Beginners’ Guide to Hiking

As Canadians, our mountainous backyard spoils us—and where there are mountains, there is hiking! Getting outside can do wonders for our mental and physical health, so take to the trails this summer for a workout that is fun, scenic, and social. If it’s been a while since you tackled anything steep, the following exercises will have you incline-ready in no time.

Getting out in the fresh air, catching up with an old friend or family member, or just getting out for some exercise are all great reasons to ditch the indoors and head out on the hiking trail. What better way to spend a morning than exercising and chatting with a friend while enjoying Mother Nature’s splendour?

Why hiking?

“I love hiking because it is a great way to mix exercise with enjoying the beautiful outdoors that the North Shore has to offer,” says North Vancouver hiking enthusiast Elizabeth Dyer.

Spending time exercising in nature has many positive effects, including feelings of revitalization and positive engagement and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression—and increased energy.

It’s different outside than in

A recent British study that looked at the benefits of physical activity outdoors showed that exercising outside has different effects than exercising inside—the natural environment coupled with exercise appears to have a positive impact on psychological and mental health.

It feels easier

Exercising outdoors can be more enjoyable for other reasons too; it doesn’t feel as hard! The same 2013 British study showed that people tend to walk faster outdoors compared to indoors (for example, on a treadmill), and their rating of perceived exertion was lower. It just feels natural to exercise outdoors.

It’s re-energizing

Exercising can sometimes feel like a chore, especially if you don’t enjoy it, you feel too tired after a long day at work, or you don’t know what you’re doing. But going on a hike before or after work with your neighbour or family member is easy and enjoyable, and will help you re-energize as well as increase your cardiovascular endurance. The benefits go on long after you leave the trail.

It’s social

Hiking can be a great way to reconnect with someone in a totally different way than texting or even talking on the phone. You can make an afternoon of it: meet up at the local trail, hike for an hour or so, then make a quick coffee stop at the end. Dyer says, “I love to hike with a friend and have inspiring conversations along the way.”

Conversation flows, the scenery continually changes, and before you know it you’ve been exercising continuously without stopping or getting bored. That’s not something you can always say about a session on the stationary bike or treadmill at the gym.

Getting ready to hike

If you haven’t been very active lately, you might be deterred by the word “hike”—but don’t be! You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to go for a hike; anything from your local gravel footpath to a forested trail will do. You just need to get outside and spend some time moving your body.

Build up cardio and endurance

Depending on where you live, you may have access to steeper trails. Training on a stair climber can be very beneficial for helping to build up your cardio and leg endurance in a way that mimics the up and down motion of climbing. For people who live in flatter regions, you’re better off doing more of your cardio on the treadmill and focusing less on hills and more on distance.

If you’re ready to take the next step and want to increase your endurance for the long haul or increase your leg flexibility for stepping up on those big boulders, there are definitely things you can and should do in a gym environment. Here’s a simple gym workout to get you hiking-ready in just a few short weeks.

Cardio inside

Stairmasters can be a great way to master your inclines before you hit the real hills. Try some intervals at a 2:1 ratio—two minutes slow and one minute fast.

Hydration and energy

Keep a bottle of water in your backpack, and refill it whenever you’re near a fountain. Snacking on the trail? Trail mix with nuts and dried fruits is a great refuelling snack, or try a banana or apple and some organic, natural beef jerky—lightweight and easy to store.

Hiking groups are more and more prevalent nowadays, so it’s even easier to get out and join in with a group. If you’re a novice you may not feel as comfortable traversing unfamiliar terrain; being in a group can quash those fears and introduce you to new friends and new trails. There are clubs for different age groups, groups that do specific hiking trips, and more. Information about hiking groups in your area can be found at canadatrails.ca.


Warm-up

6 to 10 minutes on a treadmill at a comfortable walking pace.

Cardio

10 to 20 minutes on a treadmill: walk flat for 2 minutes at fast pace, then walk on a 6 to 8 percent incline for 1 minute. Alternate these two intervals 10 times.

Run through the following exercises as a circuit.

Step Ups

Muscles targeted: quads and glutes

3 sets of 15 per leg

  • Stand behind a bench, starting lower and increasing as you get stronger.
  • Place one foot on bench, push yourself up to standing.
  • Drop back down.
  • Repeat, then switch legs after one set.

Leg Press Machine

Muscles targeted: quadriceps and glutes

3 sets of 12 to 15

  • Sit on machine; make sure your knees are just past your hips to start.
  • Push your legs forward and stop when your knees are almost straight.
  • Repeat

Box Step Down

Muscles targeted: quads and calves

3 sets of 15 per leg

  • Stand on top of a step with 5 to 6 risers or a box of equivalent height.
  • Step down with one foot, then push back up to standing.
  • Repeat on the same leg, then switch after 15.
  • To increase intensity, use dumbbells in each hand.

Clock Lunge

Muscles targeted: quads, calves, hamstrings

2 sets of 12 per leg

  • Stand with feet together, hands by sides.
  • Take a big step forward and lunge; step back. Take a big step to the side (3 o’clock), step back to centre.
  • Take a big step back and lunge (6 o’clock), step back to centre.
  • Repeat, then switch legs after one set.

Hanging Calf Raises

Muscles targeted: calves

2 sets of 15

  • Stand with heels hanging off a ledge/bench. You may need to hang onto something.
  • Push up, bringing heels up and toes down.
  • Release back down to hanging. Repeat.

Gear up

Make sure to wear proper footwear. Hiking boots or trail-specific runners offer better grip and ankle support; they may also be waterproof—all important things when on the trail. Leave the flexible, flat gym shoes at home.

Who knows?

Going on a day hike in the woods? Does someone know where you are? Tell a friend or family member where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

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