Do you find those short-day hikes just don't cut it anymore? Want something bigger, grander and more challenging than that measly trail down the road? Truth is, if you don't get in shape first, you won't enjoy those longer hiking trails. Start this hiking fitness regimen about six weeks before a big backpacking adventure, and not only will you avoid the hiker hobble, but also you'll increase your enjoyment of your hiking expedition.
Cardio Is King
Kick up your cardio workout to three 30-minute sessions a week. Gradually increase the length, frequency and intensity of your cardio workouts. Within a month, you should be up to four hour-long cardio sessions a week. The goal is to build up endurance beyond a one-day hike. Make sure to mix up the cardio workouts. That means trail running, the stair climber, stair mill or treadmill are all worthy means to getting in that cardiovascular exercise. If the weather is lousy, hit the gym. Don't have a gym membership? No worries. Find a building with stairs and get climbing. Another option is to scout out a hilly, local trail.
More: 3 Fast Cardio Workouts
Add a Backpack
It's not just about cardio fitness. The weight of a backpack can leave even the best runners and cyclists with sore hips, neck and shoulders. Several weeks before the big adventure, grab the backpack that you plan to use on the trip and add some water bottles. Wear the backpack during stair-climbing workouts or short hikes as part of your cardio routine. Keep the total weight to less than 15 pounds that first week and slowly add weight and mileage each week. The backpack training weight doesn't need to exceed 35 pounds unless you're planning a high-altitude mountaineering adventure that will require lots of heavy gear.
Long and Steady Once a Week
Runners and cyclists training for a high-mileage race typically add a long run or ride to their weekly regimen. Backpackers would be wise to do the same. These long training sessions are best on non-work days. (Your first long session should be about 90 minutes to 2 hours long.) Make sure to carry a backpack—with a total weight of less than 15 pounds—filled with water and a snack. Trails should have hilly terrain. These long hiking sessions aren't about speed or distance. Keep the intensity moderate and your pace steady. Add time and a little weight to the backpack every week until you hit the five-hour mark.
More: Backpack Buying Tips
It's a Sunday and your cardio and long sessions are behind you. Enjoy the day with a little active rest. That means hopping on a bike, heading outside for a little rock climbing, hitting the tennis court or trying a yoga class. Cross-training keeps weekly fitness routines interesting and works muscles that may otherwise feel neglected.
Don't Forget Your Core
Hikers with a strong core have better balance and stability. Plus, there's the added benefit of toned abs. And here's the best part: Core exercises don't take very long and can be done at home.
What is a core exercise? In general these are exercises that strengthen your "core muscles" including back, abdominal muscles and pelvis. Core exercises should be completed a few times a week and typically only take 5 to 10 minutes per session.
One of the more common core exercises is the plank. Begin by lying on your stomach and then raise yourself up so that your forearms and your toes are resting on the floor. Keep your body flat like a plank.
If this is too difficult, lower your knees to the floor. Make sure your head and neck are aligned with the back and that your shoulders are directly above your elbows. Now, tighten those abs and hold for 15 seconds. Rest for 15 and repeat several more times. Add time over the six-week training session until you can hold the plank for 45 seconds to 1 minute per interval.