In today's article, I share a simple system of identifying the effectiveness of your training for your hiking and taking things up to the 'next level'.
The Best Way To Train For Hiking
Training for the trail is very important for many hikers.
This is for three big reasons:
However, when it comes to training for hiking, there are many different approaches out there. Some are very basic (such as the age-old advice "the best training for hiking is to just go out and hike!"), some have a bit more substance to them.
And there can be no doubt that some approaches are better than others. However, it can be hard to understand how your approach stands up.
The purpose of this article today is to share a clear 'classification' of different approaches to training for the trail.
This will allow hikers to:
In this classification, I break up training for hiking into five levels.
Level 1 is the simplest form of preparation. Level 5 is the most comprehensive.
Many hikers can and have succeeded in numerous adventures and challenges following each approach.
However, if you do struggle with certain aspects of hiking (such as pain, elevation hiking, distance, heavy pack carrying or anything else) and you do want to take your training and preparation seriously; hopefully, this will give you some direction.
Level 1: Just Go Out And Hike
This is the most common method of training for hikers.
And there is no doubt that it works for a lot of people!
This simply involves getting out on the trail every week or so, and slowly ramping up the difficulty/distance over time.
Being on this level is absolutely fine for many hikers if you do not have any issues on the trail. And if this works for you, then absolutely stick with it.
However, if you DO struggle with anything (whether it is pain, getting huffed and puffed on hills, struggling with a heavier pack or anything else), you likely need to 'upgrade' your training to see any significant change.
Level 2: Hiking and Some Type Of Strength Training
At this level, a hiker adds strength training into their week (on top of their hiking and walking).
This doesn't involve a structured program but might involve things like:
While this approach to training isn't perfect, it is a significant step up from level one. And when hikers start this, they will likely notice a big difference on the trail.
Level 3: A Structured Training Program
At this level, a hiker will follow a planned, structured training program.
This doesn't have to be specific for hiking (we will get to that below) but is simply a well put together training program designed by a professional.
These can be found online, in magazines or through a personal trainer in a local gym.
The main difference between level 3 and level 2 is that this level involves a structured plan which adheres to the principles of:
This will typically involve a mixture of strength training (including lower body, upper body and core work) and some cardio work (running, cycling, walking etc).
If stuck with consistently, the difference between level 2 and level 3 can be PHENOMENAL for many hikers.
Level 4: A Hiking Specific, Structured Program
In this level, a hiker follows a structured program, which has been specifically designed for hiking.
Typically, this has been created by a professional coach who is also a hiker, so they know exactly what the demands are of hiking.
So it will incorporate some specific emphasis to help typical challenges while hiking, such as:
And much more.
It will likely have an emphasis on lower body strength, with particular attention to single-leg strength and stability.
The cardio will likely include things like hill intervals, stair sessions or other activities directly related to hiking.
Again, the difference between level 3 and level 4 is quite significant. And, if a hiker can stay consistent with this type of training, they can see phenomenal results on the trail.
Level 5: A Structured Strength And Conditioning Program
(Specific For Hiking)
The final 'level' of hiking training is following a structured strength and conditioning program specific to hiking.
Now the difference between Level 4 and Level 5 can sometimes be a bit blurry...
But the easiest way to distinguish between the two is:
At level 5, there is a clear and explicit explanation of why/how every inclusion in the program can help you on the trail.
For example, at level 4, sometimes exercises or workouts are included for relatively basic or surface-level reasons. Such as stair session will get you 'fitter' or 'improve your endurance'. Or a strength exercise will 'get your legs strong for the trail'.
However, at level 5, the explanations and justifications are MUCH more precise.
For example, at level 5, a client might ask their coach:
"Why am I doing these intervals?"
And an explanation could be something like:
"We are doing these intervals because this specific work to rest ratio helps develop aerobic power. Aerobic power is the highest intensity your body can sustain while predominantly using the aerobic energy system to produce energy. This will directly help you move quicker going up hills, without getting huffed and puffed."
OR the question might be:
"Why am I doing these heavier strength exercises."
And an explanation could be:
"We are specifically doing these heavier exercises to help improve your strength reserve. Your strength reserve is the difference between the strength needed for a given task and your maximal strength.
On the trail, this typically is seen when going up hills or stairs. If we can increase your strength reserve (by increasing your maximal strength), we can make every step feel easier and use less energy. And over a days hiking, this will help delay fatigue, increase speed and improve comfort!"
Again, the difference between level 4 and level 5 can be blurry. But if you are wondering where you stand, ask your training/coach 'why' you are doing a specific part of your program, and see what they say!
This approach is the single best method of preparation and training that a hiker can follow. And, if followed diligently, it can absolutely transform your performance, comfort and enjoyment on your adventures.
Some Good News!
After reading all of this, hopefully, you have a better idea of where your training stacks up in the grand scheme of things.
And if what you are currently doing is working and is moving you forward and then good for you! And hopefully, continuing on this track will get you where you need to be.
However, if you are considering it might be time to 'upgrade' your level of training, but you might be worried that you just can't dedicate any more time and effort to your training than you currently are, I have some good news for you...
The amount of energy, time and commitment needed to see results on the trail are very similar between Levels 3, 4 and 5.
In fact, the time commitments can often get LESS the higher you go (due to the fact that your training is much more targeted and specific).
On top of this, you will undoubtedly see MORE results on the trail from a higher level of training.
So better results, for less effort... doesn't sound too bad, right?
So if you are considering 'upgrading' your training, don't be hesitant about striving for the higher levels as they are attainable and realistic for almost anyone.
Where Can I Find Level 5 Training For Hiking?
There are a few places which you can find Level 5 training for hiking.
Here are a few of my top recommendations:
Training for hiking is very important for many hikers. And many hikers have succeed on every adventure imaginable, following every training approach imaginable.
However, if you truly want to give yourself the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure, I strongly encourage you take your training and preparation seriously. Because if you do, it can be truly mind blowing just how much you can accomplish on your adventures. And I hope this article will help with that.
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.