How to Prepare for Uphill Hiking

Hiking uphill is difficult for any hiker. For a long time, I considered the uphill section of any hike to be the worst. Not only was it physically challenging during the hike but the day after was also painful. My legs, back, and shoulders burned, so much so that I would need a few days to recover. I, eventually, realized that I needed to train for hiking uphill! And I learned which exercise helps prepare for uphill hiking.

Once I began training, I was able to do it with ease. I, even, passed the 6000-meter mark while climbing Chachani! And, today I want to share with you my strategy, so you can turn uphill hiking into the strongest section of your hike.

I’ve put together a list of the best exercises to help you prepare for uphill hiking. It’s divided into three sections: strength training, cardio, and stretching. And, at the end of this article, you will find a free printable 8-week training program to help you get fit for uphill hiking.

Which Exercise helps for Uphill Hiking
How to Prepare for Uphill Hiking

Table of Contents

Which exercise helps prepare for uphill hiking?

Strength Training Exercises

Strength Training Exercises

Uphill hiking requires you to walk at a slight incline, which forces your body to lean forward. This puts extra stress on your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles. There’s also extra strain placed on the stabilizing muscles in your legs, hips, and abs while hiking downhill. So, it’s important to work on strengthening these key muscle groups.

Below I’ve listed the best strength training exercises that can help you develop the muscles required for uphill hiking.

1. Squats

Squats are a great exercise for hikers because they target the big leg muscles. In one motion you work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. And, since you use all these muscles while hiking uphill, it’s the perfect exercise.

Even though the motion looks easy, squats can be difficult to do properly.

Here is the correct way to do a squat:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Slightly turn your feet outward (anywhere between 5-30 degrees).
  • Stretch your arms out in front of you so that they are level with your shoulders.
  • Keeping your chest up and your back straight, slowly squat down. As you squat down your back should remain parallel with your calves.
  • When the back of your thighs become parallel with the floor take a one-second pause before going back up. The pause at the bottom is important because it ensures you are not using momentum to push yourself back up.

Squats can be done without added weight. But if you feel you are strong enough, you can hold dumbbells, a barbell, or even your hiking backpack.

2. Calf Raises

Have your calves ever burned the day after hiking uphill? Or even during a hike? I have no doubt any hiker would say, “Yes!”

The best way to prevent this is to strengthen your calf muscles. And the easiest exercise is calf raises.

Here’s how to do calf raises:

  • Stand straight up on a flat surface.
  • Raise your left leg off the ground.
  • Slowly raise your right heel while keeping your knee straight. If you need extra support, place your hands on the wall in front of you.
  • Pause for one second at the top, and slowly lower your heel to the ground.
  • Repeat.
  • Switch to the other leg when you have completed your repetitions.

If single-leg calf raises are too difficult, you can do them with both legs, using the same motion. If it’s too easy, hold dumbbells, a barbell, or stand on an incline.

Useful tip: It’s important to go slowly. If you go too quick, they won’t be effective.

3. Push-ups

Even though push-ups are my arch-nemesis, they are very effective. In fact, they are key for building upper body strength. And, if done properly, they also engage the lower back and abdominal muscles.

I learned how to do a push-up by following this complete push-up guide. And don’t worry if you can’t do one right now. This guide shows you alternatives and how to work towards doing a full push-up.

4. Jump-Squat

The jump-squat is an advanced version of the squat. It’s also a great cardio addition to your strength training.

Here is how to do a jump-squat:

  • Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Proceed as you would for a squat.
  • When your thighs become parallel to the floor, press your feet down and explode off the floor. Jump as high as you can, but don’t lock your knees.
  • As you land, allow your knees to bend 45 degrees, and then, immediately, drop down into a squat.
  • Repeat.

5. Side Leg Lifts

Along with calf raises, side leg lifts are an exercise that is very important for uphill hiking. This exercise builds strength in your outer thighs and hips and improves your range of motion. It’s an easy exercise that can be done lying down or standing up.

Here’s how to do a side leg lift:

  • Lie down on your left side with your legs extended and your feet stacked on top of each other. Your body should be in a straight line, and, while your legs are straight, your knees should not be locked.
  • Place your left arm straight on the floor and bend your elbow so you are cradling your head for support. Place your right arm on your right leg or in front of you for extra support.
  • Raise your right leg off your left leg until it’s perpendicular to your body. (If this is too much, stop when you feel the muscles flex in your lower back.)
  • Slowly lower your right leg back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat.
  • Switch to the other side when you have completed your repetitions.

