Scroll Down for the 3 thru-hiker specific workout videos (Yoga, Strength + Mobility, and Pilates) ↓↓↓
There are definitely two camps of thought with training for thru-hikes — yay or nay. As the extremists we are, I see the validity in both of these viewpoints. But personally, this season, as I head into another long-distance trail attempt, I am vowing to switch up my tactics and say YAY to pre-training! Who’s with me?! I don’t just want to SURVIVE my next thru-hike, I want to THRIVE!
My first two thru-hikes, although completed, weren’t without some serious physical setbacks. Now, I know it is highly unlikely to complete any cross-country trek without some amount of physical pain, but there are surely ways to lessen it, through physical preparation, as well as applying better habits on trail to handle niggles, muscle aches and pains when they arise.
Before my first thru-hike, I was nervous and, of course, not sure if my body could handle the pressure of walking across the country. I prepared minimally — figuring my active lifestyle off-trail would suffice. (I am a fitness trainer and wellness coach).
But, once on trail, I quickly experienced firsthand the importance of specificity — physical training that’s relevant and appropriate for your sport. So, if you want to hike all day, the best way to train is to … hike! We all know this, of course … Nothing feels as empowering as getting your ‘trail legs’.
However, when obstacles (such as logistics, finances, off-season weather, etc.) prevent hitting the dirt, the next best thing is cross-training. Building a strong core, back, legs, glutes, hips — and improving cardio strength — will significantly increase your enjoyment when you do finally get back on trail. And I’m all about JOY these days.
This season, I want to take my hiking to the next level. My goal is to increase daily miles, increase speed, and shorten my rest days. With that in mind, I designed a series of thru-hiker specific workouts. These 3 hiker workouts are based in the Pilates Method, which is all about moving the body as efficiently and effectively as possible = more miles, more smiles :)
Hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, and low back work overtime out there on trail, so show them some extra love before they start talking. Not only will it create a better experience in the moment, but you will also be less sore the next day, and it will lower your risk of injury.
Ready. Set. Begin. Let's get a leg up for our next adventure, together!
In this sequence, we flow through yoga movements suitable for beginners.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the stretches that are great stand alone, before, during or after hiking. Aim to hold each position for 30-60 seconds.
Hip Flexor stretch - Start in a single kneeling position with hands on floor framing front foot. Shift hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front hip. Be mindful to keep front knee over front ankle, so adjust the front foot as necessary. Option to lift chest and place hands on front thigh.
Hamstring Stretch/ Shoulder Stretch - Standing with feet hip distance, hinge forward at the hips bringing the top of the head towards the floor. Bend knees slightly to release any tension from the lower back. Allow gravity to pull you deeper into your stretch. * To add a shoulder stretch - clasp hands behind low back and gently push hands away from your body towards the floor in front of you. Keep shoulders out of ears, and neck long to feel the opening in the front of the chest.
Calf Stretch/ Downward Facing Dog - Starting in a quadruped position knees under hips, and hands 6 inches in front of shoulders, tuck your toes under and lift hips towards the sky. Keep knees slightly bent and spine as long as possible. Shift weight into one leg to deepen calf stretch. Focus on releasing the heel towards the mat.
Spine Twist - Laying on your back hug knees into your chest, and as you exhale allow that knees to fall to the one side of the body, hips will move into a stacked position, reaching the upper body in the opposite direction. Breathe into the low back, and relax.
Inner Thigh Stretch - Stand with feet 3 feet apart and toes turned out , bend knees coming into a sumo squat. Rest hands on thighs and gently press legs back.
In this video we increase the intensity with a cardio-driven lower-body sequence. Strengthening the legs and glutes is key to traversing great distances, summiting steep and rocky terrains, or scrambling up those 14er's.
Here’s the quick guide:
Squats - Stand with feet a bit wider than your hips, bend knees sending your hips back! Aim to get hips knee level, make sure to maintain a long spine, and weight in your heels throughout the movement. 3 sets 25 reps
Around the World Lunges - Using a glider or towel under one foot; slide towel away from body, in each direction forward, side and back, allow standing leg to bend as working leg remains straight. Perform all reps on 1 leg then switch towel to other foot. 3 sets 10 reps (1 rep is front, side and back)
Hip Lifts- laying on back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip width - squeeze glutes to lift hips towards the sky. Be careful not to use the lower back, focus on engaging and releasing the glutes each rep. 3 sets 25 reps
Donkey Kicks - Start on forearms and knees in a quadruped position, kick one heel up to the sky, as if to make a footprint on the ceiling. Focus on engaging the back on the thigh and glute. Keep the knee bent 90 degrees the entire time. 3 sets 25 reps
Mountain Climbers - Come in to plank position with shoulders stacked over wrists. Keep abs engaged to protect the lower back. Alternate knee drives into chest at a fast tempo to increase heart rate. By mindful to keep hips low, on the same plane as the shoulders. 3 sets // 1 minute each
Core strength is so important in life, and especially when you are carrying 20-30 lbs on your back all day long. When our posture is weak every inch of incline can be brutal. The core is not just about creating a six pack, it’s about strengthening the entire torso 360 degrees around the body. So let’s get to it!
If I had to pick one series to quickly and efficiently work the core it would be The Pilates Series of 5 — check out the Cliff notes version.
Here’s the quick guide:
Single Leg Stretch - Pull one knee into chest grabbing on to your shin, and repeat with other legs. Perform 10 sets
Double Leg Stretch - Pull both knees into chest together, grab on to shins, then extend both legs out straight on a 45 degree angle, or as low as you can without arching your low back. Complete 10 Reps.
Single Straight leg Stretch- Both legs remain straight as you move legs in a scissor motion, arms grab for top leg. Perform 10 sets.
Double Straight Leg Stretch - Bring hands behind head to relax neck, and stay in a crunch position, lift and lower legs together for 10 reps.
Crisscross - Hands remain behind head, one knee bends into chest as upper body rotates bringing opposite elbow to knee, and switch. Perform 10 sets.
In the end we all have to ‘hike our own hike’ and that includes what we do pre- and post-trail. Just remember, what you do in the days leading up to our next adventure can greatly impact your outcome. Wouldn’t it be nice knowing you put your best foot forward in setting yourself up for success? The strength and grit we build on trail doesn’t have to be reserved just for trail life. Go out there and get a little closer to your goals and dreams today! I hope this gives you a wee bit of inspiration. See you at the top!
Vanessa Dunn completed her CDT thru-hike in 2021. After completing her first thru-hike, the PCT in 2018, life has never been quite the same. This season she is preparing for the PNT. She currently lives in Southern California where she is grateful to be able to train outdoors year round, and highly recommends the Trans-Catalina Trail. You can follow her adventures @flowwithvanessa and workouts https://youtube.com/c/FlowwithVanessa