Prehiking Conditioning
and Strength Tips For Hikers

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

What's all the fuss about prehiking conditioning and strength?

OK, imagine that you're one of your thigh muscles.

How about one of the quadriceps, perhaps vastus lateralis? That's a major muscle in the front of your thigh.

Now imagine this:

  • You've been at rest in the passenger seat of a car for the last two hours, while travelling to a trail head.
  • Suddenly, you're walking toward that trail head, feeling the weight of a backpack and the urgency of sudden movements along the length of your skeletal muscle fibers.
  • You'll be expected to perform maximally without complaint for the next four hours, with only brief rest stops.
  • Now imagine: What would your dearest wish be as you head out onto the trail?

A good long stretch, of course!

Bob Anderson's book will get you started on a lifelong habit of stretching.

Muscles: faithful dogs

Muscles are what I regard as the faithful dogs of the body.

You ask (or demand), they oblige.

So I feel that it's unkind to ask these faithful servants to work hard without a good stretch, both before and after a hike.

Quick and easy stretches will keep your faithful, hard working muscles less prone to aches the next day: a real concern on backpacking trips, really more of a nuisance for day hikes.

Proper body mechanics are important for avoiding backaches or neck strain. It doesn't matter how faithful you are when it comes to prehiking conditioning and strength if you tweak a muscle during a hike, right?

Sounds like a pain to pay attention to how far you thrust your jaw out? Or how you pick up your pack?

  • The pain of NOT doing these things overshadows the inconvenience of doing them routinely.

Water intake also plays a role, as a vital nutrient for muscle cells.

How to whip your muscles
into shape for hiking

Cross training can be useful for building prehiking strength and conditioning that really pays off on a hiking trail.

  • Try biking (indoors when the weather is crummy), swimming, and dancing.
  • And after these vigorous aerobic activities, enjoy lying on the floor to give all of your large muscle groups a good stretch (you knew that was coming, didn't you?).
  • Pilates or gentle yoga stretches feel great!

It's fun to watch your level of fitness improve, day by day.

Brisk daily thirty minute (or more) walks, including some inclines and uneven terrain (avoid full time pavement, in other words), will keep your lung capacity and muscle tone at adequate levels.

A few personal tips for
improving your hiking fitness

See if any of these approaches make sense for you.

Two or three times a week, schedule permitting, I do a thirty minute workout on home gym equipment (not being really keen on sweating in public, except while hiking).

  • I include resistance training and weight lifting.
  • Listening to music or news programs keeps it from getting dull.
I try to park far away from store entrances, regardless of weather or how many packages I'm carrying.

I use the stairs at work, being secretly very proud of my "never-use-the-elevator" status.

I walk up escalators, or take the staircase right beside it.

I try to stand up a lot and move around during the day.

  • This is not hard while I'm teaching, but requires a bit of mental discipline when I'm deep into a project at my computer.
  • I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to take stretch breaks.
And I hike or snowshoe every week-end, with multiple-day trips whenever possible. That's my favorite way to check whether or not my prehiking conditioning and strength approaches are working!

Did any of those suggestions seem reasonable, like something you could fit into your daily routine?

  • If you've got other tips and tricks that work for you, please use the CONTACT link at the top left of this page to send them so I can share.

Bright yellow maple leaf resting on red leavesJust make sure prehiking conditioning and strength training make you strong and supple even as you come into your glory as an elder hiker

Prehiking conditioning
and strength summarized

To sum up, I take my "faithful dogs" out for daily romps in preparation for weekend day hikes and longer backpacking trips.

They love it, and so do I.

The hidden motive here is a consistent fitness level as well as injury prevention:

  • And rehabbing a hiking injury can get expensive in terms of both time and money.
So my advice is to invest some time now, every day, in pre-hiking conditioning and strength building, so you can enjoy trail time well into your golden years as an elder hiker.

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Tips For Prehiking Conditioning & Strength

About the author

Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.

She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.





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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.

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