6. Burpees

Burpees are the ultimate full-body workout. In fact, they engage all the necessary muscles for uphill hiking! It’s also a more advanced exercise than the ones above. So, if you are not ready for this, then it’s ok to skip it until you’ve increased your strength with the other exercises.

Here’s how to do a burpee:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your arms at your sides.
  • Then, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
  • Put your hands on the floor in front of your feet (shoulder-width apart).
  • As you shift your weight onto your hands, jump back so that you land on the balls of your feet. You are now in a plank position and your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  • Then, jump your feet back so they land between your hands.
  • Reach your arms over your head and jump.
  • Land and repeat.

Useful tip: Always keep your back straight. If you have back pain the day after, it’s most likely because your posture was incorrect during the exercise.

Cardio Training

One of the best things you can do to prepare for uphill hiking is cardio training. And any type of cardio workout will get the job done. If you’re just beginning, choose the exercise you like best – running, swimming, biking. Don’t pick something you hate, or you won’t do it.

Here’s a list of cardio exercises that will prepare you for uphill hiking:

  • Running
  • HIIT Training or Cross Fit
  • Biking/Spinning
  • Speed Walking

If you have a gym membership, try these machines:

  • Elliptical
  • Stairmaster
  • Treadmill (so you can add an incline)

Useful tip: Some people hate cardio training, but it’s necessary. Start slow and do things you like. A training buddy can also make it more enjoyable.

Abdominal Exercises

Best Abdominal Exercises to help prepare for Uphill Hiking
Abdominal Exercises

While hiking uphill, your abs help you maintain an upright posture and support the weight from your backpack. There are hundreds of different exercises you can do to strengthen your abs.

Below are the exercises that I’ve found to be the most effective.

1. Sit-Ups

There’s an endless debate on whether crunches or sit-ups are better. I enjoy both exercises and think they both are effective.

Here’s how to do sit-ups correctly:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Bend your knees and put both feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Place your arms behind your neck.
  • Gently lift your upper body and sit up until your back is no longer on the floor, keeping your head and neck relaxed.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

Useful tip: Don’t pull on your neck at any point during the exercise. Your hands are only there to support your head and neck.

2. Plank

The plank is the perfect exercise to help you prepare for uphill hiking because targets it the entire abdominal area.

Here’s how to do a plank:

  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • Raise yourself on your elbows, forearms, and toes.
  • Make sure to keep your body straight and hold this position for a set amount of time.

If you are a beginner, try to hold a plank for 10-20 seconds. As you get better, gradually increase the time.

3. Bicycle Crunch

The bicycle crunch uses the upper and lower abs and the obliques, all in a single exercise.

Here’s how to do a bicycle crunch:

  • Lie down on your back.
  • Lift your legs and bend your knees so that your knees are perpendicular to your hips.
  • Place your hands behind your head.
  • Extend your right leg out and move your left leg towards your chest.
  • Gently lift your upper body, keeping your head and neck relaxed.
  • Turn your upper body towards your left leg so that your right elbow approaches your left knee. Your elbow should stay in the same position relative to your head during the movement.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

4. Leg Lifts (Raises)

Leg lifts are excellent for isolating your lower abs.

Here’s how to do a leg lift:

  • Lie down on your back with your legs in the air.
  • Keeping your legs together, lower your legs towards the floor. Stop when you feel your back lifting off the floor.
  • Repeat.

Useful tip: Don’t allow your lower back to arch off the floor or your legs to come apart. And remember to exhale on the way down and inhale on the way up.

5. Hip Bridge

While the hip bridge does not technically work your abs, it does strengthen your core. It targets your glutes, which provide stability during uphill hiking.

Here’s how to do a hip bridge:

  • Lay with your back flat on the floor.
  • Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Push down with your feet, keeping them below your knees, and lift your hips. Your upper back should remain on the floor.
  • Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground. Be sure to maintain control until your hips touch the floor.
  • Repeat.

Stretching Exercises

Best Stretching Exercises for Uphill Hiking
Stretching Exercises

The benefits of stretching are endless. It reduces stiffness and lower back pain while increasing flexibility. And, most importantly, it reduces your risk of injury. In general, you should always stretch before and after any form of exercise. I even stretch during water breaks when I hike!

Below are the best stretches that target the muscles you use while hiking uphill.

1. Hamstring Stretch

The hamstring stretch stretches the back of your thigh.

