top of page

Is Hiking Cardio or Strength Training?

I get this question a lot, especially from people who are looking to get ready for a hike later this year. 

If you're curious then buckle up! We are going to examine if hiking is cardio or strength training, and I’ll share my favorite cardio-strength workouts to prepare for any kind of hike. 

Plus I'm going to give you the one secret that has helped so many of my clients be ready for the best hiking season of their life! 

Is Hiking Cardio or Strength Training?

Cardiovascular training is anything that increases your heart rate or breathing rate and demands that you deliver more blood to all of your working muscles. 

Strength training is the ability to contract your muscles against resistance. 

By those definitions, hiking is both. 

So which does it demand more of, strength or cardio? 

Anyone who has been hiking knows that the steeper the climb, the more it raises that heart rate as your body's trying to get nutrients and oxygen to all of your muscles. 

But on the flip side, the stronger you are and the more weight that you can lift overall means that each step is going to be a lower percentage of your one rep max. Which means that each step of your hike will be easier. 

On top of that, doing strength training means that that eccentric portion of hiking, or walking downhill, is going to make you less sore at the end of the day. 

Think of it this way. The steeper the hike, the more it's going to demand muscular strength. The longer the hike, the more it's going to demand cardiovascular fitness. 

Training For Hiking Season

For longevity as well as more enjoyability when you're out hiking, I would recommend at least two to three strength workouts per week and two to three cardio workouts per week. But don't worry. The cool thing is that wherever you work on your strength or your cardio, it's going to transfer to your hiking.

So do those workouts at home or at the gym and they will transfer to the trails. We have a free Couch to Summit 30-day program that you can follow along with at your own pace. If you are getting back into hiking shape after a long time away or for the very first time, I'd recommend you check that out. 

And if you're building up for a longer hike or an even bigger adventure, check out our eight-week Hike Ready program. You can work directly with me to get ready for your next big adventure! 

Let's Talk About My Favorite Strength Move 

If you're only doing one movement in the gym to get ready for the trails, I would build up to a lateral step up. 

Since we're doing this exercise one leg at a time, we can compare our left and right leg to see if one side is stronger and work to even out any imbalance. Beyond that, the lateral step-up works more of the plantar flexors.

Lateral step-up tips: 

  • Make sure you get full hip extension at the top.

  • Focus on pressing your big toe down while keeping your heel planted. 

  • Aim to feel yourself using your glutes. We want to make sure that we are using the big muscles of our hips to propel us on the way up so that our smaller, stabilizing muscles can still be there for us when we make our way back down the hill. 

  • Don't think that you have to start on the highest box you've ever seen. A small lateral step up to begin with is a great place to start with particularly if you have knee pain while you're working to resolve it.

  • Gradually increase the range of motion or the weight of the movement to make sure it is still challenging. 

The Biggest Mistake I See People Make With Cardio Training 

I often see people go the same speed when they do cardio. They go kind of seven out of ten hard when they do any kind of cardio training. 

Overall, it's better that you get out and do cardio training versus doing nothing. 

However, incorporating intervals into your training, or periods of working harder and then easier, is going to build different aspects of your fitness. Those different aspects are going to work together to make a long day of hiking feel easy.

Faster, really hard intervals are going to increase the capillarization, which just means the number of blood vessels that go to your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which you rely on for those really steep inclines while hiking.

And remember, these cardio intervals can be done in any modality! 

The closer you are to your hike, the more specific you will want to get with your cardio training. But the heart, lungs, and blood vessels that you build when you are swimming, biking, or rowing are still going to be useful when you’re hiking. 

Now, the one secret that will supercharge your workouts is a little something called progressive overload. 

You might have a friend who does no workouts for a really long period of time and then a crusher workout that lays them out on the couch for a week. That kind of workout will actually hold you back from making progress in the long run! 

You want to start with workouts that feel relatively easy and then progressively increase how hard they are. You can do this by increasing the duration, weight you're lifting, or the range of motion that you're going through. If you follow that and you gradually increase your intensity, you'll be cruising up hills in no time. 

And while you are putting the work in, remember: you are why. There's a whole world out there to explore and the whole point of fitness is increasing your capacity to interact with the world around you. 

I hope you have a WILDR day! 



bottom of page