Hiking and fitness: Training to go big, part 2 — weight room edition

So in my last post, I talked about a whole slew of training methods to help you go big on your next hiking and backpacking adventure. Indeed, you could do all that by itself and get in great shape. But you want to be more than that. Being strong and having a musculature to support that awesome cardio system you’re developing is the goal here.

So in this post, we’re taking trekking to the weight room. Follow this plan alongside my last post’s plan and you’ll be a beast on the trail.

Although not a favorite place for hikers and backpackers, the weight room is a great place to work your entire body and toughen it up for the rigors of a long trek. Short, simple weight sessions will do the trick to give you power to complement the endurance you’ve been working on for so long.

The prescription: Find yourself in the gym three times a week. Spend one session a week working on legs, one on the upper body and one on your core. Repetitions should be slow, controlled and with good form. We’re going to stay away from “isolating” exercises and work on compound exercises that are best for functional fitness, which is what you want for the trail.

Leg day

Squats, 3 sets of 8 reps, body weight at first, then adding weight as you get stronger. Lower down until the top if your thighs are parallel to the ground, then drive through your heels up, keeping your back straight and keeping sure not to lock out your knees.

Lunges 3 sets of 8, body weight, then using dumbbells as you get stronger. Lunge forward, back straight, taking care that your forward leg’s knee is not past your ankle, then push back up to standing position.

Bench steps-ups Again, using body weight, then adding weight as you strengthen. From standing, step up to a bench, back straight, and rise up, taking care that at the top of the lift, you are standing only on one leg (this keeps tension on the thighs). Then go back down slowly and alternate legs.

Calf raises 3 sets of 8, using the same formula as before. Start with body weight, then add weight by either holding dumbbells or with a barbell across your back. For added stretch and work, use a weight plate or a board to elevate your toes above your heels as you start the lift.

Upper body day

Incline dumbbell chest press, 3 sets of 8. Start out with lighter weights, moving up with each set (Start by lowering the weight until you feel your pec muscles stretch, then slowly press back up until the weights almost touch.

Pull-ups, 3 sets of as many reps as you can do. These are hard. If they’re too tough, try chin ups (palms in), then move to a modified pull-up (palms facing each other). Graduate up to the standard pull-up (palms out). From a hanging position, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together until your chin is above the bar, then lower slowly until you are back to the original hanging position.

Seated dumbbell shoulder presses, 3 sets of 8 reps, increasing weight as you go. Back straight, start with weights at shoulder level, press up until just before the weights touch, then lower down slowly and repeat.

Deadlift, 3 sets of 8 increasing weight with each set. You might see this as being a leg exercise, but in reality, it pounds the back and exercises the whole body. You can do this with a single dumbbell or a loaded barbell. Start with the weight on the ground, feet about shoulder width apart. Keeping your back straight (not rounded), drive through your heels and lift up. Then set it back down in a controlled manner. This is a great whole-body exercise.

Core Day

Again, repetitions on your core should be done slowly. 3 sets, 30 reps of crunches; 3 sets 25 reps leg raises; 3 sets, 15 seconds of Supermans (lying flat on your belly, then raise your arms and feet off the ground and hold for time. As you get stronger, increase time). 3 sets 15 seconds of planks (same format as Supermans).

I would follow each workout with one of the cardio/endurance sessions I mentioned in my previous post about going big. And for certain, I recommend having one rest day per week.

OK, so that’s a lot of information. How might it look for your training regimen? Maybe something like this:

MONDAY: Upper body day in the weight room, run.

TUESDAY:  Trail day, either trail run (medium length) or backpack hike.

WEDNESDAY: Lower body day in the weight room, treadmill.

THURSDAY: Shoulder day in the weight room, practice hike, with a small backpack.

FRIDAY: Core day in weight room, stairs/stadiums or run.

SATURDAY: Long hike with loaded pack.


Feel free to customize this (one reader suggested substituting bike rides for runs to save wear and tear on the knees, which is a good idea). Generally speaking, you’re going to get great cardio and strength gains with this plan as well as some wicked cross-training benefits.

All you have to do now is go get it.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


2 thoughts on “Hiking and fitness: Training to go big, part 2 — weight room edition

  1. Pingback: Hiking and fitness, Part 3: Training to go big with yoga « proactiveoutside

  2. Pingback: Yoga Practice for Hikers: Benefits of Yoga in Endurance Training... - WildernessDave.com

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