5 Best Exercises to Prepare for Hike, According to Personal Trainers

5 Min Read

Looking for the best exercises to do to prepare for a hike? Start with step ups, hip clocks, and ankle mobilization work. These will give your body the strength and mobility it needs to stay energized and injury-free on long hikes.

Hi! My name is Colin Slager, and I am a performance coach with specialties in nutrition, training and movement rehabilitation.

Today I’m going to tell you about some of the best exercises to do ahead of your hike. This includes air squats, step ups, and mobility work. Let’s get started!

Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

Table of Contents


Step Ups

To do a proper step up, you will need a small step or box and a weight if you want to do them weighted. Whatever you’re stepping on, make sure that your thigh is in line with your hip and is not raised higher. There should be an even right angle with your hip, leg and knee.

  • Face the box or step
  • Put one foot on top of the box
  • Be sure your entire foot is in contact with the box
  • Step through your heel to help raise your body up onto the box
  • Do not come up on the balls of your feet
  • You should feel your calves, hamstrings and glutes working
  • Once you raise yourself up, make sure to stand your body up as tall as you can before dropping back down
  • Alternate with your other foot and repeat the steps above
  • If you want to build more leg strength, you can hold a weight in one or both hands

This exercise will help for when you have larger rocks or ledges that you need to get on top of so you can keep on the trail.


Step Downs

The step down exercise is very similar to the step up, just in reverse. It is designed to help you step down off of rocks, ledges and any other funky surfaces you might encounter while hiking.

You will want to be sure to practice how your foot lands on the ground to ensure proper stability and control. The equipment needed for the heel down exercise is the exact same for the step ups.

  • Start standing on top of the box or step
  • Stand along the edge of the box
  • Slowly reach your outside foot down towards the ground
  • Make sure your foot on the box stays in full contact with the ground
  • Your knee should track over your toes on the side that is on the box
  • Go to a comfortable depth that tests your range of motion then stand back up
  • Do the same on each leg

You can do your prescribed number of reps all on one side before switching legs, or you can alternate one after the other. You can also raise the height of your box or add plates on the ground for a shorter reach. So wherever your ability is at, you can tweak the exercise to match it.


Hip Clock

The hip clock exercise is going to help with more balance and stability in multiple directions. During a hike, you never know what types of weird positions and angles you might have to maneuver.

  • Stand with both feet facing in front of you
  • Imagine you’re in the middle of a clock
  • Start with balancing on one foot
  • Reach your other foot directly in front of you (12 o’ clock), then bring it back but still not resting on the ground
  • Then reach towards 1 o’ clock and so forth
  • Reach behind your standing leg to get to 7 and 8 o’ clock, then reach in front of your standing leg for 9 through 12
  • Once you go around the entire clock with one leg, switch
  • With the leg that is standing on the ground, be sure to track your knee over your toes with each reach
  • Be sure to breathe into your core so it is engaged, which will help with your balance

This exercise is a great warmup for a hike because it challenges the strength and stability of your feet and ankles, priming them perfectly for walking on uneven terrain.


Air Squats

Since hiking requires mostly lower extremity strength and endurance, air squats are a good way to help get the blood moving and warm up your legs.

You’re going to ask them to do a lot of work on a hike, so doing a few sets of 10 to 20 air squats will make sure everything is ready to go.

  • Stand with feet about shoulder width apart, with toes pointed slightly out
  • Thinking hips dropping back and down as if you’re going to sit down in a chair
  • Let knees go over your toes
  • Keep your heels and feet in full contact with the ground
  • Keep your chest and torso up, so that it is parallel with your shins
  • Breathing into your core and keep it engaged
  • Get low enough so your hips drop just below your knees
  • Stand back up and exhale as you come up

Do this before hiking and your legs will have a nice little pump to get going.


Ankle Dorsiflexion Exercise

As mentioned above, hiking entails a lot of uneven ground, so you’ll want to have stable feet and ankles. This exercise will help improve your ankle mobility to ensure you don’t put too much strain on certain muscle groups.

  • Get in a half kneeling or standing position with your front foot a few inches away from a wall
  • Take your front knee over your toes as far as you can
  • Do not raise your heel off the ground
  • When your knee can go as far as it can without your heel coming up, bring it back to starting position
  • If your knee touches the wall, then move your foot back a little further to increase your range of motion
  • Do the same on both sides

Improving ankle mobility will help improve the quality of your movement, which will help reduce muscle imbalance and compensation.

In Conclusion

To recap, priming your body before hiking can improve your hike and overall movement.

Working on stepping up and down with good form and stability is good. So is building mobility and balance through feet, ankles, and knees. These, and building overall body strength, are all good things to do to properly prepare for your hike.

So if you’re not sure where to start, use these exercises as your go-to moves before hitting the trails!


Colin Slager

Last Updated:

June 28, 2022


Dr. Maghraby is a medical doctor and published physician scientist. He’s an avid runner and a user of sports compression gear.