Feb 23, 2013 at 5:23 pm #1299635
Recently I started strength training. I do barbell squats, deadlifts, bench press and overhead press. The object is to get stronger, not body building. I do low reps and strive to always add more weight every single time. I do barbells so that they are full-body compound lifts, not machines that isolate muscles. Full-body strength is what you need for backpacking.
Wow, what a difference it is making! Last weekend I loaded up water for the 3-day weekend and dry-camped and cut brush on an old trail for 2 of the days. Water plus tools plus my lightweight gear (12lbs or so.)
From what I understand of how this works, (and how it works better than just doing lots of hiking, cycling or running) is that lets say your maximum 1 rep squat is 100lbs. Every footstep with your pack is a fraction of your one-rep max, let's pretend it's 0.1%. Double your 1 rep max to 200lbs and now every footstep is half as much effort for you, only 0.05%. You should have both better endurance and have an easier time carrying the load because it's simply less work for you.
I am finding this to be the case for me. Being stronger feels like carrying lighter gear. Being stronger feels like the way you feel when you know you aren't going to get injured because the load is too heavy. Being stronger gives me that nimble feeling you get with a lighter pack even when your pack has 7 liters of water in it.
Probably lots of you already knew all this but I've never lifted barbells before.Feb 23, 2013 at 5:34 pm #1957910
No doubt strength training is very important and will allow you to carry the same load with less effort. In addition, being stronger will help prevent injury. Just make sure you include core strength training not just upper body and legs. I think high intensity interval training is also an important part of the equation to boost your overall oxygen (aerobic) processing capacity for those steep ascents.Feb 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm #1957912
@jdw01776Locale: Southeast Texas
Squats are a great exercise for backpacking — leg strength and core strength. I also like walking lunges with a barbell…Feb 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm #1957914Feb 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm #1957915
Oh, you knew that was me? Yeah, Rip is crazy old-school. I like guys like that, actually.
Squats, deadlifts and overhead press ARE core strength. And I try to do sprints once a week or so.Feb 23, 2013 at 6:05 pm #1957916Feb 25, 2013 at 10:58 am #1958508
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
I've been doing CrossFit- style workouts for the last couple of years. We do a lot of heavy Olympic weight lifting as well as short, high intensity cardio (box jumps, burpies, 100m sprints, etc.).
In addition to general improvements in all-around fitness and strength, I feel like I've also seen an improvement in my hiking fitness. I can hike farther, faster and if necessary, carry heavier loads, all with less effort. In addition to being stronger, the cardio work seems to provide noticeable benefits; my heart rate is lower, breathing stays more regular and I just plain old feel better while pushing a 3.5- 4mph hiking pace.
I've recently begun training for a marathon distance trail run as part of a longer triathlon and with very little of a running base to start from, I'm up to 1/2 marathon distance a couple of weeks into my training and feeling good and strong. I credit the gym workouts.Feb 25, 2013 at 11:06 am #1958509
Backyard home improvement is also great strength/cross training.
digging holes, shoveling dirt, mixing concrete and pouring it by hand (90 lb bags).
power walking up the steepest hills you can find is also a great workout.
I'm not a gym routine type of person so these double duty workouts suit me best.Feb 25, 2013 at 11:41 am #1958518
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
Ha! Good point Art!
I know all about that type of exercise too. Last spring we removed all of the existing landscaping in both our front and rear yards by hand, by ourselves. All told, we dug up and carried off over 20,000 lbs of plant material. Then roto-tilled and re-graded with soil rakes.
We then dug holes for, and planted, roughly 1500 new plants (mostly 4" containers) but some as large as 25 gallon containers.
Talk about a good workout…Feb 25, 2013 at 12:51 pm #1958541
I played football as an offensive lineman for about 10 years and I am a bit skinnier and weaker now so I think I could offer some potential perspective. I played at a little over 250lbs body weight and my max squat was 500lbs. Since I have left undergrad I haven't been eating or weightlifting nearly as much and I have switched activities to things like rock climbing and mountain biking so I am down to around 210lbs. I have backpacked during both of those body weights and I can say without hesitation that I can hike much farther and faster now than when I could squat 500lbs. I think the best training for backpacking given that you only have a short amount of time would be carrying around an overly heavy pack.Feb 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm #1958575
"I can say without hesitation that I can hike much farther and faster now than when I could squat 500lbs"
I imagine this has much more to do with 40lbs less weight vs the fact that your exercise activities have changed (though the new activities are likely better suited).
I remember when I quit playing football – I lost 20-25lbs with almost no effort. I think it had more to do with a change in diet vs a change in strength training.
