Welcome to Peak Training’s
Beginner’s Guide to Strength for Hiking Season
I'm excited to bring you a comprehensive, progressive program designed to build your strength and endurance so that you can tackle whatever daunting hike you're after this summer. By the end of the season, my goal is to get Y O U strong and confident enough to tackle your goal trail.
You'll start off learning about form and technique of a few of the major movements required to hiking effectively and efficiently. Following that, you'll be guided through a 2-4 week Foundation Phase called 'Start Your Engines'. Each workout will be a 1-1.5 hour full body session that will hit all of your major muscle groups that will build your baseline of fitness so that we can specify a little later on. During this phase, you should complete 2 cardiovascular workouts of 20-30 minutes each in addition to your strength program You choose your modality but I would recommend running or mountain biking if you're outdoors, or a stair mill or treadmill on an incline if you're inside. If you're lucky enough to have a hiking trail near by that's not covered in snow, make that your cardio day! Nothing prepares you for hiking like actually hiking!
The second phase named "Rev it Up" will consist of 3 full-body workouts but this time with more intensity. You'll be doing harder exercises with higher intensity and more core work to prepare you for the next phase. Now, you will be completing 2 cardio sessions but of great intensity and time. Ai for 2 workouts of 35-45 minutes each. Again, choose your modality but make sure you're pushing yourself whatever you choose. If you're going outdoors, I recommend using an measuring app such as Map My Run ro track the distance, pace and time so that you know you're progressing each week.
I know, I know.... by this point it'll be mid-summer and you want to be outdoors. But trust me - continuing with your weight program will benefit you in the long run to stick with it. My advice is to keep the intensity high in the gym so you're quick and efficient so you can get outside as soon as possible. Third phase will have to completing 4 weight training sessions per week with a split-day breakdown so you an focus on upper body and lower body on separate days. We're throwing in heavier weights, slow eccentrics and plyometrics to get your legs ready! Further, I suggest you start getting those hikes in - the snow should be melted and the trails will be ready and waiting! Aim for 60+ minutes of cardio during this phase.
Why: Whether you love it or you hate it, the squat is the king of lower body exercises. Having sound technique and mobility in your squat is paramount for enjoying all of the activities we love in these mountains so if you haven't mastered it yet, now is your time!
How: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width (keep in mind that foot position varies from person to person so go with what feels comfortable for you). Your toes should be pointed slightly outward – about 5 to 20 degrees outward.
At the top, engage your core to keep your spine in a neutral position, i.e. don’t round or hyperextend (over arch) your back. Think about 'bracing', like someone is going to punch you in the belly, then maintain this core tension throughout each rep.
Think about ‘turning two dials’ outwards underneath your feet to create tension in your glutes. We call this "spreading the floor" which provides proper knee and pelvic stability by engaging the powerful glute complex.
Next, initiate the movement by hinging at the hips and sending your butt back slightly prior to dropping down into the squat (this is important to place the emphasis of the movement on the large muscles of the hip joint as opposed to the smaller knee joint).
As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet. Many new lifters need to focus on pushing their knees out so their knees don't collapse inwards. Do not allow the knees to fall inside of the feet!
Aim to reach a parallel depth, which means your hip crease is in line with the top of the knee. Also, the angle of your spine should roughly match the angle of your shin if you were to look at yourself sideways. No more of this "knees can't go over toes rubbish"! If you have questions as to why, send me a message.
To ascend, drive through the heels while “spreading the floor” to obtain power from the glutes and to keep the knees aligned. Maintain neutral spine with a braced core until the ‘lockout’ is reached at the top of the movement.
Bent over Dumbbell Row
Why: Longer, more challenging hikes mean more food and water to carry and therefore, back and postural strength is of the utmost importance to keep back and neck pain at bay. The bent over dumbbell row is perfect because it focuses on strengthen the upper and mid-back muscles while simultaneously reinforcing core strength and stability.
How: Start with feet hip width apart, hinge forward at the hips and brace your core to support your torso in a horizontal position. Ensure your spine is neutral throughout the exercise.
Initiate the movement by driving the elbows towards your hips, making sure to not shrug the shoulders up to the ears. The 'pull' of this exercise should come from the back musculature, not the neck or shoulders. Pause at the top and set the shoulders blades back and down to reinforce strong postural engagement.
Control the lower from the back muscles are you slowly extend that arm for a count of 2 seconds. Note that torso angle shoulder not change throughout this exercise - you should be horizontal with chest towards the floor. Do not swing the weight.
Single Leg Glute Bridges
Why: Strong glutes and hamstrings to balance out powerful quads is a MUST to prevent knee injuries. Single leg variations help you to eliminate imbalances from one side to the other to ensure each knee is support equally. Also, single leg glute exercises help to power you up that mountain to get you to the top!
How: Lay on your back with hip width apart and knees at about 90 degrees. Brace your core to stabilize in a neutral spine. Lift one leg up, which will be the resting leg. Press through the heel on the floor and drive from the glutes and hamstrings. Pause at the top and squeeze the glute before slowly lowering back to the start position. Repeat on opposite side.
ROMANIAN Deadlift, Option of barbell or dumbbells
Why: A deadlift variation is absolutely essential for maintaining muscular balance, and therefor avoiding injuries, against your strong quads. Deadlifts focus on all the generally weaker areas of the body - hamstrings, glutes, back, and core. When executed well, its a huge bang-for-your-buck exercises with loads of benefits including good posture, a strong back, and well, a good looking behind to boot!
How: Safely pick up your bar or dumbbells to the start position. Place your feet hip width apart with toes should pointed forward. Stance will likely feel unnaturally narrow but that’s okay - we don’t want the wider stance of the squat.