Here’s how to do a hamstring stretch:

  • Stand up with your back straight and legs together.
  • Slowly bend down and reach for your toes.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds.

2. Quadricep Stretch

The quadricep stretch stretches the front of your thigh.

Here’s how to do a quadricep stretch:

  • Stand on your left leg.
  • Lift your right leg and bring your right heel back towards your butt.
  • Grab your ankle with your right hand. If you need extra support, put your left hand on the wall in front of you.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

Useful tip: It’s important to keep your knees aligned and push your hips forward.

3. Calf Stretch

The calf stretch stretches the back of the lower leg. I am constantly stretching calves when I hike, especially if know I have to hike uphill. There is nothing worse than your calves burning the next day.

Here’s how to do a calf stretch:

  • Stand in a lunge position with your right leg in front of your left leg. Both feet should be facing forwards.
  • Slightly bend your right knee.
  • Push your left heel into the floor and lean forward.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

4. Lying-Down Twist

The lying-down twist targets your lower back and hips. Flexibility in these muscle groups not only reduces your risk of injury but also gives you the range of motion needed for uphill hiking.

Here’s how to do a lying-down twist:

  • Lay with your back on the floor.
  • Open your arms so they form a T with your torso.
  • Turn your palms down.
  • Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest. Stop when they are perpendicular to your hips.
  • With your knees together and your shoulders flat on the floor, gently rotate to the left.
  • If you can, let your knees touch the floor, otherwise, stop when you start to feel the stretch in your lower back.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

5. Knee to Chest Stretch

The knee-to-chest stretch targets the lower back, glutes, and hips. This exercise has the same added benefit as the lying-down twist.

Here’s how to do the knee-to-chest stretch:

  • Lay with your back and legs flat on the floor.
  • Bend your right knee and pull it towards your chest.
  • Use your hands to hold your leg in the stretch.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

6. Cross-Arm Stretch

Uphill hiking puts stress on your shoulders, especially if you have a heavy backpack. So, it’s important to stretch this muscle group. The easiest stretch you can do is the cross-arm stretch.

Here’s how to do the cross-arm stretch:

  • Standing upright, bring your right arm across the front of your body (about chest height).
  • Support your right arm with your left hand and hold your right arm.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other arm.

7. Glute Stretch (aka Pigeon Pose)

The pigeon pose is more of an advanced stretch. It releases tension in your glutes, hips, and back. And it’s one of the best stretches you can do if you have IT band syndrome.

Here’s how to do the pigeon pose stretch:

  • Start on all fours.
  • Lay your left knee toward your left wrist and put your shin on the floor. At the same time, move your left ankle toward your right wrist.
  • Slide your right leg back with your toes pointed.
  • Make sure your hips are forward and extend your spine upwards.
  • If you have the flexibility, gently walk your hands forward. As you lean forward be sure to keep your back straight.
  • Hold for at least 10 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

It can be tricky to get this stretch right. So, for a video on how to do the pigeon pose correctly, click here.

How to Hike Uphill

Jen from Dabbling in Jet Lag using her trekking Poles to hike uphill
Use Trekking Poles when Hiking Uphill

Now that you know which exercise helps prepare for uphill hiking, the next question is how to do it. Yes, you can start walking, but there are things you can do to reduce the impact on your body.

  • Warm-up. Hiking uphill is a workout, more so than walking on a flat trail. So, before you start, do a 5–10-minute warm-up. This can include jogging in place, jumping jacks, squats, or any of the exercises listed above. Once you’ve warmed up, stretch!
  • Stretch. I will say it again, STRETCH! It’s the best way to prevent an injury.
  • Zip-zag. Don’t walk straight up, but zig-zag. It reduces the impact and makes the incline easier to hike.
  • Shorten your steps. This makes it easier to lift your body and your backpack.
  • Lean slightly into the hill. Your body will naturally lean into the hill, but make sure you don’t bend your waist. If you lean too much in either direction you risk straining your back and hips.
  • Use trekking poles. I’m a big fan of trekking poles, and they are part of my essential hiking gear list. They can assist you not only when you hike uphill, but also when you hike downhill.

Free Printable 8-Week Training Program

Here’s your free 8-week training program to help you prepare for your next hike.

Hiking uphill is one of the most challenging sections of a hike. But if you exercise and prepare your body, it will not seem as daunting. It may even one day become your favorite part! Use the exercises in this guide to prepare for your next hike uphill.

Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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