Exercises for Strong Hiking Legs

Posted on March 29 2023

by: Arielle Paris


Spring has finally sprung. That means there is one thing on our mind: hiking! John Muir said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

Hikers gain so much – quality time in the wilderness, beautiful views, mental stamina and plenty of physical perks. One hour of trekking can burn over 500 calories (depending on the incline and weight of your pack), has been linked to increased attention span and better creative problem solving skills and decreases blood pressure and cholesterol.

But before you head for the hills, why not try three simple exercises that will help your legs hike stronger and faster.

Descend Strong

Studies show that you expend three times as much energy walking downhill as walking up. Avoid the aches and soreness in the days after your next hike by training for your downhill climb before you head outside. Our fix involves eccentric exercise – or working muscles as they lengthen rather than contract.

The Workout: Use a 6- to 8-inch box, step or stair to add step-downs to your workout. Stand with both feet on the step, keep your arms by your sides, and balance on your right foot. Bend your right knee and lower yourself until your left heel touches the ground. Push back to your starting position. Alternate legs and do 3 sets of 15 reps each side. Bonus: add a pack with weight for extra burn.

Build Power

Hiking stronger means hiking faster. But upping your speed can often feel like a mental game. To push through the mental, we’re borrowing from cyclists: try low-intensity, high-speed workouts to quicken your pace. Teaching your body to hike faster is as simple as mastering lightening-quick leg movements. In fancier terms, it’s neuromuscular adaptation – or training the nerves in your legs to fire faster.

The Workout: Train faster with speed skips. Push off your left foot, pull your right leg and left arm to 90 degrees, in an exaggerated running motion. Hop on your left foot, bring your right leg down and push off of it to skip forward. Move as fast as you can, alternating legs every step. Add speed skips to your normal workout and see your speed pick up during hikes.

Stretch It Out

When your hips are tight, your entire leg’s balance and comfort can get thrown off. It’s even worse when you throw in a heavy pack while backpacking. But we have an easy fix – as simple as stretching your hip flexors. Try the below for a stretch and a burn.

The Workout: Exaggerate your normal walking motion for a stretch that simultaneously strengthens your legs. Begin by holding a medicine ball with both hands. Lunge forward with your right foot while rotating your arms to the right. Lower your hips until your front knee is at a 90-degree angle. Tilt your hips skyward until you feel a pull in your hip flexor in your left leg, then return to the start. Do 10 reps for each leg a few times a week.

Woman and daughter hike towards a mountain