By: Steph Figarelle, May 2018
Summer hiking in Alaska is one of my favorite physical activities. Spending time outdoors is important for overall health and well-being. Exploring the trails and mountains gives us the opportunity to disconnect from technology, breathe fresh air and discover new things about ourselves. The more physically fit you are, the more capable you are in the wilderness. This not only makes your time spent outdoors more fun, it allows you to handle challenges that may arise in the backcountry. If you’ve been unable to get outside over the winter as much as you would have liked, now is the perfect time to fine tune your fitness in the gym with specific exercises for hiking so you’re ready to get outdoors and enjoy summer hiking in Alaska.
It’s true that the best way to get in shape for hiking is to get out there and just hike! Unfortunately not everyone spends their winter in the mountains. Many people prefer to hike only in the summer. Warmer temperatures, more daylight, and no snow make the trails and mountains easier to navigate. Winter hiking requires different clothing, safety considerations and inclement weather. For us Alaskans this means no hiking specific activities for roughly 6 months out of the year. For this reason, you may find yourself ‘out of shape’ once the snow melts and you’re ready to head out on the trails.
Consider spending at least 8 weeks on core and lower body focused work in the gym, at least 2-3 times a week until you’re ready to spend more time in the mountains. This will make hiking more enjoyable and it will reduce your risk of getting injured. While there are endless exercises you can do in the gym to help prepare you for the mountains, here are a few of my favorite exercises for hiking:
- Half-Kneeling Pallof Press
Training “the core” is one of the hottest topics in fitness and it’s often overlooked when preparing for hiking season. We’re told that we need to do endless crunches to build strong, ripped abdominals. Unfortunately, this is poor advice that further frustrates and misleads the masses. The core muscles consist of everything but your arms and legs; your torso, pelvic floor and your glutes.
When hiking up a steep mountain, a strong core keeps us stable and on our feet. Add a 10-20 LB backpack to this movement, and you’re really going to increase the difficulty of an already challenging activity.
The Pallof Press is one of my preferred core exercises because everyone can do it, even pregnant women and those with chronic low back pain. This movement trains ‘anti-rotation.’ While our core is responsible for a variety of movements, it’s main job is to resist rotation. Aim for 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions each side.
The Pallof press is a unique exercise that challenges the core to resist rotation and helps strengthen deep stabilizing muscles.
- Quadruped Shoulder Taps
Just like the Pallof Press, the Quadruped Shoulder taps will help you build a strength and stability. This exercise is more challenging than it may first appear, and since it doesn’t require any equipment, you can do it anywhere. Focus on keeping your hips squared and minimizing any shifting of your body as you alternate ‘tapping’ your shoulders.
You can perform this exercise for time; 2-3 sets of 60 seconds. Or you can do 3-4 sets of 16-20 total repetitions.
Start on all fours with your core tight. Elevate your knees 1-2 inches above the ground and stabilize yourself, putting equal pressure through both hands and both feet.
- Landmine Reverse Lunges (Alternating)
Landmine exercises have been around for at least half a decade but only recently seem to be getting the attention they deserve. What makes the Landmine reverse lunge so unique is the way in which you hold the barbell. This movement puts your core in a position where it must resist rotation while simultaneously working your lower body.
The ‘hip hinge’ action that takes place when you perform the concentric portion of this exercise targets more of the glutes, which are muscles that are often weak and underdeveloped in those who sit for long periods of time. These muscles are heavily relied on when we make our way up a steep trail or mountain.
When you reverse any variation of the lunge, stress is removed from the knees and redirected to the muscles of the posterior chain (more glute and hamstring emphasis). This is an ideal alternative for those who often experience knee pain when forward lunging.
While you’ll obviously be putting one foot in front of the other while hiking, including reverse lunges in your workout will help strengthen all the right muscles and get you ready for big mountains and long days on the trail. Perform 3-4 sets of 16-20 total repetitions.
This lower body exercise is unique in that it distributes the load to the front of the body, which challenges the anterior core (your six-pack).
- The Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian Split Squat targets all the muscles of the lower body, with emphasis on the glutes. This movement is unique in that it challenges your balance, coordination and single leg strength. Each time we take a step, whether we’re walking, running or hiking, we are balancing for a short time on one leg.
Single leg training is usually overlooked in most people’s fitness programs because it’s difficult and requires focus and concentration to execute properly. Including this exercise in your leg training will single out weaknesses and help to make them strengths.
Having good balance while hiking is extremely important to help reduce your risk of losing your footing and avoiding injury on the trail. Perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions per leg.
The Bulgarian Split Squat is a fantastic exercise for strengthening the lower body, and helping to improve balance and coordination.
- The Landmine Squat
Last but certainly not least is the Landmine Squat. Again, the weight is distributed to the front of the body, which is an added challenge for the core muscles to resist rotation. This exercise is a great alternative to the barbell back squat, and is often easier for taller lifters who may struggle with depth and good form.
All variations of squats target the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. While descending a steep mountain, we primarily rely on our quads to get us off the mountain safely, so it’s important to train these muscles appropriately.
This is my preferred alternative to traditional barbell back squats. It’s a little easier on the joints and much more fun. The load is distributed to the front of the body which gives your core an added challenge as it resists rotation.
About The Author: My name is Steph Figarelle and I’ve called Alaska home for the past 30 years. I’ve been a certified personal trainer for 14 years, and I’m passionate about helping people improve their lives. I am a co-owner of Figarelle’s Fitness LLC and we specialize in online fitness coaching and body transformations. I enjoy hiking, mountain running and strength training. See you in the mountains!
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