Hiker-Specific Treadmill Workouts That Are Actually Fun

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Power through this training plan so you can crush the trails this spring.

I used to dread logging miles on the treadmill as much as the next person, and I know I'm not alone in this. But after living in New England (and through New England winters) for years, I've found that the best way to ensure a strong return to the trails is to train through the off-season. The best tool to do it? A treadmill.

By combining simple gym equipment with treadmill exercises, I designed four hike-specific workouts to mix things up, get a killer workout, and help you get back into the backcountry without huffing and puffing.

The Highlander

Duration: 30-75 minutes
Good for: Hill training
Equipment: A weighted pack (optional), treadmill

If you have an epic adventure planned for the early hiking season and you can’t get outside to prepare for it or you're after a killer workout that will help you crush the steep inclines, you’ve got to try this out.

  1. Pop on the treadmill and set the speed between 2.5 and 4 mph to warm up.
  2. Instead of increasing the speed to a run, continue walking but crank the incline up to 12 to 15 percent.
  3. Keep this up for anywhere between 30 and 75 minutes.

Focus hard on each stride and aim to engage your rear leg muscles while keeping your torso as upright as possible. This posture will help you access those hiking muscles (glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core) while ramping up your heart rate for a strong cardio workout. Pro tip: If you know you'll be hiking with equipment, don’t be afraid to bring your pack to add to the workout.

The Forgotten Core

Duration: 45-60 minutes
Good for:  Core strength
Equipment: Treadmill (optional: StairMaster), weight bar (or PVC pipe), mat

Hiking requires an epic combination of core strength, cardio stamina, leg strength, and leg stability. That’s right; I said core first. The problem with the hiking-specific core muscles is that they are often forgotten and overlooked. To avoid the worn down, hands-on-your-knees posture on your early season hikes, hit this series of exercises to get your body and lungs ready for the inclines that await.

  1. Walk or hike at an incline on the treadmill (or even a StairMaster) for 5 to 10 minutes to get your heart rate up. You should feel warm, but you shouldn’t be gasping for breath.
  2. Set up a mat next to your machine. Immediately after the 5 to 10-minute interval, get on the mat for 10 to 20 Supermans.” (Lie on stomach and raise opposing arms and legs, alternating between sides.)
  3. Now, grab a bar (a PVC pipe works, too) and crank out 5 to 15 Good mornings.” (Place the bar on your shoulders, behind your neck, and hinge forward at the waist to a 90-degree angle, engaging your core to support your back.)
  4. Repeat this entire sequence three to four times.

The Treadmill Tip-Toe

Duration: 45-60 minutes
Good for: Lower leg strength
Equipment: Jump rope (optional), balance ball (optional), treadmill

If a day on the trails has ever left your calves screaming in soreness for the following few days, you are not alone. The descent from the peak back to the trailhead is a completely different animal than getting up to the top. Gravity is on your side when it comes to lungs and cardio work—but at the cost of the muscles in your lower leg (think ankle stabilizers and calf). Get ready for the trek back down the mountain and prep your ankles to avoid injury with this routine.

  1. Spend 10 minutes on the treadmill, either with no incline or a slight decline if the option is available. Set it to a speed that warms you up but doesn’t get you drastically out of breath. Here's the key: As you move, instead of walking or running, exaggerate a tip-top stride. Try not to let your heels touch the treadmill and really push off of your toes.
  2. Get off the treadmill and do 10 to 20 single-foot toe hops. Again, stay off your heels. You can do this with a jump rope or on your own.
  3. After the hops, perform 10 to 20 calf raises. For an extra challenge, perform these on a stability half-ball. (Having trouble balancing? Push your chest against a wall as you raise and lower.) This will help prevent rolled ankles by improving balance and stability.
  4. Repeat this series 3 to 4 times.

The Holy Roller

Duration: 20-60+ minutes
Good for: Speed
Equipment: Treadmill

If you want to mix some faster paced stuff into your workout while staying hiking-focused, try the Holy Roller, guaranteed to give you a great workout while distracting you from the awfully slow treadmill timer.

  1. Start off at a slower pace on 12 to 15 percent incline. Power walk or jog lightly for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Then, speed up your pace while reducing the grade to 5 to 8 percent. Run for another 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Repeat as desired. (I'd suggest running through each step twice and working up from there.)

Mixing up your speed and incline helps makes the treadmill more exciting and improves your muscle movement while you are fatigued, which is key at the end of an intense hike.

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