Tuesday, March 10, 2009

5 Key Muscle Groups and Exercises for Hikers

Spring is in the air and the hiking boots are starting to do the happy dance in the closet. You just can’t wait for the muddy trails to dry so you can get out and enjoy our wonderful Southern Ontario hiking trails. Soon the dark grey of late winter will explode into a hundred shades of green broken only by patches of beautiful wild flowers.

Now is the time to get your body in shape for the coming hiking season. The extent to which you need to do some pre season training largely depends on the kind of trails, and distance, you’re planning to hike. Here are a few muscle groups to pay attention to and some exercises that will help make your hikes safer and more enjoyable.

1. Abdominals
Crunches are a great strengthening exercise for your upper abs. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and you hands on the side of your head near your ears. Keep your eyes focused on a point on the ceiling as you raise your shoulders about 8” off the floor and lower again. Work up to about 5 sets of 20 reps.

For the lower abs leg raises are very effective. Lay flat on the floor and support your lower back by placing your hands under your lower back; then with your legs straight raise your legs about 1 ft off the floor. Work up to 5 sets of 10 and remember, don’t let your feet touch the floor until you’re finished a complete set.

2. Back Muscles
Back muscles are a key component of core strength and yet the most overlooked. Strong abs and weak back muscles can cause poor posture and walking form. To strengthen your back muscles, lay on your stomach with your arms and legs extended in front of you. Keep your arms and legs straight; lift your arms and legs off the floor at the same time. Work up to about 5 sets of 10.

3. Quadriceps and Hamstrings
The quads are the large muscle group on the upper front of your leg while hamstrings are the large muscles at the back of the upper leg. Both are a key component of your forward motion and must be kept strong and flexible. Squats are a great way to work your quads and hamstrings. Stand straight with your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart. Keep your back straight and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the ground (or as far as you can comfortably manage) then return to a standing position. Work up to 5 sets of 20 and remember to do these slowly.

4. Calf Muscles
Even if you’re just strolling a groomed rail trail calf muscles can take a real beating. Strengthening your calf muscles is an important aspect of your overall hiker’s workout. Stand flat with your back straight. Lift your heels off the floor and lower. Work up to about 5 sets of 10.

A more advanced exercise would be to place your toes on a step and lower your heels as far as you can, then rise up on your toes for one complete rep. This exercise provides the added benefit of stretching the Achilles tendon as well.

5. Arms and Shoulders
Although there are many exercises that target specific muscles you just can’t beat the simple push-up for overall arm, shoulder, and upper body strengthening. Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders (palms down). Keeping your back and legs straight push up with your arms until they are fully extended. Lower again until your chest is about 2” off the floor and repeat. Work up to about 5 sets of 10. For a less strenuous push-up you can keep your knees on the floor.

Start a simple exercise routine now and you’re muscles will be in prime shape for the rigors of this year’s Southern Ontario hiking season.

Note: Lloyd is an outdoors enthusiast and martial arts instructor with a sound understanding of body mechanics.

©2009 Lloyd Fridenburg – All rights reserved click here for copyright permissions


  1. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer? Players in all these sports start practising and exercising weeks before any serious playing.

    Shouldn't it be the same for hiking? It sounds like it from your article, Lloyd.


  2. You're absolutely correct. Most outdoors lovers often tend to neglect that which people in other sports take for granted.

    A bit of pre-season exercise will mean more time on the trails instead of being sidlined with injuries.


  3. Always take precautionary measures :) Enjoy your life and take things easy. :)

  4. Some great tips here, thanks!

    Best Wishes
    Liam (New Follower)


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