We know getting out in nature is worth the effort and part of what makes hiking so compelling. The best way to get better at hiking is to get on the trail as much as possible but sometimes it just isn’t feasible. And that’s where these six tips to improve your hiking stamina come in handy.
6 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR HIKING STAMINA
When you’re not on the trail, consider other similar activities that can build your endurance. Running and walking are two great workouts that are easy to do almost anywhere and can build your endurance. If you aren’t an experienced runner, start with a run/walk program to ease into things.
Aim for two runs per week to start, and when you have more time on the weekends, try including a few long walks. Increase your distance and time each week by about 10% until you build a good base and can walk for about the length of time it’s going to take you to complete your goal hike.
2. START WEIGHT TRAINING
Don’t underestimate how much strength plays a role in your endurance on a long hike. Sure, you’ll still want to focus on improving cardiovascular fitness, too, but building strength in the legs and core also helps when the gradient steepens near the top.
Squats, deadlifts, kettlebell exercises, pushups, yoga and other dynamic exercises that focus on functional patterns of movement are the way to go. Start with weight you can handle and concentrate on performing the movements with good form before you start increasing the weight or repetitions.
3. TRY HILL INTERVALS
When you’re short on time during the week, one of the best ways to get in a quality workout is to include intervals or other high-intensity training. For hikers, this can mean finding a road in the neighborhood with a short, steep gradient or heading to a local trail nearby that has a few short inclines.
Once you’ve got a spot picked out, put on a pack similar to the one you’ll be wearing on your goal hike and do repeats. Walk up the incline as quickly as you can, pushing yourself to reach the top as fast as possible. Walk back down and repeat. How many repetitions you do will vary depending on your fitness level, how long the hill is and how long you’ve got to workout. But no matter how many hill repeats you do, remember the important part is pushing yourself as much as possible.
4. INCREASE YOUR EXERCISE FREQUENCY
One mistake a lot of hikers make is only hitting the trail for training when they’ve got time to spend a few hours exercising. While you’ll still want to include long hikes to build your fitness whenever possible, increasing the frequency of your workouts is a sure-fire way to build your endurance for the trail.
Just like any other athlete looking to improve performance, build your exercise regimen around your goals. Including 4–5 days per week with a mix of endurance, strength and cross-training workouts is a good place to start. Remember, not all of your workouts need to be 3 hours long. Short workouts are always better than nothing at all, and after a few months of training, you’ll be surprised by how much upping the frequency can improve your overall fitness.
5. WORK ON YOUR BREATHING TECHNIQUE
Without even realizing it, most people take shallow breaths instead of utilizing deep-breathing techniques. Even if it may not affect you all that much day to day, when you begin to exercise, particularly if you’re heading to higher elevation, taking deeper breaths can help prevent fatigue and keep you pushing up the trail by getting more oxygen to your muscles.
To practice, concentrate on pulling air deep into the lungs with your diaphragm a few times per day. If you aren’t sure whether you’re doing it correctly, breathe in through the nose with your hand against your stomach. Your chest shouldn’t move, but the hand on the stomach should go out. Tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale.
6. BUILD MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Sometimes all you need to reach new heights is a different mindset. Get comfortable with pushing yourself when you exercise and challenge yourself to do things you don’t normally do. Whether it’s doing pushups every 15 minutes or working out twice per day every now and then, the more comfortable you get with being uncomfortable the more it’ll help you when you’re put in a tough situation out on the trail.
Hiking in the rain or other less-than-ideal conditions can also prepare you for the last few miles of a long hike when the weather may change. Knowing you can push past your limits and overcome hardships will help you improve your overall fitness and reach your goals.
Originally published July 2018, updated August 2023
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