Jonathan Stull | 02.25.2019

Without access to elevation, it is a challenge for any flat-lander to prepare for a steep mountain hike. Even for those with access to the mountains, winter weather and the pull of our daily lives limit our ability to access the kind of terrain that would help us get ready for the big mountain goals we’ve been dreaming of. Let’s put those challenges behind us.

In part one of this series, we explored some of the movement principles that inform a training program for hikers without access to hikes. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look, please do. Whether or not you decide to use a gym for your training—and I highly recommend that you don’t for the workouts detailed below—your knowledge is your biggest asset.

Part I: The Science | Part II: The Foundation


A 100 yards of trail at a short incline: even that isn't too much to find in Kansas. Konza Nature Preserve. Garric Baker.

Nevertheless, let’s recap. Strength training traditionally overloads with weight to build lean muscle and increase strength, but we are going to take a functional approach that allows you to work out in the natural environments you love without sacrificing the progress that a fully equipped fitness facility enables. The functional approach combines the five major movements—a squat, lunge, push, pull, and single-leg balance—with a progression of mobility, stability, elasticity, strength, and power.

The trick with outdoor training is an understanding of load. Strength is not built solely by weight training. In fact, muscle hypertrophy (think big muscles and bodybuilders) isn’t built solely by weight training, either. In general, the body doesn’t distinguish between how it’s loaded, only how much load it bears. Using weights is probably the simplest, but not the only, way. By slowing your movements down, by moving at a faster rate, and by moving for a longer period of time, you can increase your strength in a variety of ways.

As hikers, a lunge and single-leg balance are our most important movements. Since hiking is an endurance activity, our movements will train toward endurance, which is strength sustained over long periods of time. And since hiking most often takes place outside, we’ll use an outdoor environment to best approximate the conditions we might face on the trail.

Thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Start slow. If you’re returning to exercise for the first time in a long time, you need to find your baseline. Progress too quickly and you’ll burn out, too slowly and you’ll lose focus.
  • Find a friend! This program is much more fun if you have someone to work out with—especially if you train with elastic bands.
  • Functional training builds strength by changing the load, but also builds strength by changing the movement. If the movement confuses you, seek help from a friend or a professional or experiment with your body.
  • Compliment this program with other kinds of training! Ideally, you should plan some kind of movement six days a week.


Trail running Healy Pass in the Canadian Rockies, an achievable endgame with proper training. Tam McTavish.

The Program


  • Dumbbells, kettlebells, or, if partner training, elastic bands (to use when progressing this workout)
  • Bodyweight (gravity, mass, momentum, and ground-force reaction)


  • Up to a quarter-mile of trail, preferably at an incline, and preferably of pebbles, bark, or dirt (an unstable surface)
    • Tip: Use a loop. Finish trail portions of this workout where you started for better efficiency.


Because this featured workout is a beginner's workout, it may take less time than more advanced workouts in the progression. Ideally, however, your workouts should break down roughly in the following way.

  • Dynamic warmup: 5-10 minutes
  • Intervals: 35-40 minutes
    • In each interval, complete all movements consecutively without breaks.
    • Break between intervals for 90-120 seconds.
    • Each round focuses on a plane of motion: first round emphasizes forward and back movement (sagittal), the second emphasizes side to side (frontal), third emphasizes rotation (transverse).
    • Each round is progressively more intense. On a scale of one to ten, your level of exertion should progress from six or seven to eight to nine or ten in each successive round.
  • Cooldown: 5-10 minutes
  • Total: 50-65 minutes
  • Target frequency: 2-3 workouts per week

Week I: Building Foundations

Dynamic Warmup (5 minutes):

  • Arm swings forward and back, side to side, and rotating, in each direction swinging together and alternating: 10-20 reps each
  • Leg swings forward and back, side to side, and rotating: 10-20 reps each

Interval I (5-8 minutes):

  • Pivot lunge: step back lunge to forward lunge, alternating sides
  • Plank: hold for 15 seconds, then lower and raise the hips for 30 seconds
  • Squats: 9 reps, feet pointed forward—3 reps at hip width, 3 reps with wide feet, 3 reps with narrow feet
  • Lightly jog a quarter-mile

Interval II (5-8 minutes):

  • Pivot lunge: same-side lunge to opposite-side lunge, alternating sides (i.e., right leg lunges right, then lunges across to the opposite side)
  • Plank: hold for 15 seconds, then slide the hips side to side for 30 seconds
  • Squats: 9 reps, feet pointed out at 45 degrees—3 reps at hip width, 3 reps with wide feet, 3 reps with narrow feet
  • Lightly jog a quarter-mile

Interval III (5-8 minutes):

  • Pivot lunge: open rotational lunge to closed rotational lunge, alternating sides (i.e., right leg steps back while rotating open, then steps cross while rotating closed)
  • Plank: hold for 15 seconds, then rotate the hips side to side for 30 seconds
  • Squats: 9 reps, feet pointed in—3 reps at hip width, 3 reps with wide feet, 3 reps with narrow feet
  • Lightly jog a quarter-mile


  • Single-leg balance: stand on one leg with your arms over your head and reach toward the ground to five angles, returning to a standing position between each reach
    • The angles read like a clock: your 9 o'clock, 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 1 o'clock, and 3 o'clock
  • Elevated hip stretch with hamstring stretch

Weeks Two Through Ten

This program is designed to be entry-level. For those who are just returning to exercise, it gives you an opportunity to reactivate your body without overtraining. Perhaps more importantly, every style of workout is different, and it takes time and mental energy to learn. Regardless of your level of fitness, start slowly, learn the format, and adapt with an eye toward mastery.

But what about the other nine weeks?

Adapt the principles in Part I: Breaking Down the Science. Over the course of a 10-week training program, you should progressively intensify your workouts.

If it's too easy, you need to make it harder. Intensify one of your strength modifiers by performing a movement for a longer period of time, with weights in your hands, or at a higher rate or frequency.

For example, when performing a lunge, count down from five as you lower, hold at the bottom of your range of motion for a count of five, then return to the top of your range of motion for a count of five. Instead of jogging a quarter-mile, pick up the pace. Instead of squatting, squat and jump. These are progressions at work.

Have Fun!

Joy in movement is the most important part of any fitness program. Do whatever you need to make it fun!

In addition to being Outdoor Project's Content Editor + Contributor Liaison, Jonathan Stull is a TH3 Vitality Movement Guide and ACE-certified fitness professional with more than 1,000 training hours of experience. As a thru-hiker, he has completed Section J of the PCT, the Juan de Fuca Trail, and uncountable miles of mossy fjord on Patagonia's southwestern coast. He has also summited many of the Pacific Northwest's volcanos, including Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Shuksan.


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