To initiate the movement, hinge the hips towards the wall behind you keeping a flat back, tailbone high. Allow chest to come forward as your hips push backwards.
At the bottom position, the movement stops wherever your hamstring flexibility dictates. For those who are tight, you may end right in front of the knees. For those who are more flexible, you can go mid-shin. Pushing past your natural end range will only put the movement into the lower back.
From the bottom position, drive through your heels and push through with your glutes to return to a full standing position. At the top, lockout the position by squeezing glutes (not arching into the low back) and maintain a braced core. Repeat for desired number of reps.
Why: I know, I know – these look super easy BUT if they are done properly, they are incredibly hard (as all my clients can attest to)! A strong deep core keeps our backs supported and safe during long hikes especially if you’re carrying a backpack.
How: Laying on your back, stack your arms above your shoulders and stack your knees slightly lower than your hips with shins parallel to the ground.
Engage your core while lightly pressing your back towards the floor – think about squeezing your deep core between your hip bones to activate the very important Transverse Abdominis that many of us are lacking in.
Maintain this tension in your core for up to 1 minute or longer. Yes, I know this seems simple – but it’s like a plank except here, it’s on your back – this is more effective for knowing whether you are over arching your lumbar spine since you have the floor for reference. If you are unable to complete 1 minute, start smaller (say, 15-20 seconds) and build up your endurance until you’re able to hold 4 times for 1 minute.
Once the holds are easy, progress to incorporating heel taps, and further, to adding both arm and leg movements. There are hundreds of ways to do dead bugs but start with the basic one and we will move forward from there! Can’t walk before we hike, right?
Dumbbell Chest Press
Why: Pushing exercises tend to get a bad rap because people hear that tightening the chest and shoulders will promote a bad posture or rounded shoulders, but if executed properly, keeping a high chest and tension between the shoulder blades can actually help improve posture especially when lugging around a heavy backpack.
How: Lay on the bench with feet flat on the floor, core lightly engaged to support the low back, shoulders set back and down, and arms extended above your shoulders. To initiate the movement, lower the dumbbells with control to either side of your chest. You should keep your shoulders back and down and should feel a stretch in your chest in the bottom position. Think about keeping your chest high and tension between your shoulder blades to keep a safe shoulder position. Next, press through the chest and the triceps (in the back of the arm) to drive the weight back to the start position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
STEP BACK LUNGE
Why: This is our single leg squat variation that will directly affect your strength and endurance for hiking. If you think about it… isn’t climbing a mountain basically just going a bunch of single leg lunges until you get to the top? If you want to HIKE STRONG, you better lunge strong too!
How: It's important to remember that the working leg should be the FRONT LEG. It is common to see people pushing off the back leg but this will do nothing to strengthen your leg muscles or improve your stability.
While maintaining a braced core with neutral spine, initiate stepping back with the supporting leg by hinging through the hip - this allows focus on the powerful hip musculature which will power you up those slopes.
Keeping the front knee tracking over the outside of the foot, lower yourself with control until your back knee is hovering just above the ground. Your weight should be over the front foot with a slight hinge forward. Again, this encourages utilizing the strength of the front leg to return to the start position as opposed to kicking off the back foot.
To initiate the ascent, drive the heel into the ground to active glutes and use your front leg to push yourself up to the start position. Watch your knee alignment - do not allow the knee to collapse inside of the foot.
Notice that the position at the bottom of the lunge looks very similar to the position of the squat - angle of the spine should be parallel to the angle of the shin. Remember, the weight is over the front leg and the back leg is there for support and nothing else.
LATERAL BAND WALKS
Why: We often forget about training laterally, or sideways, movements when it comes to training but incorporating exercise like the lateral band walks strengthen the glute medius which helps to prevent chronic knee and back pain and injury often sustained in our endurance activities like hiking.
How: Place a medium or heavy fitness loop just above the knees, or below the knees if you want to make it more challenging.
Hinge through the hip to set your hips back and to load the glutes. Initiate the movement by stepping sideways with the 'forward' leg while stabilizing with the 'back' leg. Think about opening your knees wide to lead the movement instead of leading with your feet, which can cause the knees to fall inside the feet leading to an ineffective exercise.
Ideally, you should feel this on the upper sides of your glutes on both sides. The form can be tricky on this so please let me know if you have any questions!
Why: Now that your dead bugs are dialled, it's time to incorporate an anti-rotation exercise. A strong deep core keeps our backs supported and safe during long hikes especially if you’re carrying a backpack.
How: Start in a hand-plank position with hands directly under shoulders, feet shoulder width apart and weight distributed evenly between hands and feet.
Engage your core to create stability. Remember that this is an anti-rotation exercise so the point is to control (i.e. prevent) rotation by keeping your core BRACED. If it looks like you're not moving, then you're doing it right!
While holding your core tight, reach over and tap the opposite elbow in a slow and control fashion (should be 1 tap per second, no faster). Start with 5 taps per side and build up to 15 per side to improve core endurance.
Get sweaty for 10 minutes - walk, bike or run to the gym or hop on a cardio machine of your choice
Foam roll calves, quads, upper back
Banded shoulder mobility, video here
PVC shoulder pass throughs
Best stretch ever
Giant set #1:
A1. Goblet squats - 3 sets of 12 reps
A2. Single leg glute bridges - 3 sets of 12 reps
A3. Bentover dumbbell row - 3 sets of 12 reps
Giant Set #2:
B1. KB or BB deadlift - 3 sets of 8-10 reps
B2. Deadbug variation - 3 sets of up to 20 taps or 1 minute holds
B3. Chest press - 3 sets of 10 reps
Giant Set #3:
C1. Reverse lunge 3x12
C2. Lateral band walks
C3. Elbow tap plank