Kat Dierickx | 03.21.2017

Some people love working out at the gym, while others hate the idea of exercising inside with lots of other sweaty people. Sometimes, though, you might feel like you have no choice but to head to the gym for the best workout, especially if you want to do strength training instead of cardio.

Luckily, it’s simple to transform your basic hike into a great outdoor workout. Here’s everything you need to know before leaving the gym and hitting the trail.


Increasing the intensity of your workout on the trail comes with certain risks, so planning ahead is crucial. While you’re probably surrounded by other people at the gym, you may be the only hiker on a particular trail. To stay safe and limit the potential for injury, make sure to do the following:

  • Bring extra water. More exertion means you’ll need more water than normal, and you don’t want to run out of water before the end of your hike.
  • Wear the right gear. Proper gear is important for every hike, but becomes doubly so when you’re adding extra elements to your normal hike.
  • Know your limits. You want to get a good workout, but there’s no reason to go all-out on your first try. Remember, you still have to hike back to the car.
  • Get a buddy. Even if you normally prefer to hike alone, consider taking a friend along on your first workout hike. 

Warm Up

When you’re hiking, you might normally hit the trail immediately and include your warm-up as part of the hike. If you’re planning to increase your intensity and do a more full-body workout, though, it’s important to do a thorough warm-up.

Static stretching, such as touching your toes, isn’t necessarily beneficial before a workout. The static stretches should be saved for after your workout as you cool down. The increased circulation from your workout will increase your flexibility. Post-workout is when you get the most benefits from static stretching.

For your warm-up, you should focus on dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches are low-intensity exercises such as walking lunges, jumping jacks and high knees. These exercises begin to increase your heart rate and prepare your body for the workout ahead.

Train for Strength

Weightlifting at the gym is easy because you have all the equipment readily available. Getting in strength training on a hiking trail requires a bit more creativity since you presumably won’t be carrying a set of weights in your backpack.

Don’t worry, though; there are plenty of effective exercises that will still give you an intense workout, and you won't have to pack any equipment.

Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are those that use your body’s weight as resistance against gravity to improve strength. Some of the best bodyweight exercises are squats, push-ups, lunges, planks, leg lifts and burpees. These exercises are great because you can do them anywhere, and you don’t need any equipment at all.

Use What’s Available

There are plenty of opportunities to workout on the trail. You only need to get a little creative and use what’s around you.

  • Rocks: Small to medium-sized rocks make great free weights, medicine balls or kettlebells. Large rocks are great for balance. Use them for wall sits and incline push-ups.
  • Fallen logs: Sturdy logs that have fallen near the trail are perfect for toe taps and box jumps
  • Trees: Trees can also be great for wall sits. If you find a tree with a sturdy limb within reach, you can use it for pull-ups.

Add a Pack

If you’re normally a day hiker, you can increase your workout intensity by adding a backcountry pack to your hike. If you’ve never hiked with a pack, you should start with something ultralight and work your way up.

Most outdoor experts recommend never hiking with a pack that’s more than one-third of your body weight. The added weight of carrying the pack during your hike will increase the intensity of your workout and keep your heart rate elevated from the extra exertion required.

Try Something New

Aside from incorporating additional exercises into your hike, remember that there are also lots of outdoor activities you can do instead of, or in conjunction with, your hike to get a great workout.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing and bouldering are great strength training workouts, in addition to being lots of fun. Head to Buttermilk Country in the Inyo National Forest for great hiking paired with world-class bouldering.


If you’ve never tried snowshoeing before, you’ll probably be surprised at how great of a workout it is. Check out Scott Hill Snowshoe trails in the Central Wasatch Mountains of Utah for some amazing trails.

Trail Running

Why walk when you can run? Trail running is another great way to add intensity to your workouts and change up your routine. Consider the Transept Trail in Grand Canyon National Park for some of the best views in the world during your run.

Cross-country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is another great winter activity you can add to your hikes. Donner Memorial State Park at Lake Tahoe has some of the best backcountry skiing trails in the country.

Finishing Your Workout

When you’ve finished your new workout-hike hybrid, don’t jump in your car and head out. To get the most out of your workout, you have to take the time to cool down properly. Remember, post-workout is the best time for static stretches, so take a least ten minutes to stretch out and let your heart rate return to normal. You’ll also want to continue drinking plenty of water to replace the fluids you lost during the workout.

While hiking is great cardiovascular exercise on its own, it’s not difficult to transform your basic hike into a complete cardio and strength workout. Be smart and use the available resources to create the workout you want wherever you are. You’ll fall in love with your new outdoor workouts in no time.

Do you have a favorite way of increasing the intensity in your outdoor workouts? Let us know in the comments.

In addition to her freelance writing, Cassie is a nurse by trade and a hiker by passion. She is interested highlighting the variety of ways people can merge health and fitness with the great outdoors. You can read more of her work at eHealth Informer.


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