If you avoid training because you think it takes too much time or an expensive gym membership, we’re here to change your mind. These five exercises are fast to do, can be done at home, and can make a massive difference in how you feel out on the trail.
Strength training with the following exercises can help you negotiate all kinds of terrain. Stronger glutes and quads will help you power up hills and cruise long descents. And overall strength and core stability will help you conquer rocky trails and log crossings with confidence. Training also helps with injury prevention, and can reduce soreness after hiking, helping you cover more distance day after day.
Here are some key moves to get you trail-ready.
Step-ups mimic, well, stepping up—a crucial motion for hiking uphill. Don’t rush through the reverse part of this exercise, either: stepping down with control is an eccentric motion that strengthens the tendons in your hips to help ward off injury, and the impact created when your landing foot hits the ground strengthens your lower leg and foot.
Muscles strengthened: Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, glutes, back/posterior chain.
How to do step-ups: Stand in front of a stair, a small stool, a box intended for step-ups, or a low, flat bench. You can use any strong, stable surface as long as it’s at least 6 inches high. (This is a good height to start with, but you can progress to something as high as 24 inches over time.) Stand with both feet flat on the ground and your hands on your hips. This helps keep your upper body steady so you can focus on working your lower body. Start by standing a few inches from the platform. Step up onto the platform, planting your foot entirely on the step. (Your knee should remain over and in line with your ankle throughout the exercise.) Then step up with your other foot, planting it beside your lead foot. Stand tall with legs straight before stepping down first with the leading foot, then with your other foot. Alternate your lead foot with each step.
How many: Start with three sets of 5 to 10 steps per foot, depending on your current fitness level. Level-up by increasing the height of the step, or by adding a 5- to 10-pound dumbbell to each hand.
Lunges mirror the motion of hiking downhill, especially on steep slopes.
Muscles strengthened: Quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, core.
How to do lunges: Start standing with your feet together and your hands on your hips to keep your upper body stable. Step forward with one foot, planting it on the ground in front of you. The distance you step should allow your front knee to bend such that it’s directly over your front foot. (Make sure your knee doesn’t extend past your toes, which can stress everything from your knees to your lower back.) Then, sink into your stance, lowering your back knee until it just touches the ground, trying to keep your hips even with each other by contracting the muscles in your abdomen. Push off your front foot to return to standing with your feet together. Then, step forward with your other leg and repeat. Alternate your lead foot with each step.
How many: Start with three sets of 5 to 10 lunges per leg, progress to three sets of 20 per leg, then three sets of 30, etc.