Hiking is an incredible way to burn fat, tone muscles, and get healthy! Not only is it a great exercise, but it also is wonderful for your mental health. Working out doesn’t have to be a painful or dreaded experience. Hiking to get in shape is perfect because it uses the whole body, never gets boring, and you can do it forever!
Hiking to Get in Shape: Can You Lose Weight Hiking?
Definitely! You can lose a lot of weight by hiking, especially if you go regularly. In fact, I had a college professor who lost over 200 pounds by hiking the Appalachian Trail! You don’t have to do 2,000+ miles to get in shape, but nobody’s stopping you, either. If you’re interested in using hiking as a way to lose weight and gain muscle, check out these great tips on how to get the most out of your hike.
1. Take Rest Days
Like, as many rest days as your body says it needs. The biggest mistake most people make when they try to get into shape is thinking that rest days are working against them. The truth is, you need to take at least one or two rest days a week, and maybe more if your hikes are feeling hard on your body. A little bit of soreness is fine, but your body will tell you when you need to take it easy. Failing to listen to it stunts your progress and leads to injuries.
2. Start Slow
If you’re not used to hiking, you should temper the expectations you have for what you can handle. Hiking is tough, and it can be hard on your knees and ankles. If you’ve been sedentary for a while (no judgement, as I’m currently working to lose the 75 extra pounds I’ve put on in the last few years), I recommend taking it easy to begin with.
Start with hikes that seem too easy, and see how you feel. You might find out you’re in better shape than you thought, but for most people it’s honestly more likely that you aren in worse shape than you thought. So, keep the first few hikes light, just to ease your body into it and avoid injuries from overexertion.
3. Start the Hike Prepared
Being prepared is key to a successful workout; on top of that, hiking has some unique challenges that other workouts don’t have. Some things to consider before you hit the trail:
- Are you hydrated/ Do you have enough water for the duration of your hike? If you start your hike dehydrated and with no water (or not enough) you will find your muscles grow tired much faster and it will be hard to keep the pace you want for a good workout. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are one of the biggest dangers on the trail.
- Do you have the proper shoes? Running shoes work great for hiking. If you want to invest in hiking boots or trail runners. But if you show up to the trail in Crocs, don’t be surprised when your feet to start hurting before you can really feel the burn! Try to wear shoes that are water-resistant and you don’t mind getting a little mud on.
- Stretch before you start. Hiking can use some weird muscle groups. It also is one of the easiest ways to sprain your ankle, I’ve definitely tripped on countless tree roots in my lifetime. That is why it is so important to stretch. If you do find yourself stepping on a weird rock, or over-extending your knee, you won’t injure yourself nearly as bad as you would with no stretching!
- Wear a fitness watch or step tracker. If your goal with hiking is to lose weight, a fitness watch will help you better monitor how many calories you burn, and just overall how hard it was for you. This one isn’t necessary to have a great workout at all, but it IS an amazing tool to have for logging your hikes and staying motivated.
- Are you lacking any safety equipment? If you live in populated areas, this isn’t that big a deal, as you’ll probably have cell service on your hike, and not far out enough that you’ll run into big animals. If you live further out, though, you may want to bring the 10 essentials, bear spray, and maybe a personal locator beacon. Call it overkill, but running into trouble when you don’t have cell service is very, very risky!
4. Believe that you can go further
This is an easy one, but don’t be afraid to push yourself! The further you hike, the more you will burn fat and build muscle! If you want to go really far, maybe even consider a backpacking trip. It’s good to be smart and know your limits, but remember with proper preparedness you can go a lot further than you think!
5. Set a Time Goal, Not a Mileage Goal
Goal-setting is great, but be wary of telling yourself you’ll hike X number of miles each week. Hiking is hard to pace; trails that are the exact same length can take wildly different amounts of time to complete because of the different geography. It’s therefore easier to stay accountable to yourself if you set a goal for how long you want to hike in a week, not how many miles you want to cover. Of course, if you’re hiking on the same trails over and over, it’s easier to work with distance goals, which leads me to my next tip:
6. Up the Pace Each Time You Repeat a Hike
Some of us don’t have access to a wide range of trails; instead, we have to hike the same routes over and over to get in shape. If you set a goal time for each mile or for the entire hike, you will find yourself sweating like no other and feeling so accomplished by the end! Using time as a measurement in general can also help you stay motivated and build endurance. You can challenge yourself to set new personal records for a given trail, or you can push yourself to go longer and longer between rest breaks to build endurance.
7. Go for the Hills
On your favorite hiking app (I use Alltrails), one thing that is always included in trail information is elevation gain. Picking the hikes that have greater elevation gain will significantly increase calorie burn and how strenuous the hike is! Hiking more hills will also lead to building more muscle. Walking uphill builds your calves, quads, glutes, and even abs.
7. Focus on Your Posture
Hiking with bad posture limits the use of all muscle groups, which can lead to injury and quicker exhaustion. Focus on taking even and steady strides, focusing on balanced arm movement, and relaxed shoulders. Keep your back straight, and focus on taking solid, sure steps.
8. Activate the Core Muscles
Activating your core muscles by squeezing your abdominals is very effective; it increases your calorie burn and can help tone your waist. Activating the core will also take relief off your entire lower body. It’s easy to hike an entire trail without ever activating your core, but if you keep reminding yourself to use your abdominals, soon it will be like second nature!
9. Carry a Backpack
Adding weight to your back will create more resistance. It is a great way to build muscle in the lower back. It will also make it easier to carry water, food, and other things you might not consider bringing without a backpack! Plus, you’ll be simultaneously preparing your body for backpacking, which is something I promise you’ll want to do the minute you start hiking more often!
10. Use Trekking Poles
Using trekking poles will activate more muscle groups in your body, while also taking pressure off your joints! The use of trekking poles has been proven to increase calorie burn, because it engages your arm muscles alongside your legs. So as goofy as you may feel at first (I definitely thought they were weird), it actually is a great way to get in shape!
11. Wear Ankle or Arm Weights
Using ankle or arm weights helps add extra resistance and works many different muscles. They’re a classic way to make your natural movement a little more difficult so that you can build strength. If you get tired of them you can put them away in your backpack for added resistance elsewhere!
12. Get Creative
Break up the hike by stopping every 5-10 minutes to do squats, lunges, step ups, or even push ups!If you’re afraid of getting bored on longer hikes, listen to a podcast or audiobook (just be sure to be aware of your surroundings)! There are tons of hiking-related exercises that will not only help you use hiking to get in shape, they’ll also make you a better hiker!
Bonus: Get into Trail Running
Who would’ve guessed you became such an expert hiker! Well, maybe it’s time to start trail running. This is definitely pretty advanced but even if you just run for a short half-mile as part of your hike, it will burn extra calories and become a mega cardio exercise!
Now Get Out There and See the World
Hiking is a very easy hobby to pick up and get in shape doing it, and it leads you to more and more adventures down the line. Have fun out there!