Now lets get started with Goal 1: Stability and Endurance
No equipment is necessary for these 15 body-weight exercises (except things you probably already own: a sock, tea towel/rag/small towel, chair, and a step or even the curb). Our goal is to stabilize our trunk and the muscles that support injury prone joints: spine, hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders. We are looking for volume more so than intensity, so try to get a minimum of 2 minutes in each exercise (you can break up those minutes however you’d like).
While the exercises in this first section are basic and a great place to start for beginners, even very experienced and fit hikers should be doing these! Don’t loose touch with fundamentals when you’re looking for strength! If you are an experienced lifter or hiker, these exercises can be used in a warmup to prime your body for good alignment during your workout, or at the end of a workout to make sure that you are maintaining good posture and fundamentals even when you’re fatigued.
My main focus is on leg and core exercises in this post, because not only are you hiking up a mountain, but you are also CARRYING A PACK. You need strong legs, but your upper body, generally dainty in comparison to your legs, needs to be robust enough to sustain long exertion. Be sure not to neglect the few upper body exercises! Carrying a pack all day and then spending hours with your hands over your head is some serious stress on your back and shoulders! Take care of them :)
1. Plank. If you only do one exercise, make it this one. Or maybe these first 3. Modifications include elevating the feet, going up to your hands, parallel forearms, forearms forming a tripod, etc... Each modification does something a little different, they are all great. Switch it up! This exercise works the deep core muscles, along with legs and shoulders.
2. Side plank (modifications such as dipping your hips down and up or lifting the top or bottom leg are great variations to spice this up once you have the basic side plank down.) This exercise works your deep core and transverse abdominous and obliques, along with your abductors, and shoulders. Bend your bottom leg and lift it off the ground to add in some adductor work.
3. Superman. This one is especially great because it opens the whole front side of the body, and brings tone to the shoulders, back, glutes, and hamstrings which are often not properly activated given how much time the average person spends sitting. Even sitting in the paragliding harness for long periods of time can stretch out those posterior muscles. Activating them with a Superman hold is a good way to make sure that your rear still has proper tone ;) Hold out your hands in front, to the side, or in a “W” shape. The farther away you place your hands from your body, the harder it will be. Feel the difference between keeping your feet together or splaying them far apart.
4. Deadbug. Keep your low back glued to the floor as you alternate lowering opposite arms and legs. Your trunk should be engaged all around with no space between your spine and the floor— think of your core muscles as a tortoise shell protecting your organs and making your torso a super strong cylinder. These deep core muscles match the muscle pattern you have while hiking with trekking poles, ensuring that you will have good spinal posture during your long treks.
5. Quadrupeds (aka “bird dogs”). In a table top position elevate your opposite arms and legs without allowing your trunk, hips, or shoulders to move. If you find this easy, try lifting your knees off the ground so they hover just an inch. Same reasoning as deadbug, just balancing it out on the other side.
6. Clock sliders. If you have wood floors grab some socks, if you have carpet grab one of those plastic things you put under the foot of your furniture so that it doesn’t f*** up your carpet. To perform a clock slider, shift your weight onto one foot. Slide your other foot as far forward as you can and then back to neutral. Then to the same to the side, backwards, and the back corner (imagine you just took a turn in bowling). The name comes from your sliding leg pointing to 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 8:00 when sliding with your right leg. When sliding with your left leg, aim for 12:00, 9:00, 6:00, and 4:00. This exercise is geared towards building strength and stability on your standing leg and hip, while also getting some good range of motion on the sliding hip.
7. Step downs. Stand on a slightly elevated surface and practice that end range step down, dropping your heel down in front of you and allowing your knee to go over your toes. Tap the ground with your heel and then come directly back up to standing. This exercise aims to help strengthen your knees, keeping them safe on long downhills when you’re wearing a pack.
8. Kickbacks. Get in your quadruped position and lift one leg at a time, keeping your knee at 90 degrees so the bottom of your foot faces the ceiling. This works the Gluteus Maximus, which is important for stepping uphill and maintaining balanced musculature in your hip joint.
9. Fire Hydrant. Still in your quadruped position lift one leg to the side, like you’re a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Straighten your leg if you want an added challenge! This works your Abductors, which stabilize your hips and keep your knees from knocking in towards each other when you hike.
10. Good mornings. Stand with your hands behind your head and feet shoulder width apart. With a slight bend in the knee, hinge at the hip to let your torso drop towards the floor, while sending your butt back towards the wall behind you. You should feel a tug in your hamstrings. Clench your butt and pull with your hamstrings to come back up to standing. This works your hamstrings, which are important for hiking up something steep, deceleration when landing, balanced musculature, and protecting your lower back.
11. Bodyweight squats. Pay attention to your alignment (do feet and knees point in the same direction during your squat?) and make sure to get full depth! Bodyweight squats can be done with a variety of stances, narrow, shoulder-width, sumo (extra wide), and can even be done on a declined surface. This exercise targets the quads and glutes, but also challenges ankle and hip mobility, along with strengthening your back and core.
12. Toe raises. Leaning against a wall, place your feet 6in-1ft away from the wall, and lift your toes and the ball of your foot off the ground. To make it harder, move your feet further away from the wall, or do more volume! These two exercises help gain range of motion in your ankle, while working the tibialis muscle, which is important for preventing shin splints.
13. Calf raises. Standing on an elevated surface, let your feet flex so that you feel a stretch in your Achilles. Then press up onto your tiptoes as high as you can. Anyone who's hiked uphill remembers that you use your calves for this.
14. Towel scrunch. sitting on a bench or chair, lay out a tea towel on the floor. Keeping your heel on the ground, use your toes to scrunch the towel towards you. You may need to re-adjust as the towel bunches under your foot. Strong feet make a strong foundation. All your other joints will thank you!
15. Cactus arms. You can do this sitting, standing, kneeling, however. While it may feel more like a stretch then an exercise, it also does a good job activating the mid traps and rhomboids, which are important muscles for maintaining good posture (essential for deep breathing— you need all the lung capacity you can get!). Simply reach up and then draw your elbows back and down, like a cactus, opening your chest as much as you can. Again, the goal of this exercise is to engage the back and open the chest, working to keep your upper body in a strong position while wearing your pack.
Once you’ve been doing some of these and you’re feeling more stable, try to throw in some creative instability. Do you planks with your elbows or feet on a Swiss ball or other elevated surface, or when your single leg exercises stand on something squishy (like a folded up blanket or towel).
An example of how to make this into a structured workout would to simply do these exercises in a circuit, doing 1 minute of each exercise, and then going through the circuit twice. Without rest, that would be a 30 minute workout, and with rest could be closer to an hour (you should be trying to minimize rest for these particular exercises, but don’t sacrifice form!). Have less time? Or are you not ready for a full minute at each exercise? Pick 5 exercises and do 30-45 seconds at each, running through the 5-exercise circuit as many times as needed to get up to 2 min per exercise. Then pick a different 5 the next day! If you’re not ready for a full minute, a good way to break up the circuit is to use whatever time is remaining in your minute as the rest. That way it’s easier to keep track of time.