A lot of us wish we could go hiking everyday, but we have other responsibilities that require us to stick around like family and work. I’m lucky that I get to go on 3-4 day hikes a month and a half dozen or so short backpacking trips a year. But when I can’t enjoy the wilderness, my strategy is to bring it into my daily gym workouts by simulating natural conditions as much as possible.
Hiking, especially with a backpack, is a full body exercise that requires a lot of strength, endurance, coordination and agility. As you walk or climb, each of your legs takes the full load of your body and pack. As you scramble up a slope, your torso rotates, your core muscles tighten, your hips take more of the load, and your shoulder and arm extend forward to grab a handhold and pull you up. Hiking requires a remarkable degree of synchronization between different muscles groups in your body.
Many gym workouts isolate specific muscle groups using machines that lock you into a rigid pose and eliminate assistance from other muscle groups. However, what they fail to do is to train the coordination of all of your parts and stimulate the neuro-muscular pathways that help us learn and adapt the complex choreography of movements required for locomotion.
To counter this, I do a lot of compound exercises that combine movements from multiple muscle groups at the same time, or in sequence. This leads to a much more efficient workout time-wise, and provides a cardio benefit as well because it keeps my heart rate up. In addition, I also add in props like the Bosu Ball, stability ball, medicine balls, and spongy surfaces to add more instability to my routine. I also do a lot of exercises while standing on one leg to improve my balance while carrying a load.
Here are a few of the exercises I use in my gym workouts. When you watch these videos notice how all of the muscles in the body are tensing to facilitate the exercise. Adding instablity to your workout forces all of the muscles in your body to work together at once, just like carrying a pack. If all of the exercises you perform in the gym add an element of instability or imbalance, you’ll quickly start to feel much stronger in your lower back, butt, and abdominals because you’ll be constantly working them indirectly.
There are millions of possible variations.
Before you start this kind of routine: Warm up for 10-20 minutes doing some form of cardio until you break a sweat. Then perform each of these exercises for 8-12 reps, and pre-stage the necessary props to ensure that you can move form one exercise to the next without rest. Break the exercises into groups of three that focus on different primary muscle groups (for example: glutes, followed by abs, followed by shoulders) and work your way up to three sets for each group, shooting for a total of 20 sets per workout.
(written 2009, updated 2013)