In this episode, I discuss a few specific workouts a hiker can use to increase their hiking speed.
Three Workouts To Improve your Hiking Speed
Some people are quick hikers. Some people are slower hikers. When it comes down to it, it usually doesn't matter what pace you go. Hiking is for your pleasure. And in all honesty, as long as you are comfortable, having a good time and can safely complete your distances, speed shouldn't be your primary concern.
However, there are a few situations where a hiker might want to increase their hiking speed:
Now when it comes to hiking speed, there are two things every single hiker should be doing:
However, if you are already doing these things, there are a few specific workouts a hiker can follow to help increase their hiking speed.
And in this episode, I tell you exactly what they are.
You will learn:
All right, hello, hello guys. Today we are talking all about how you can increase your hiking speed? Now, this is a topic I haven't really covered before very often, and it's something that does affect quite a few hikers, but it isn't something we really first think about when it comes to our hiking adventures. Generally there are always going to be quicker and slower hikers, some people just naturally like to walk fast, some people naturally like to walk a little bit slower.
And when it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter what pace you go. Hiking is for pleasure ultimately, and in all honesty, as long as you're comfortable, having a good time and you can safely complete the distances that you need to do, speed really shouldn't be your main concern. However, in the real world and in all honesty, there are a few situations where you might want to increase your hiking speed.
Number one, is if you're going with a group and you don't want to hold people up. Now, this is super, super common particularly if you're hiking with people that you're not 100% familiar with. In our normal home environment, generally we'll hike with people who share the same value, share the same speed with us, so maybe we want to go a little bit slower, take lots of photos. Alternatively, some people will naturally go with friends who just want to be a little bit quicker. We can control that in a home environment. But generally when we're going with a hiking group, whether it's a meet-up group or with a tour, or if we're going on a big adventure, we don't really have control over that pace.
And if we're aware that we are a slower hiker, sometimes that can make us feel a little bit self-conscious. It might not be the biggest issue in the world, it might not really matter to the people in your group, if you're going a little bit slower and they're having to have a few more rests. In all honesty in their head it's probably not that big a deal, but we all know in our own heads, we build these things up. We feel self-conscious, we feel bad, we feel stressed, we hate people waiting up for us and sometimes it can build a little bit of anxiety and a little bit of discomfort when you're in these adventures.
So if you are a slow hiker and you're leading into a hike with a group where you know they're going to be a little bit quicker than, you very well may want to increase your hiking speed, which is absolutely fair enough. Another situation where you might want to do this is if you need to be able to cover more miles every single day.
So maybe you plan a big old adventure, but you've only got a certain time limit to finish it and you're aware that you do need to tick off a certain amount of miles every single day, or kilometers every single day to get through it. And you don't really want to spend the entire time away doing 12 hour, 13 hour, 14 hour hikes, where start to finish, just going at your slower pace. So you want to increase your hiking speed, so you can hike comfortably and still enjoy yourself but tick off a few more miles and kilometers each day, which is pretty common.
A third reason might simply be, you just like the challenge. Maybe you are just aware you're a little bit slower hiker, and you want to increase that speed just so you can tick off more kilometers, you can tick off hikes a little bit quicker. You can keep up with people or you can just beat yourself and you might do another hike, and just do it a little bit quicker. We don't very much talk about that, but that is a pretty common situation as well. So when it does come to increase in your hiking speed, there are a few reasons which people will want to do this. And the reason why I say that is quite often people get a bit shot down online and if they ask, "Hey, what can I do to increase my speed?"
I've seen this multiple times and they're genuinely looking for help and then people come out and say, "Hiking's not a race. You just go at your own pace." And all of that, which is fair enough but if you need help with this, you should be getting help. And that's what I'm looking to do today. So when it comes to increasing your hiking speed, there's really three big steps. Now, two steps are pretty general, which I hope we can completely omit. And they're things that we covered in this podcast again and again and again and again, and just goes to show that the same principles of training really, really affects a whole bunch of different aspects of your hiking. And there's also a very, very specific step, which I haven't really talked about previously. And I'll talk you through a few particular workouts you might be able to do.
