We’ve all been there: a new friend invites us for an “easy hike,” and by eight kilometres in, with no end in sight, we realise that the term “easy” is definitely relative. Hiking is for everyone, and we encourage anyone who has the ability to explore nature on foot to hit the trails!
There are routes for every skill and fitness level all around our country, and all you need to call yourself a “hiker” is to go on a hike. That being said, as you start to get a little more serious about hiking adventures, there are significant benefits to raising your hiking fitness level to match up with the complexity and distance of the routes you want to tackle.
Some of the most magnificent hikes in South Africa are backpacking trails (you can read more about some of our local faves here) and for those, an intermediate level of hiking fitness is required to keep them comfortable and enjoyable. It’s hard to truly appreciate a magnificent view when all you can concentrate on are your aching quads!
That’s why Camp Master has collaborated with the experts at Trojan Health and Fitness to give you an introduction to how hiking and fitness intersect, and a little more info on how to elevate that hiking endurance as high as the peaks you’d like to climb!
Benefits of being fit for hiking
Hiking requires physical stamina and endurance to cover long distances, climb steep inclines, and navigate challenging terrain. Regular exercise and strength training can help improve cardiovascular fitness and increase muscular endurance, making it easier to handle long hikes without feeling exhausted. Plus – you want to chat with our hiking buddies, and that’s hard to do when you’re struggling to catch a breath.
Better overall health
Hiking is a fun form of exercise that can provide many health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, better bone density, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Being fit for hiking can help you maintain stellar overall health and reduce your risk of developing conditions that may be harmful in the long term. Hike now = reap those body benefits later.
Improved mental health
Hiking in nature can have a positive impact on mental health, helping to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Being fit for hiking can allow you to enjoy the mental benefits of spending time in nature without feeling physically overwhelmed. The fitter you are, the less guilt you’ll feel for eating way too many trail snacks when you reach the summit, too.
More enjoyable hiking experiences
Being fit for hiking can make the experience more enjoyable and less challenging. You’ll be able to explore more of the trail, take in the scenery, and enjoy the outdoor experience without feeling physically exhausted. Though – of course – there’s an enormous triumph in the feeling of overcoming physical challenges, there’s a point of “hike tired” where the whole thing stops being fun altogether. You don’t want to hit that point. It’s super whingey.
Hiking can be a relatively dangerous activity, and being physically fit can help to drastically reduce your risk of injury. With better balance, strength, and agility, you’ll be better equipped to navigate tricky terrain and avoid falls and other accidents. Wobbly legs and tweaky ankles can spell trouble when you’re up high or on a steep incline.
How does hiking fitness differ from regular fitness?
–Endurance: Hiking requires a different type of endurance when compared to traditional cardiovascular exercises such as running or cycling, so it’s necessary to bear that in mind when training. Hiking often involves long periods of low-intensity activity punctuated by shorter bursts of high-intensity activity. To improve hiking fitness, you need to focus on building muscular endurance in tandem with improving your aerobic fitness. The healthiest hiker is an all-rounder, so a balanced workout routine is key to making the most the most of your adventures.
– Balance and stability: Hiking often involves uneven terrain, steep inclines, and unstable surfaces. To maintain your balance and stability while hiking, you need to incorporate exercises that improve your core strength and balance. Body awareness is also a key component of being in tip-top trail shape, so exercises that help you get to know and feel your body will improve your experience significantly.
–Lower body strength: Hiking places a much greater demand on your lower body muscles, such as your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes than simply walking on even surfaces does. This makes sense, because you’re lifting your knees higher to avoid obstacles, and placing your joints at a much wider variety of angles so your feet can gain traction paths. Exercises that target your lower body’s muscles, such as lunges, squats, and calf raises, will help improve your hiking fitness dramatically.
–Flexibility: Hiking involves a wide range of movements, including stepping over rocks, navigating narrow trails, and climbing over obstacles. To avoid injury and move more efficiently, you need to incorporate exercises that improve your flexibility and range of motion, such as yoga or stretching. Think “mountain goat” and get rock hopping.
– Outdoor-specific skills: Hiking requires a range of outdoor-specific skills, such as orienteering, map reading, and wilderness survival know-how. While regular fitness may help improve your physical conditioning, developing these outdoor-specific skills is also important for improving your hiking experience and overall enjoyment of the trails. Embody the mountain man!