I notice some are worried about strength training bc they don't want to "bulk up" – bulking up is obscenely hard (for most anyway). (Proper) Stength training is good for bone density/joint health in addition muscle gain/maintenance.Feb 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm #1958576
Piper, good for you.Feb 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm #1958580Feb 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm #1958605
I am no expert in physiology, but I believe walking and weightlifting use different muscle types for the most part. Hiking tends to use the slow-twitch muscles while lifting tends to work the fast-twitch. If strength training increased endurance then we should see elite marathon runners dominating in weight-lifting competitions as well. I agree that strength training can reduce injury and help increase anaerobic capacity, and I think that this is definitely beneficial to hiking. It just has its limitations. For an extreme example, I don't think guys who can squat 1000lbs would make very good distance runners despite the fact that each step is such a small portion of their maximum outputs. My personal experience has been that running, biking, rowing, or those stair-stepper machines better replicate the stresses of hiking and are therfore better for preparing for a hike if I only have an hour or so for exercise each day. Otherwise, I just throw a bunch of water in a pack to make it heavy and then hike all day.Feb 25, 2013 at 3:11 pm #1958619Feb 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm #1958674
Strength training is most definitely useful. Back in the day when I was young(er)and strong(er) I did lot of weight training. When I went backpacking in those days the weight really didn't matter to me. 20 lbs or 40 lbs made effectively no difference if I was doing 10-15 miles. I'm sure it would have been noticeable if I had been walking 30 miles a day, but for what I was doing it didn't. If you can squat double your bodyweight and do partial squats with triple your bodyweight, 40 lbs feels like nothing.
Ah, those were the days….Feb 25, 2013 at 6:14 pm #1958688
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
Piper, bully for you! I am doing a very similar strength training routine (are you all doing Rippetoe's stuff?). I did it for a few years and put on about 20 lbs in a few months of serious dedication. I've been on and off ever since, but it's amazing the differences that a strong core through squats, deadlifts, and other compound lifts will provide.
I do find that I still need to train for cardiovascular fitness (weightlifting comes easy to me) for hiking, but I can do just about everything better than I could before. I also need to lose a good deal of fat from the inconsistencies of the last couple of years. But once I re-started lifting regularly a few months ago, I sleep better, hike stronger, and generally get along much better than before.
The one downside to strength training? Most pack manufacturers build for the skinny guy with no back, shoulder, and trapezius muscles.Feb 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm #1958707
I have yet to squat my bodyweight, but I'm deadlifting more than my bodyweight and about half my bodyweight for bench press. No need wait for improvements only after you can squat some ungodly 500lbs.
I'm convinced that squats and deadlifting, even though they may not use the exact same muscles as walking, provide enough general strength to make walking easier. I can feel the difference with even the little bit I can lift.
I don't believe anymore that endurance exercise can make me stronger. I've only ever relied upon aerobic exercise in the past and it got me pretty far. I could hike the PCT. I was pretty strong. But the barbells are changing things dramatically for me.
I just thought I would share this because you can buy your way to easier backpacking up to a point. Maybe it's after you run out of money or maybe it's after you've done tons of hiking and don't really care about new shiny new things as much, at some point you don't want to buy any more lighter gear. Getting stronger is just one more way to lighten the load.Feb 25, 2013 at 6:58 pm #1958712
I'm sort of doing Rippetoe's stuff. I couldn't figure out how to do power cleans. I try to follow the form and the basic program. I got overtrained pretty badly on a 3x a week program so I do 2x a week and that leaves enough left in the tank to enjoy some hiking or backpacking on the weekend and one session of sprints. I also do not drink a gallon of milk a day (I don't drink any milk) and I really don't want to gain any weight, but I have. And I only add about 5lbs a week to my squats and deadlifts and about 1.25lbs a week to my upper body lifts. I also do 5 sets of 3 for upper body lifts. I guess some women have trouble with 3 sets of 5 on upper body and I'm one of them. Progress is progress. My latest is squat: 122.5, bench: 72.5, press: 57.5, deadlift: 160. I'm 5'3", 48 years old, about 135lbs.Feb 25, 2013 at 8:17 pm #1958732
I am planning on doing the PCT this year so I have been trying to get into good hiking shape. I have been mostly been doing cardio or plyometric stuff in a fitness class. Maybe I'll try throwing the ol' squat back into the mix. I was curious to get some more opinions so I posted a question on Skurka's website and got a surprisingly quick response. I have included his thoughts below. I will still try to incorporate some strength training. Balance almost always seems beneficial
This was copy pasted from Skurka's website:
Andrew Z. February 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm #
What do you think of weight training in preparation for a thru-hike? I am specifically thinking of exercising to increase your one-rep maximum on exercises like squats or dead-lifts. Does this increase in maximum output translate to increased hiking endurance in your opinion?
