Hiking is one of the few outdoor activities that nearly everyone can do and only requires that you get out and try. Hiking makes everything better. It helps your blood pressure and lowers your risk of heart disease. Hiking helps you build strength, improves balance, works your core, helps maintain a healthy weight, and most importantly, improves your mood and makes you happy. It’s true. You can look it up.
As much as hiking improves your cardiovascular fitness, it’s equally important to work on your endurance in order to improve your hiking. It’s the chicken and egg thing. Which came first? Hiking to improve cardio, or improving your cardio to be a better hiker?
If you’re reading this, then we’re assuming you already like to hike. So let’s talk basics and training tips to improve your cardio and make you a stronger hiker. The stronger you are, the further you go, and the more Earth you can cover.
Cardio Training for Hiking: The Basics
Make a Plan – Know what you’re doing and set your goals. The best way to improve cardio is to set a schedule, plan on at least a few days a week of workouts, and make them progressively harder, longer, and more intense.
Timing – This goes with the planning, but you need to set time aside for cardio work. Cardio is often the longest and easiest workout to skip, so make it a priority. And pay attention to biorhythms. Do you feel stronger in the mornings? Is work getting to you and you can only get out after 6pm? Whatever it is, schedule it and make it happen.
Warm-Up – Warming up is critical, but it’s not about stretching so much that you tear muscle fiber. Warming up for cardio is all about active, dynamic stretching – stretching with added continual motion to simulate activity and get your joints and muscles ready action. Swing your legs from front to back to loosen your hips. Bend at the waist and do some light lunges and calf raises. Tell your body what it’s about to do.
Intervals – Everybody’s favorite word. You need to add walks, runs, and other exercises of varying lengths, speeds, and intensity in order to improve your cardio fitness for hiking. Don’t let your body get used to the standard 3-mile run or 5-mile hike. Intervals will keep your body guessing, increase your metabolism, and get you ready for anything.
Work the core – Hiking is done on foot, but your core is where you get balance and stability. And stop it with the crunches. Planks and other isometric exercises will work the entire core – abs, back, butt, pelvis, and quads – all the parts that make you go. The more core strength you have, the better hiker you will be, not to mention give you better shirtless mirror selfies. But seriously, stop it with those.
Skip the Gym and Stop Watching Oprah – Enough with the elliptical machines and sitting around sipping cucumber water and waiting for your set on the circuit. And please, stop watching TV or reading while working on your cardio. It limits your improvement. Want to pay attention to something to make the time go by faster? Get a heart-rate monitor and focus on keeping your beats in the right zone. Go to the gym if it’s what you have. Be active. But a treadmill is nothing compared to running or hiking outside.
Kick It Up
Add weight and increase your incline – Chances are, you’ll be hiking with a pack and going uphill. So, exercise with weight and find some hills to walk and run. Logical. Assess and weigh your hiking gear, work up to adding equivalent weight to your walks and runs, and get stronger quickly. Just don’t go nuts. Adding too much weight too soon can do some damage to your back and hips.
Go long once a week – Hiking can be a high-mileage endeavor, so be ready for it. Once a week, take your cardio workout on a long and steady trip to test your endurance and your timing. Put on a pack and go hike for 2 hours on different terrain. Not only will this improve your metabolism and stamina, but it will teach you your limits in order for you to increase them.
Rest, but be active – It’s important to give your muscles the time they need to rest. Schedule appropriate rest days, but continue to be active. Go for walks on your rest day. Get in an easy bike ride or go for a swim. Do some yoga or pilates. It’s a rest day, but keeping your muscles active will enable them to stay flexible and ready.
Hiking is the most rewarding form of exercise there is. Just be ready for it. Be in shape. Improve your cardio fitness and know your limitations. Know before you go and bring a friend. Hiking is always better when shared.