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Top 6 Exercises for Hiking

Hey WILDR folks! We are going over my top six favorite strength exercises for hiking.

These are going to work on a strong core, hips, legs and of course, feet to get you ready for a day out hiking. And I promise, they’re going to make both the way up and the way down, way more fun.

Before We Get Started:

I want you to remember two things.

First, if you’ve got any injuries or if any of these exercises don’t feel good, you need to stop right away. Don’t be afraid to work with a pro to get to know your body a little bit better and then work on those weaknesses to help you feel great in the gym and on the trails.

Second, if you can’t do one of these exercises just yet, don’t be discouraged! Even working towards doing it is going to help you build strength that you can use out on your next hike.


My first favorite exercise for hiking is called clock squats.

This exercise is mimicking that single leg stance that you have during much of the day when you’re hiking. It’s teaching you stability and balance.

Keep that entire standing foot on the ground, pushing evenly through the toe and the heel.

You can challenge yourself to increase the depth of the squat of each one of these clock squats as you get better. Keep your hips level (no hiking of one hip), and enjoy!


My second favorite exercise is called P Step Downs or Poliquin step downs.

Watch Exercise (Beginner) Watch Exercise (Advanced)

On a raised surface, I want you to raise your heel a little bit more. That’s going to help you target your VMO. This is a muscle on the inside of your thigh that’s going to help that kneecap track properly when you’re hiking.

At the top of the movement, make sure you squeeze your butt to get full hip extension.

Now the VMO is going to be most targeted in the first four inches of this movement, so you do not need to go into a super deep movement.

If you want to level up and add some hip flexor strengthening as well, I encourage you to progress this one into a full pistol squat.


My third favorite exercise for hiking is called lateral step ups. I do these myself almost every single week.

They cause actually more glute medius activation and more activation through your calf muscles than a traditional step up. They also add in some mobility for your abductors.

When you’re completing these, challenge yourself to keep that top foot’s heel down, to keep your hips level during the step up. Let the knees travel over the second toe instead of staying back. That’s going to reduce the shear forces through your knees in this one.

If you want to up the ante, you can add a little bit of weight, either a sandbag on one shoulder or in front of you or a barbell on the back.

You can even add your hiking pack if you want to get really specific. But remember to go slow on the way down and really feel powerful on the way up for this one.


My fourth favorite exercise is calf raises. When you’re doing anything with the calves, they have a lot more type one (slow twitch) fibers, so you’re going to need a higher number of reps to get any strength or size gains.

Watch Exercise (Beginner) Watch Exercise (Advanced)

I would start with a traditional two legged calf raise, progress to one foot and then add some load as you’re ready.

Remember, pay attention to how your heel is tracking. A lot of times with folks that have repetitive ankle sprains, their heel will always be inside or roll to the outside when they go to do their calf raise.

You build strength through the whole range of motion by actively changing the angle that your heel comes up relative to your toe. Doing these with a bent knee and with a straight knee will make sure you hit both parts of your calf muscle.

You can also add in some variability like doing a rotating calf raise.


My fifth favorite exercise for hiking is a lunge with a front lever. These are continuing to work on leg strength, but they’re adding in a core and a shoulder component too. We can’t just forget about our upper body because we’re going hiking!

Watch Exercise (Advanced)

Take out the step and complete a static lunge for beginners.

When the ground is all uneven and unstable below you, I like to think of a strong core as your base. No matter what’s happening underneath you, your legs can act like shocks and absorb.

When we’re doing the lunges, I want you to start with a range of motion that feels strong for you. You can increase the depth as you start to feel confident now.

I would probably suggest a lower number of reps for these with added weight that is going to make each and every step a lower percentage of your one rep max. This will make it easier when you actually get out on the trail.


My sixth and final exercise actually has to do with your feet. Strong feet inside of those hiking boots are going to mean you have stability up in the rest of your body.

This exercise is called a toe lift and switch. You’re going to press your big toe into the ground and lift all of your other toes. Then you’re going to switch, trying to keep your toes spread wide as opposed to gripped together. Press them flat down towards the ground.

For some of the clients I’ve worked with, the first few times they’ve tried this, their toes haven’t actually moved. But I promise you, just by working on it, thinking about it, eventually they will get with the program.

The other thing to be super aware of is not letting your knee roll in and out in order to make your feet go in and out. Try and keep it relatively still as you work on those intrinsic muscles of your feet.

I hope that sprinkling these exercises into your workout routine will help you have more fun in more places when you’re out hiking!

If you want to up the ante with your mobility, I recommend you check out our 30 Day Mobility Challenge.

I hope you have a WILDR day and see you on the trails!



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