So first step simplest way of increasing your hiking speed is just to make sure you're fit enough. If you are not fit enough for your adventures, and if you constantly have to stop and rest, because you're tired, because your legs are burning, because you're huffed and puffed, that's the easiest way just to increase your speed over the total of the day.
So by decreasing the amount of time that you have to rest and also decrease the amount of time you're fatigued, obviously you're going to increase your speed there and that's what we talk about every single episode in the podcast. So we don't really need to go into that. But if you are struggling with your hiking speed and you're not doing training around yourself, you need to get around training during the week. You need to be doing your smart training that we talked about so many episodes and that just goes without saying pretty much.
So number one, make sure you get fit. Number two, make sure you get strong. Now, a huge part of hiking speed comes down to leg strength. If your legs are not strong enough, you can't go at a decent pace. It's just as simple as that. Whether it's on the flat, whether it's going up, whether it's going down, if you're not doing specific strength training for your hiking and you're struggling with your hiking speed, get on it, make it happen.
Again, I don't really need to dive into this because I've talked about so much on the podcast, so make sure you're doing strength training and putting that into your week. Now, if you're already making sure you're doing your training through the week, and you're already doing a bit of strength training, and you're still struggling with your hiking speed, there are a few very specific workouts that you can do to help increase your hiking speed and just increase the pace that you can work out.
Now, generally, this is relatively difficult to do if we weren't putting specific emphasis into it because the body really, really, really likes to just walk at a pace that its comfortable. Now, the reason behind this is the body loves to conserve energy, it absolutely loves to do it as a survival mechanism. And in any situation where you don't have to spend energy and waste energy, the body thinks that is a good thing.
And when it comes to your walking, everyone's got a different natural walking pace. Everyone's a little bit different but if you are a slower walker, this very much applies to you, in the sense that the pace that we choose naturally pretty much 99% of the time correlates almost exactly with the most efficient walking speed you have when it comes to energy.
So whatever pace you walk out without even thinking about it, and that is pretty much exactly the pace where you use the lowest energy requirements for the top speed. And everyone's a little bit different with their particular walking speed, but that's always, always, always comes down to that is the most energy efficient way. And because the body really doesn't like spending extra energy, unless you're thinking about it, unless you're consciously making the effort to increase your speed and get out of that completely efficient mode, then more than likely you're not going to increase your speed.
It's just as simple as that. The body wants to conserve energy, so you really do need to fight that. So to help defeat that, there's a few specific workouts which I'm going to talk you through, which can get you out of this, can help get the body a bit more used to walking in a quicker speed and can also just make sure... It turns it to a bit more of an unconscious thing. So over time, you don't have to think about it quite as much because the body has learned to be a bit more efficient at this pace and it can sustain it.
So the very first workout I want to talk about is something called tempo walking, which is something that I get most of my clients to do, because it's probably one of the simplest workouts you can do just to help your hiking fitness, but specifically for increasing your speed it can be pretty effective. Now, this simply involves you going for a walk for anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes, it doesn't have to be on a trail, it can be around your local neighborhood and it's a great thing to add into your week. And then instead of just walking at a normal pace, what you're going to do is doing quicker and slow up walking intervals. So generally what I'll get my clients to start off with, is get a timer on their phone and whatever it is to beep off at every minute. And they'll walk normal pace for a minute, whatever pace they're going, and then for the next minute, they'll walk at a really, really quick pace.
Now, it's not a run, it's not something that's outrageously uncomfortable, but it's something that's significantly outside of that normal pace they go. So they go for one minute normal, one minute quick, one minute normal, one minute quick. And they literally do that for the entire 30 minutes, 60 minutes, whatever they're doing.
