Training Tips For A Thru Hike

by | Oct 30, 2018 | 0 comments


  • Training can decrease your likelihood of an injury
  • Most hikers abandon their hike due to injury, not gear choices
  • Free workouts!

The number one reason hikers abandon the trail is injury!

Not only will training before hand strengthen your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles, it will also improve your odds of completing your hike. Plus you’ll be able to enjoy the trail more because you’ll already be in shape!


Make lunges a staple in your pre-hike training!

Did you know that only about 50% of hikers surveyed say they trained before a thru hike?  In reflection, hikers also state they wish they trained more before their hike.

The majority of injuries occur in the first 25% of the trail. It’s the increased stress on the body that it is NOT prepared to handle.

Training before you go improves your overall fitness which lowers the physical stress at the start of the hike, thereby decreasing your odds of an injury.

Prepare to Conquer

Very few hikers quit because they choose the wrong backpack, degree of sleeping bag or decide to go stoveless. I’ve actually never heard of any of these as reasons for abandoning a hike. Much time is given to logistics, gear choices and resupply points but very little consideration for training.

Hikers simply spend too much time planning for things that mean much less to the success of the hike, rather than the physical condition of the body that will make or break the hike. Hikers quit because they get injured, they aren’t mentally prepared, or they run out of money.

“I’ll just get in shape on the trail”

It’s not enough to say that you will get in shape on the trail. It’s a common misconception among hikers. You WILL get stronger and adapt, but it takes time. A short weekend hike 1-2 times a month isn’t going to prepare you for 20 mile days. Jogging a few miles each week isn’t quite the dose of training you need either.

Muscles take around 90 days to completely regenerate. Tendons and ligaments take 200-210 days (~7 months!) to regenerate and become stronger with the adaptive stress of training. That means you need to be consistent with training long before you plan to start your hike to build strong tendons (muscle to bone) and ligaments (bone to bone).

Download the free article on ways that you can improve your odds of being successful during your through hike!

Ideally, you would start to train months before your hike to allow some of this adaptation to work its magic. I find that a full body fitness approach is best and targeting areas like the shoulders, chest, and back along with a healthy dose of leg and core strength leaves you quite capable for tackling the trail.


Dolomites in Northern Italy.

Level up!

To remove the barrier of not having access to a gym or having any equipment, I’ll focus on workouts you can easily perform at home. Look around and see what is available: stairs, a chair or bench, hills, wheelbarrow, rocks, jump rope, laundry soap jugs, milk jugs, buckets (fill them with rocks or sand), and a high school track are just some of the options.

You are only limited by your lack of creativity here. No excuses for no equipment, at the very least, you have a backpack and gear to put in it!


Strength is never a negative asset!

The Workouts

Some of these workouts originally appeared in this article, written for The Trek, which has since been shared over 1200 times!

Tabata Workouts

These are easy, quick and very effective. Tabata has been proven to increase the body’s cardiovascular endurance and efficiency with high output activities, like hiking. This is otherwise known as VO2 max. For Tabata, you perform an exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat that exercise 7 more rounds.

Complete as many repetitions of the exercise during each round as possible. After eight total rounds, rest 1 minute and then move on to the next exercise. Total workout time is 20 minutes with rest included.

Perform no more than 3 times a week, as these can be taxing! If you are new to exercise or high-intensity interval training, start with only 4 or 5 rounds for each exercise and work up to 8 slowly.

Here is one example of a Tabata workout for hiking:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Planks

Any exercise substitution works well here: rowing, pull-ups, sprints, sled pushes, jump rope, bike sprints, box jumps, kettlebell swings, or stair stepping to name a few. Another Tabata option might look like this:

  • Step-ups (stair, bench, box, chair…)
  • Jump Rope (no rope? Try jumping jacks)
  • Burpee
  • Russian Twist

With some gym equipment that is common like dumbbells, you could do the following Tabata variation:

  • Renegade Rows
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Squats

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You can reach me with any injury issues, past or present that you feel will impact your hike. Training questions are also welcome – I am happy to help!