Hiking is a dynamic activity — up and over roots, side-stepping rocks, losing and regaining footing and bracing for stability on uneven ground. There’s a lot more to it than cardiovascular fitness and leg strength. 

How well are you conditioned in the eccentric stabilities required? Eccentric muscular stability is the muscle’s ability to hold a tensive state to support a joint. Think of hiking downhill. The knee joint braces the heavy footfall and supports with quad musculature “bracing the joint.” If you’re uneasy about knee buckling, hips “giving out” or inability to control body weight into a chair or walking downstairs, this is an area to improve. 

Exercises for eccentric stability

Slow lowering into a chair: Take three to four seconds to lower into a chair using the knees as the flexors. Keep the chest upright and sit back (don’t worry it’s still there) into the chair. 

Split stance tempo squat: Now take the feet into a split position (one in front of the other two to three feet) slowly lower down, and pause as if kneeling. Raise back up and make sure that the reps are done on both sides. 

Are your ankle and calf muscles up for instability and undulating terrain? If hiking is secondary to an everyday life of stable footing and soft shoes, you will need to mobilize the ankles. This will improve the ability to traverse long patches of rough trails without the feet and ankles giving up. Worst-case scenario is an ankle roll in the middle of the wilderness. 

Exercises for ankle and calf

Stand on the edge of a step with something to hold onto, lower the heel down slow and hold a stretch for 3-4 seconds. Lift the heel back up and repeat many times.

Next squat down low and work ankle mobility by rocking side to side and forward and back with feet as flat to the floor as possible. This exercise pushes the ankles around their capsule and moves the tight tendons and ligaments about as if they were doing their work on the trail. 

The third tenet of hiking fitness is the power (or lack thereof) of the glutes in uphill propulsion. Glutes are fantastic muscles, which many people sit on all day. No wonder they’re chronically underactive. This can lead to instabilities at the knee and lumbar area — and uphill walking suffers greatly. 

Exercises to restore glutes

Glute bridge: Lie on the back and put the feet flat on the floor. Press the hips up into the air through the heels and feel the back of one’s buttock tighten. Repeat for many reps and hold each at the top for a count. 

Step up: On a box of varied height depending on mobility and strength, step up solely with the front leg. Do this with or without weight, repeat for 10-15 reps on each side. Make sure to finish the repetition all the way on the box standing in a very upright and tall posture. 

Hiking should an enjoyable exercise, not an exercise in pain tolerance. These routines can go a long way into making this summer’s jaunts enjoyable feats.