A Backpacker’s Workout Routine :Hiking at Altitude

It was nearly a year ago that I began doing some Internet searches for workout routines specific to backpacking/hiking in Rocky Mountain type altitude.   Surprisingly, I didn’t find one comprehensive list of exercises or schedule to follow.   I certainly don’t pretend to be an exercise physiologist or personal trainer but I wanted to share the exercise plan I have been using for the last 7 months.

I want my trip to go as well as possible.   I know that certain factors are out of my control but whether or not I’m in shape is in my control.   One of the most reoccurring themes I have read from people who hiked in the Rockies has been; they wished they would have been in better shape.  They underestimated the altitude and the physical demands on their body.

I try to keep myself in shape year round but this hike gave me extra motivation.   It’s worth stating this obvious point.   There is no substitute for training at altitude.   Since the Rocky Mountains are not in my backyard, I had to improvise.  I know there are masks you can buy at local sporting goods stores that restrict your breathing.   I have had guys tell me to workout breathing through a straw.   For the record, I didn’t try either of those suggestions:   January 1st, 2015 I began the following routine:

  • General weight lifting on Monday and Friday for 20 – 30 minutes.   This included a lot of push-ups, crunches and other abdominal work.
  • Wednesday would normally be a 1-mile run.   The run would be proceeded by leg stretching.
  • Sunday afternoon would normally include a 2 – 3 mile hike wearing my backpack loaded to 25 pounds.  I purposely tried to climb any hills multiple times.  Ohio winters can be pretty harsh so sometimes I hiked in the snow in ice without my pack. (Insert Rocky theme music here..)   You make look ridiculous wearing a full pack around your neighbor hood but who cares?  Your body will thank you for it during your time in the mountains.

On May 24th – 25th 2015, my son and I did a 15 mile loop trail hike in South-Eastern Ohio.  Wildcat Hollow has pretty rugged terrain with many switchbacks and short climbs.  During the hike, I felt like my endurance was very good.   However, on May 26th, I woke up with soreness in my hips and ankles.  (I’m 43 years old in case you are wondering.)   I have since altered my workout routine to specifically address my hip flexors and overall strength.

As of this post, I am now 25 days out from my hiking trip.  Last night, I had my son take pictures of me doing many of the exercises that are now part of my regiment.   I am doing all of the following 5 and 6 days a week now:

20150706_192821Running the hill at the high school near my house.

20150706_193339Squatting down and touching my knees to the ground. Alternate legs as you do these.   I promise you’ll feel these tomorrow.

20150706_193404 20150706_193412My daughters have done these type “creepers” or walking hip stretches all of their soccer careers.   I have found these to be very helpful too.

20150706_193506Yes it looks dopey but raising my legs up 15 or 20 times.   Alternate legs just to improve range of motion.

20150706_193902I have added bike riding into my routine since I came back from my May hiking trip with sore hips.  It’s cheap to do and less impact than running.

20150706_194832 20150706_195519My son and I went to our local elementary school and did our own “American Ninja Warrior” workout on the playground equipment.

Of course you can pay for a monthly gym membership to do the same exercises I am doing.   During the winter months, sitting on a stationary bike in a warm gym would be nice.  As a “Regular Guy”, I enjoy working out using a small set of weights in my basement, riding my bike and using local playground equipment.    Hopefully you found this helpful and staying fit allows you to continue hiking well into your later age.   Think creatively to find ways around your house to workout saving yourself some time and money.     Make it happen!


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