season Training (2 weeks until hiking trip)

  • Sunday: Recovery Day
  • Monday: 3-mile incline walk on treadmill with 50-pound pack
  • Tuesday: Full-body calisthenics with a focus on your legs
  • Wednesday: 4-mile walk or jog no weight
  • Thursday: Recovery Day
  • Friday: Full gear test – Overnight camp with approx 5 miles of hiking after work
  • Saturday: 15-mile day hike with 40-pound pack (trail food encouraged)

Final Week of Pre-Season Training

  • Sunday: Recovery Day
  • Monday: 3-mile incline walk with 40-pound pack
  • Tuesday: Full-body calisthenics workout
  • Wednesday: Recovery Day
  • Thursday: 3-mile walk or jog no weight
  • Friday: Recovery Day
  • Saturday: Depart for Hiking Trip / Recovery Day
  • Sunday: Begin 100-mile hike

Hiking can be a strenuous activity, and like any activity or sport we should train up to our more difficult events. By training your general fitness during the off-season and gradually getting more specific with your training as your hiking season or trip grows closer, you will find yourself feeling better than ever while overlooking the mountain range you just finished climbing, or after finishing a hike you never thought was possible.


The Mountains are Calling Part 1: Increasing your Hiking Fitness during the Off-Season

The mountains are calling, the sands are beckoning, but you’re worried the unbeaten path is going to beat you. That’s fine because you have time to train and build up to your hikes. Whether you are preparing for a 2000 mile thru-hike or a 5-mile day hike, there are tips and tricks you can use to increase your hiking fitness before you hit the trail.

Depending on your local climate and your preferred type of hiking, you likely have a part of the year where hiking ends for a few months. You can use this time to work on general health and fitness, which will ultimately prepare you for your next hike!

First, I want to discuss the training schedule of athletes. Regardless of what sport an athlete is training for, there is often a difference in training between off-season and the in-season. During the off-season, athletes often focus more generally on their fitness, while as the season gets closer they tend to focus more on sport specific fitness. For example, a cyclist during the off-season may be in the gym weight lifting more often to build leg and core strength before they go back to cycling every day to prepare for the season. We can do the same thing for hiking. During winter when you are likely not out hiking, you can prepare for the season by practicing general fitness. Here are some ways you can prepare for the hiking season by improving your overall fitness:

Resistance Training: The off-season is a great time to strengthen your legs, hips, core, back, and shoulders. Weight lifting to strengthen your upper body can help you carry the loads of a heavy pack. If you’ve ever finished a hike and your shoulders and back were very sore, you can help prevent that by strengthening these muscles before you hit the trail. Also, strengthening your legs and hips will greatly improve how you feel during a hike. Hills will become no problem with a strong set of calves and quads.

Calisthenics: While resistance training will build strength, calisthenics will build muscular endurance. Better muscular endurance will keep your muscles running efficiently throughout even the longest hikes. By doing squats, lunges, leg lifts, crunches, push-ups, calf-raises, and other calisthenics of your choice, you will prepare your muscles for extended periods of stress which is what you experience while hiking.

Walking/Jogging: By walking and jogging during the off season you will help keep your body adapted for walking long distances, and you will improve your cardiovascular endurance.

Trail mix is a great energy providing food for when you’re on the trail, but during the off-season, you may need to scale back on the amount of high calorie and processed foods that you eat.

Nutrition: What you eat during the off-season shouldn’t be what you eat while on the trail. Trail food is often high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium which helps you maintain energy on the trail. During the off-season try to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. There is nothing better for off-season hikers than eating unprocessed fresh foods. They usually have low sodium, no trans-fats, and ample dietary fiber as opposed to their processed counterparts. As a hiker, if it comes packaged try not to eat it during the off-season. Your health will thank you since once hiking season comes around, packaged processed foods are almost all you will be eating while on the trail. A 10-mile hike will burn over 1000 calories, so if you eat as much as you eat on the trail while off the trail, you will begin to gain weight.

Weight Control: This brings us to weight control. During the off-season stay fit and skinny. As a hiker, you’re always looking for ways to reduce the amount of weight in your pack. Turns out one of the best ways to reduce your carried weight is to burn away your own fat. For some general tips for weight loss and weight control check out this article on weight loss basics.

The off-season is your time to work on your overall fitness and health. Once the hiking season begins to draw closer, you will want to start getting more specific with your training to prepare for your hikes. Stay tuned because next week we will discuss pre-season hiking fitness!

Author: Scott Van Hoy