And what you're doing there is you're training the body just to get a little bit more comfortable at that quicker walking pace. You're just training the body to be able to sustain that quicker pace and it's very, very effective. Now, over time, you can progress this in a whole bunch of different ways, but what I like to do is do one week at one minute on, one minute slow, the next week at two minutes quick, one minute slow, the next week at three minutes quick, one minute slow, the next week at four minutes quick, one minute slow.
And then for the next four weeks after that, if you're game you can start adding a little bit of loader pack. So you go back to one minute and one minute, but you might have a five kilo pack on your back. And then two and one with a five kilo pack. And you can keep on progressing like that. Super, super simple, anyone can do it, very, very effective for your hiking fitness, but specifically for walking I highly recommend you give it a go. So, that's your tempo walking.
Now, the second workout that you can have a think about is downhill walking intervals. Now, one big, big portion of hiking speed is simply how quickly we go down hills and during descents. Now, a lot of people are really comfortable to go relatively quick on the flat, go relatively quick on the up, but when it comes to descents maybe we're not 100% confident about our balance, about us stability, and so we really, really, really take it nice and slow and really, really take it steady going downhill. Alternatively, another reason here might be if you struggle with some type of foot or knee pain on the descents, and if you are going a bit too quick, then that does flare things up, and this happens all the time. And generally when it comes to increasing your speed on downhill walking, first point it calls always going to be a strength training you need to be doing that, but it also comes down to a lot of confidence. Meaning we feel really, really stressed. We feel a bit anxious and we're not 100% confident that we can go down at any quicker speed.
So the best way here to improve this is simply what's called exposure therapy. So simply getting yourself in this situation and practicing it and bit by bit, by bit improving this. And that's when the downhill walking intervals come in. So essentially this is pretty much the same as your normal hill intervals, but as opposed to overloading and challenging the up portion of it, when you're trying to go quicker or trying to have a heavier pack, what we're doing is we're just going uphill at whatever pace we want.
And then on the downhill, we're putting a little bit extra focus on it. Now, the way that I would suggest you go about this is you want to start off with a relatively short, anywhere from one to three minute hill, in which it's moderately steep. So it doesn't have to be outrageously steep, and it wants to be off-road. So again, it doesn't have to be outrageously rough terrain to start with, but it wants to be maybe not just doing it on the local streets.
And then what you're going to do, you're going to climb up at a normal pace and then you're going to walk down at a normal pace. And as you're walking down, you're going to time yourself. Now, what you're going to do, you're going to climb back up to the top and then each time you repeat this interval you're just going to try and do it five seconds quicker than the previous one.
Now, you don't want to go a whole bunch quicker. You don't want to absolutely rush, and absolutely stress and really, really, really try to speed down this, because that's going to put you an increased risk of tripping and sliding, and that's not a good thing. But five seconds is simply involves you finding one little section of this hill, just to go a little bit quicker and you can save five seconds there.
Then each time you do this five seconds quicker, five seconds quicker, and you get a little more comfortable, a little bit more confident, and you can get a little bit happier in these situations. And then what you're going to do, is you're going to repeat this for three weeks then after you've done this for three weeks, then you're going to find a slightly more steep hill with slightly rougher terrain and you can do exactly the same thing.
Get your normal pace, walk up, walk down, time that, and then each time just increase that speed by five seconds each time. Now, really, really, really important with this type of workout, is obviously if you are going downhill, when you're trying to increase speed downhill, there is a big risk of tripping and falling if you're not smart.
So a few things you need to do, number one, don't do this if you're tired, meaning if you're getting huffed and puffed, if your legs are getting really burny or jelly or anything like that, stop, have a rest and make sure you're doing those downhill portions when you're fully fresh. With this, you need your mind clear, you need to be thinking clearly, and you need to be very, very careful with this.