Andrew Skurka February 25, 2013 at 4:18 pm #
I think your time would be better much spent hiking with a pack, or running over hilly terrain, or balance drills, or at least low weight and very high reps. Good long-distance hikers tend to be like ultra runners, but stronger and less lean; and good ultra runners tend to be like road runners, but stronger and less lean. You don’t want to be super muscular.Feb 25, 2013 at 8:49 pm #1958741
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
Personally, I find a lot of misinformation persists with those who haven't tried strength training. Not to discount Skurka, but there's a perception that any weightlifting is about bulking not strength. Strength training done well can leave a person very lean (depending upon body type, of course) without any of the massive look of the bodybuilder types.
That said, thru-hiking is a pretty specialized pursuit, and to pursue something that narrow, sacrifices have to be made in other areas. I do strength training not because it will help me be a better hiker, but because it fits my other goals in life and helps me maintain more balance. Would I be a better hiker if I spent more time running ultra-marathons than strength training? Definitely. But my goals are different directed to a broader range of interests. I'll gladly trade a little hiking efficiency to better meet my other needs.Feb 26, 2013 at 6:50 am #1958805
Yeah, there's a huge myth out there that strength training is the same thing as bodybuilding. It is not. A lot of cyclists and runners have the same myth. Causes people to put in "junk miles" when just a few minutes in the squat rack will give them more power per foot/pedal strike and just make the whole thing feel like a piece of cake.
Being female, I'm not even going to get real big anyway. So far I have a thinner waist and slightly larger thighs. Maybe slightly larger shoulders. You'd never be able to tell looking at me, just clothes fit differently now. Probably some of that is just fat, too, since I have to eat like a pig to keep making progress.
The other week when I loaded up 7 liters into my pack I wondered, what would it feel like to squat this? So I did it. It was laughably easy compared to the barbells.Feb 26, 2013 at 10:21 am #1958888
Piper – Kuddos to you for all the hard work! I have a lot of respect for folks who follow a training regimen of any kind.
Regarding the rest of the thread. I am far from an expert, but right or wrong I've always looked at it like this – If you want to go farther, faster, longer, etc at a specific task doing that specific task repeatedly will give you the best results. In other words, to get the best training results for hiking I would want to push myself out on the trail as much as I could. Obviously I can't do that everyday, but I can exercise at home, lift weights, etc which will also yield positive results. Just not as much as if I was training on the trail.
To me, bicycling, running, elliptical work, and rowing would give the best results for at home training since they work the legs and some core, but also give aerobic conditioning. I think strength training wouldn't give optimal results for hiking, but it's still a loooong ways better than nothing.
RyanFeb 26, 2013 at 10:50 am #1958899
…and I have had good results. My goal is functional strength and cardio for not just backpacking, but playing with my two small boys, have more energy, be healthier in general, etc.
Stretching, 5 min
Jump rope, medium pace, 5 min
Shadow boxing, 15 min, with a few 2 min breaks (I used to box, so also good to keep my form)
Two handed kettlebell swings (i.e. from under my butt to face level), x50, currently using 28kg
One handed kettlebell lifts (i.e. from groin to full extensions above head), x10 each arm, currently using 16kg
2-3 min break
Slow push ups, x25
2-3 min break
Hindu squats, x50
Jump rope, fast pace, 5 min
Drink homemade protein shake of 300ml chocolate oat milk + 35g raw hemp protein powder (about 15g protein).
I do this twice a week, and once a week either go for a long walk/dayhike or short run around my part of town. If I have an overnight or weekend trip, I give myself permission to skip a workout day. Best way to make my base weight that us usually around 3kg feel even lighter is to be able to swing around a kettlebell that is nearly 10 times that.Feb 27, 2013 at 10:22 am #1959259
@erikdtzLocale: Los Angeles
It's good to hear that others are lifting as I've posted once or twice and never heard anything back. I did the Starting Strength program for the first 6 months and have recently switched to the Texas Method.
When I first started backpacking a few years ago I was an endurance junkie…lots of running and biking. Even when I was in "good shape" I always felt weak. My knees hurt all the time and while I was leaner I definitely wasn't any stronger or better at hiking. Then I started CrossFit about 1.5 years ago which was MUCH better. Some high intensity interval training combined with strength training did wonders for my hiking abilities not to mention my overall fitness level. My knees didn't hurt at all, I lost some fat and put on some muscle. Then about 7 months ago I decided I didn't want to pay $150 a month for CrossFit so I joined a dingy little power lifting gym a few miles from my house and fell in love with just straight lifting…Squat, press, dead lift, bench, clean & jerk, snatch. I do one day of accessory lifts and 1-2 days of conditioning which is usually pushing a heavy prowler or pulling a sled for 40-50 yards.
When I did a 6 day backpacking trip this summer up in the Sierras, it was ridiculously easy. My shoulders weren't sore, I wasn't stiff in the morning, my legs and knees felt strong going up and, more importantly, coming down the mountains. And this was after almost NO conditioning and one of the heaviest lifting weeks I'd had at that time.
Piper, keep it up! That body weight squat is closer then you think!
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