A parallax image

Hike your way to better fitness

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Feb 2014; updated May 2023.

Did you know that you can get outside and use hiking for fitness and weight loss? Here are some tips for creating your own 'exercise' programme to help lose those pounds.

Getting outside with your kids can not only bring you together as a family. You can also use hiking for fitness and weight loss. Here are some tips to help you lose weight and get in shape with hiking.

Hiking for Fitness

Are you still keeping up with that diet/fitness/weight loss goal New Year's resolution?

It isn't easy to stick to a fitness programme. You need to turn it into a new habit; if you're not enjoying it, the habit is even harder to form.

Setting Goals

I've found it's much easier to stay motivated if you set goals....and then let people know about those goals.

You could run a marathon - but hiking is a lot easier way to get fit. Believe me!

For example, last year, I decided to run the local half marathon.

Running a half-marathon was nothing new to me, but I wanted to better my time and do it in around 1:50. This was a tough course, too, up and down hills. So I printed out a training schedule and stuck to it as best I could.

I would see the same faces each week up and down the roads - we were all training for the half-marathon.

The training paid off, and I did the race. The course wasn't the best, and I got stuck behind a lot of slow-moving runners but ended up with a 1:53 - a lot better than my previous time 😀

But running isn't the only way to keep fit; you don't have to do it alone.

Hiking as a family to keep fit

You can lose a lot of weight by simply walking.

Advice for those planning a long-distance hike or backpacking is to get trousers that you can make tighter as the journey progresses, as walking can make the fat fall from your stomach. I like the sound of that!

Starting a Hiking Fitness Programme...and sticking to it

A better way to get fit

The thing with exercise and getting fit is to do it regularly.

When you exercise regularly, your body says, 'Oh, OK. I need to improve those muscles and consider using some of my stored fat.'  If you don't do it regularly, then your body says 'Whew! That was tough! I'd better store some more fat just in case we have to do something like that again!!'

I need to make those muscles better and think about using some of this fat I've stored too

Do you know why diets alone don't always work and why your body puts fat back on when you stop? If you've been dieting hard, when you finish, your body thinks, 'I've been in a famine! I'd better store all this food as fat just in case there's another famine.'

The point is to start a programme, don't shock your body, and do it regularly.

You can search the internet and download lots of '16-week programmes' or 'see your abs in 2 weeks'. The fact is that these will unlikely work as you need to create a schedule of exercise that applies to you.

If you already walk regularly, then perhaps you should plan some bigger and steeper hills to tackle or set yourself some aggressive time goals.

If, on the other hand, you've not walked in ages, and a mile can leave you a little bit out of breath, you will want to set smaller goals. Gradually get up to a few miles, then take in some small hills.

Easy does it

Hike for 20 minutes

get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes

It doesn't have to be a sweaty slog, either.

The science about fitness keeps changing as they discover more, but current advice is that you should aim to get your heart rate up from resting for at least 20 minutes for your body to start switching into 'fat-burning' mode.

When walking, 20 minutes can soon go by, so there's plenty of opportunity to rest if you find it tough.

Hiking yourself fit

Better than the gym

After you've done enough regular hiking, you should see a difference in your fitness and weight.

Hiking can be more enjoyable than going to the gym

Hiking can be more enjoyable than going to the gym and is something you can do with family and friends.

You don't need it to feel like 'exercise'.

If you are starting, begin with shorter walks on flat ground. Then move on to longer walks and hills.

Adding some weight, such as a backpack with your lunch in, will help burn more calories - though be careful if you have a bad back, and get yourself a good-fitting backpack.

Find yourself a local walking guidebook

Find yourself a local walking guidebook or OS Explorer map, and create a list of walks you would like to do.  This will be your exercise programme.

How regular is regular?

aim to exercise 2 or 3 times a week

As it is often said, you should aim to exercise 2 or 3 times a week - I know, I know. We can't all go hiking two or three times a week.

Plan your hikes and walks for a day at the weekend, but try and get out for at least a half-hour walk around the block, around your park, in your town, and taking the kids to school whenever possible.

These weekday walks may not be as challenging as the weekend hike - perfectly OK. It's all about teaching your body to walk efficiently by doing it regularly (and it burns a few more calories too).

Did you know that you don't just run long and fast when training for marathons? You do lots of regular slower and gentle runs too. Sports scientists have found that these easy runs benefit as much as the big long runs in building stamina.

Oh, my aching legs!

As with any exercise, you may feel a little stiff in the legs the next day.

The aching is a sign that your muscles have done some work!

It's caused by the waste products your muscles make as they burn energy (some of that energy may come from fat stores).

Your body will naturally break down the waste and get rid of it, but your legs can feel stiff, as it can sometimes take a while for your body to pump all the waste out of your leg muscles.

go for a walk

The solution: go for a walk.

It doesn't have to take long or be hard, but a walk will help the blood pump the waste out of your legs, and it won't be long before the stiffness starts to disappear.

Walking with arching legs also has another big benefit: it starts to teach your body that it needs to turn into a walker and that it may need to exercise on tired legs, so it better get those muscles more efficient and stop producing all this waste. (This is the principle about the easy runs in a marathon training schedule, known as 'recovery runs').

Make time for a short walk the day after a big hike

So, when planning your exercise regime around hiking, you may want to make time for a short walk the day after a big hike, even if that short walk is just a stroll around the block.

If your legs ache and they feel hard to move, then that's an indicator that you've overdone it, and you need to dial back a bit in your exercise programme. But stick to it, and your legs won't ache as much in the future.

Legs and Arms

Walking Poles with Shock Absorbers

If you get yourself a pair of walking poles, walking up hills can exercise some of your upper body and your legs - and take some of the strain off your legs too.

Exercise some of your upper body as well

Poles are also good if you are walking across uneven ground.

What are you waiting for?

Map in plastic document wallet

Hopefully, that's given you a few tools and ideas for getting outside and losing weight through hiking.

Go on. Get out that map and create a programme of walks and challenges.

Hike yourself fit