I just finished a 22.4 mile hiking trip, which was spread of two days and it's the furthest I've ever hiked. When I finished my body was killing me, apparently taking long day hikes is not a replacement for actual trekking.

My question is, is there any specific workouts that you've found benefit you directly for hiking? Obviously there's a lot of general body fitness workouts, but I wanted to know any workouts specifically to improve hiking conditioning? For things like knee and ankle strength, or back strength to carry heavy loads...that kind of thing.

  • 4
    Hiking improves hiking.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 11:40
  • 4
    back strength to carry heavy loads You could try reducing your pack weight. For example, my base weight (meaning the weight of my pack without food or water) for summer in the Sierra is about 12 lb (5.5 kg). This answer has some info on ultralight backpacking: outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/5177/2169
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


I cant speak for all, but here is what I do:

  • Running. Improves your lung capacity, improves your stamina, strengthens your bones.
  • Weighted Squats. Dynamically works the majority of your body, especially the core.
  • Core strengthening exercise like crunches or bicycles.
  • Push ups. Just to improve my core strength along with arm strength.
  • Pull ups. Works the opposing muscle groups to squats and pushups.

The most important thing that I do before going for 8-10 day hikes is to make sure I build up enough stamina. This I achieve by running every morning. Usually I start with around 3 km and go up to 12 km (This I start around 2 - 3 months in advance). I slowly wane down to 3 km before the trek (To prevent injuries).

I do not go in for shoulder related exercises. I feel the core strength is more important. You cannot make your shoulders strong enough to carry all the weight on them for longer treks.

PS: I agree with lukas as well. I am not a muscular man. I'm tall and lean. Stamina plays an important role.

  • Do you think running for a timespan (say 30min) each day is better to train your stamina than taking a ride on a bike (ofc not slow, relaxed riding)? Maybe someone shares her/his experience with me, I think this is highly related here :)
    – Wills
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 19:00
  • @bashophil Yes it does. Depends on where you live though. In the place where I live, I feel more comfortable having a morning run for an hour or so. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 7:18
  • This answer doesn't make a lot of sense to me, so I'm not inclined to believe it unless there's some evidence. For example, pull ups will strengthen your lats, but a well designed backpack, used properly, should not put a large load on your shoulders. In fact, upper body muscle mass is probably a hindrance to hiking, since it's just more weight to carry. The stuff about the "core" just seems to me to be a buzzword that it's popular to throw around these days.
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 14:58
  • @BenCrowell well the pull up part was added by the community. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 18:33

Endurance and muscle strength are completely different things. From my experience and observations, hikers are usually thin (or even very thin) and big, strong muscles doesn't contribute to endurance. Often, because large muscles require more energy, they may be handicapping the hiking endurance.

I've observed no endurance difference between big man and woman with so week arms that they have big problems putting their rucksacks on their back. And afterwards, they've walked with it 20-30 km a day!

If you want to train for long hikes, you must either do long hikes or long runs. Your body must get used to long strain. It's not only muscles, it's the general energy performance of the body. On a typical long hike a man with weight ~75kg can burn 5000-6000 kcal daily. It's a big strain for the body, and you must get used to it!


There are basically two things to distinguish. The one is overall fitness, stamina, and core strength, the other is to endure some of the stress of the backpack on your shoulders over longer time.

For the former you can train by running or biking for fitness and core strengthening exercises for the strength. Especially for the core, don't do only those exercises that are recommended to make a good looking sixpack as they only train the outer core muscles while the main core strength comes from the inner core muscles that aren't that highly visible. Also I would prefer running over cycling in this case as you have to carry your upper body which also trains the stamina of your core muscles whereas you are in a much more "suspended" position while cycling, so that you don't have less training effect for the core muscles.

For the stress endurance: under long distance cyclists it is said that one the most important preparations is lots of saddle time to get your butt used to the continuous stress. It is quite the same with the backpack on your shoulders. You can just pack the whole trekking pack (not necessarily the whole equipment, but about the same weight and weight distribution) when you go on a day hike every now and then to get your back and shoulders used to the load. By this you will also train how to change your posture from time to time to switch the load to a bit different parts of the body.

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