Establishing a workout routine for hiking fitness:
Just like with any sort of outdoor expedition, when it comes to improving your hiking fitness, planning is key! We consulted with the workout gurus over at Trojan Health and Fitness, and they let us know the steps they think any avid hiker should take to establish that “power to the summit” routine:
Set your goals
Determine what you want to achieve through your workout routine.
– Do you want to improve your endurance, strength, or balance?
– Are you preparing for a specific hiking trip or event?
– Is there a specific trail that’s on your hiking “bucket list”?
Understanding your goals will help you design a workout routine that is tailored to your needs and motivate you to stick to it until you’re in “beast mode.”
Consult a professional
Consult with a personal trainer or fitness expert to help you develop a workout plan that is specific to your fitness level, goals, and needs. They can guide exercises that will help you build strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as advice on how to progress your workouts over time. Make sure to show them the trails and expeditions you want to tackle so they can give you a timeline and tailor your workout accordingly.
Choose exercises that mimic the way your body moves while hiking
Incorporate exercises that mimic the movements and muscles used during hiking, such as lunges, squats, step-ups, and calf raises. Include cardio activities such as walking, running, or cycling to improve endurance. We’re not saying do ONLY that, though! Exercises like Yoga and Pilates can drastically improve your body awareness, which is a great asset in the outdoors.
Gradually increase intensity
Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time to avoid injury and build endurance. Start with shorter workouts and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts as your fitness level improves. This is true for all types of fitness, but especially for hiking – slow and steady builds a sustainable baseline fitness and helps you prevent injury.
Incorporate recovery time
Allow time for recovery and rest to avoid overuse injuries and burnout. Consider taking a day off between workouts or alternating between high- and low-intensity workouts. We know it can be exciting to go “full steam ahead” straight away, but an injury will set you back far more than a rest day or two!
Consistency is key to achieving your fitness goals. Establish a regular workout routine and stick to it, even on days when the couch is calling you by your full name. Aim to exercise at least three to four times per week for optimal results and try to aim for even more if you have the capacity. Make sure you’re getting in at least one rest day a week, though. Rest days allow your muscles to recover and actually build the muscle tissue that contributes to your fitness.
What gym equipment helps with hiking fitness
The body that conquers the tallest peak in the range can be strengthened in the comfort of your living room! Though it’s imperative to get practice hiking outdoors before a big expedition, Trojan Health and Fitness has created durable home gym gear that will allow you to build necessary fitness from the comfort of your house.
We understand that, for many people, it’s unrealistic to get out into nature as often as it takes to build fitness, and Trojan products are the ideal solution to realistically creating that mountaineering physique. Here are some gym equipment options that can help develop hiking fitness:
- Treadmills: A treadmill is an optimal and efficient way to elevate your cardiovascular fitness and build your endurance. You can adjust the incline and speed to mimic hiking terrain and gradually increase the intensity of your workout. You could even get in a few kilometres of running if you want to push yourself!
- Elliptical Machines: An elliptical machine can be an effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness and lower body strength. You can adjust the incline and resistance to simulate uphill hiking, and the low-impact motion is much gentler on the joints than a treadmill. This is a wonderful cardio option if you struggle with joint issues, specifically in the knees.
- Stationary Bike: A stationary bike can help improve cardiovascular fitness, lower body strength, and endurance. You can adjust the resistance and pedal at different speeds to simulate different types of terrain. If you’re looking to work on endurance, these bikes are great, as they allow you to multitask. Put on your favourite nature documentary and take a long, slow ride to get your legs used to the sustained continuous effort.
- Weight machines: Weight machines such as leg press, leg extension, and calf raise machines can be useful for building lower body strength needed for hiking. Because a lot of hiking is propelling yourself up inclines while wearing a backpack, a stronger body will be much quicker and happier on those difficult stretches.
- Free weights: Incorporating free weight exercises, such as lunges, squats, and deadlifts, can help build leg and core strength, which are essential for hiking. They also help you with your balance and coordination, as well as promote enhanced body awareness. Most free weight sets are portable, too, so you can take your hiking fitness routine on the go with you.
You can find all of these Trojan products (and even more from their wide range) at a Game or Makro outlet near you!