Because if you end up doing this and you have a trip and fall, then it's going to go the other way and you need to get even more careful about going downhill as opposed to getting more confident. So don't do this when you're tired, make sure you're fueling up properly, and if you do turn up to a workout halfway through you're absolutely knackered, maybe change it into focusing on the ascents.
So go really quick on the ascents and take a slow as you need on the descents and then come back another day and focus on the downhill portion. Number two is don't rush the process. So as I said, five seconds, don't try to go quicker than that, take it step by step. Because again, if you're really trying to rush things and getting ahead of yourself, it's going to put you at a risk of tripping and falling. So you want to be smart here. Think of it as a long-term view, thinking eight weeks' time I want to increase this. If you're trying to do it in two or three weeks, you're going to trip and fall. That is not 100% likely to happen, but you are greatly increasing your risk and you need to be smart with this.
And then number three is probably don't do this in the wet or the mud or the snow or anything like that. If it is slippery, again, focus on the ascents, take the descents slowly and come back when it's dry. It can be a very, very rewarding workout but you need to be smart here, you need to be careful. You need to use your common sense because tripping is never a good thing and we don't want that.
So be very careful with this one, but it can be relatively effective. And then the third workout you might consider in this situation is something called threshold walking, which is a bit of unnecessarily technical name but basically what it means is choosing a time period, whether it's 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes. And what you're going to do is just walk as quick as you can for that pace.
So for 20 minutes, you're going to do a little time trial. You're going to choose a little circuit, you're going to walk a really, really quick pace, might get you huffing and puffing, might get the legs working, and you're just going to walk there for the entire 20 minutes. Take your time, next time you're going to go back, try and beat it, whether it's 30 minutes, 40 minutes. You can do this outdoors, you can do it on the treadmill. It probably won't be quite as effective because the treadmill slight changes our gait and you're not really generating that speed yourself. So I probably recommend doing this outdoors if you can, but in worst-case scenario, you can do it on the treadmill.
And then with this, it's simply just getting used to walking substantially quicker, but periods of time. And obviously when you're hiking, you're not going to be working at this absolute quickest pace of walking, but it's going to make the body a bit more comfortable walking at a quicker pace, and naturally just going to increase that pace that you naturally do.
So if you are looking to increase your downhill walking, tempo walking, the downhill walking intervals, and the threshold walking. Choose one of those, maybe two of those if you're really, really concerned and put them into your week and just rotate through them as you'd go. And over time, that can genuinely make a big difference, as long as you're combining it with your strength training, and as long as you're combining it with your other fitness training.
So hopefully if you do struggle with descents even when it comes to speed, or do struggle with speed when hiking I should say, hopefully you have a bit of a decent idea around how you can go about increasing it. It's not the end of the world if you are a slower hiker and 99% of people probably don't really need to focus on these things. But if there is coming to a situation where you are concerned about your hiking speed and you know that's limiting you, and you know that's playing on your mind, and you know that's something you really want to increase, I highly recommend you give these a go.
It will make a difference, it will take a little while, but after eight weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, you probably will notice a very big difference to your speed. Now, if you want to meet a dive a little bit deeper into any of these recommendations here, maybe you want to know a little bit more about the strength training, which specifically works towards your speed, or whether someone may be breaking down the specific workouts a little bit more. I highly recommend you join up on the Training For Hiking and Trekking Facebook group. Inside the group as I've said many times, I'm sharing a lot more content, getting a little bit deeper around subjects. I'm doing little video tutorials around exercises and answering any questions in real time that you may have about the episodes on the podcast, and also any other thing that comes around you, for your training, for your hiking adventures. So if you're not a part of that group, I highly recommend you get involved, The Training For Hiking and Trekking Facebook group, I'll leave a link in the show notes below.
So I really hope you've enjoyed this episode today guys, hope you got a little bit out of it, and if you do struggle with your hiking speed, I hope you have a good plan of attack moving forward. So thank you so much for listening and we'll talk to you soon. Bye.
Want to get fit, strong and resilient for your hiking adventures?
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.