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Want To Get Stronger? Take A Hike

Hiking is a hugely beneficial cross-training activity for runners. We explain eight of the ways in which hiking can help your training.

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Take A Hike

The mountains are calling, but how will you answer? For many runners, the instinct is to lace up the trail shoes and find some sweet single-track. Though we love a good trail run, it’s not the only training option in nature’s playground. Why not take a hike instead?

“Hiking can add a nice mental and physical break from your usual run training,” says Libby Wile, senior director of the American Hiking Society. “It’s easy to get burned out if you are only running, so hiking provides an outdoor activity that is physically beneficial and a refreshing reprieve from your regularly scheduled programming.”

Cyndi Wyatt, REI outdoor school instructor at Outessa, agrees. A 33-year veteran of running, Wyatt credits a steady schedule of hikes with staving off injury, boredom and burnout on the roads. It’s also helped her go the distance—since taking up hiking 10 years ago, she has completed 37 ultra-distance races (seven of them 100-milers!). “With hiking as your cross-training exercise, you strengthen muscles, breathe cleaner air, work your core on uneven terrain, and you will never feel so present,” Wyatt says. “You will wake up the next day rejuvenated, healthy and strong to run your training plan distance.”

Trekking through the mountains has all sorts of benefits for body and mind. Here are eight great reasons to take a hike today:

It’s A Free Gym

“Hiking can be a great way to strength train in a natural and inviting outdoor setting,” Wile says. Sure, you could spend an hour on the gym’s stair-climber while watching that episode of Friends…again. Or you could do an actual climb and see a whole new view.

Your Lungs Will Thank You

Hiking, especially at higher elevations, can improve your cardiovascular endurance and lung capacity, says Wile. The thin air of high altitude forces your lungs to work harder, which can lead to better adaptations when you return to lower elevations.

You’ll Have Fewer Injuries

If all you do is run, you will most likely experience injuries from overuse to the same muscles and tendons. Hiking strengthens injury-prone areas like glutes, calves and hamstrings in ways that are complementary to run training. The slower pace and softer trail surface also eliminate the pounding associated with running, giving your joints a break.

Zen Moments Abound

Nature allows your brain to roam free, says Wyatt: “When we are running, our mind is on time, distance, heart rate, finishing, managing pain and not tripping. But when we are hiking, our mind goes to the appreciation of our strength and what trail our strong legs will lead us to next.”

So go ahead—notice the smells and sounds of the wilderness, feel the sun warming your body, the drizzle of rain electrifying your senses and your strong muscles at work.

Going Long Will Feel Easier

When preparing for distance races, “time on your feet” is a critical part of training. Take, for example, a marathon: Most people will be on their feet for four to six hours during the race, but training runs of that duration increase the potential for injury. Hiking for that same amount of time allows the body to adapt without the injury risk.

It’s Perfect Bonding Time

If you’re the only runner in your family or friend groups, hiking can be a way for you to enjoy the outdoors together. Hiking is an amazing way to bond, says Wyatt: “It’s not about the pace; it’s about the people you share the mountain with, the experience you have together and the empowerment it brings.”

You Won’t Mind Missing A Run

There are times that hiking simply makes more sense than a run, like when traveling to a scenic location or spending the weekend with a group of friends. “I’m not a professional athlete, and my running goals are internally set, so in these instances, I will veer off the training program to take advantage of the situation and go take a hike,” Wile says. “I have never regretted missing an occasional training run to bag a peak or spend time outdoors with friends.”

It’s Totally Badass

There’s no better feeling than making it to the top of a mountain with your own two feet. Go ahead, snap that selfie and brag. You’ve earned it.

Bonus Tips

Mountain Footwear

Road running shoes are built to be on a flat surface, moving straight forward. They are not built for the uneven and unpredictable terrain of hiking. When searching for a pair of hiking boots, look for stability, rock protection and traction.

Know Before You Go

Whether you are new to hiking or a seasoned mountain goat, it’s always good to follow a few basic safety rules.

  • Know what trails you are hiking.
  • Tell someone where and when you’ll return.
  • To avoid running out of daylight, be realistic in your estimate of how long you’ll be hiking. A good rule of thumb: One mountain mile is equivalent to two road miles.
  • Carry more water than you think you’ll need, a few snacks and a poncho or rain jacket, as weather can change unexpectedly.
  • Train with hiking like you do with running—ramp up both distance and intensity slowly and gradually. Begin with flat fire roads, gradually progressing to fire roads with elevation, technical single-tracks with roots and rocks, then summits.


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