Hike your way to better fitness

January 11, 2017

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 loose some weight and get in shape with hiking.

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

It’s very difficult to stick to a fitness programme. You need to turn it into a new habit, and if you’re not enjoying it, well, the habit is even harder to form.

Setting Goals

I’ve found it’s a lot easier to stay motivated if you set goals….and then let people know about those goals.

It can help keep you accountable for actually doing it if everyone knows what you are trying to achieve.  Click here to set your pledges for 2017.

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.

In fact, 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, and you don’t have to do it alone.

You can loose a lot of weight by simply walking.

In fact, advice for those planning on doing 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!

This year we’re planning on doing a local Long Distance Walk as a family. It will be done in sections, and different members of the family will join me for different bits (it can be difficult to fit things into everyone’s diaries!), but it’s a family goal, and we will all benefit from the exercise.  And we’ve already started on one bit of it.

Starting a Hiking Fitness Programme…and sticking to it

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

When you do exercise regularly your body starts to say “Oh, OK. I need to make those muscles better, and think about using some of this fat I’ve stored too.”  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 when you stop the diet, your body puts fat straight back on? If you’ve been dieting hard, when you finish the diet, 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 programme” 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’s applicable 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 yourself up to a few miles, then start taking in some small hills.

Easy does it

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 for a rest if you are finding it tough.

Hiking yourself fit

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 just starting out, begin with smaller walks on flat ground. Then move onto 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 guide book

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

(Walking-books.com have a good selection of walking guides. Check out our review of some great children walking books if you are taking the kids).

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 – and that’s perfectly OK. It’s all about teaching your body to walk efficiently through doing it regularly (and it burns few more calories too).

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

Oh, my aching legs!

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

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

It’s caused by the waste products that your muscles make as they burn energy (and 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 and it doesn’t have to 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, and 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, and the are known as “recovery runs“).

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

So, when planning your own 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 really ache and they feel hard to move, then that’s an indicator that you’ve over done 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, then walking up hills can exercise some of your upper body as well as 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.

Tracking Your Progress

You can buy simple pedometer’s to count your steps. These are simple and you could use one and set a goal of achieving a number of steps per day, increasing it over time.

The problem with these though is that we don’t always exercise with steps that pedometers can pick up.

Modern versions include things like the Fit Bit that will track other movements and even your sleep patterns, and then report it back to you on the Fit Bit website.

What’s great about Fit Bits is you can compare progress with friends and family. A little fun competition can always help with motivation.  If you are the sort of person that does better when exercising (competing) with friends, then you may want to invest in a Fit Bit (view on Amazon here).

Alternatively, you can use one of the many hiking and fitness apps on your phone.

Using map my walk to track progress on hike
One I use is Map My Walk. You can also get Map My Hike, Map My Ride, and Map My Run (it doesn’t matter which one you use, they’re all the same).

get a free app

You can get a free app for your phone (Android and iOS), and if your phone as a GPS receiver, it will track your walk (or run, or cycle, etc.).

If you have your profile set up correctly on their website, then when your phone uploads your results you’ll be able to see how far you’ve walked, how high you climbed, how long you took, and how much effort you spent.

It keeps a history of all of this so you can track your progress over time.

Tip: if you are using this app, then you don’t actually need to be connected to the internet to use, as you can sync the results when you get back home or get access to WiFi, saving you money on Data fees.

Set your family a goal

Could you hike 50 miles in 3 months? How about 500 miles in a year?

Get out there and start walking, then log your miles here on Get Out With The Kids to track your progress.

What are you waiting for?

Map in plastic document wallet
Hopefully, that’s given you a few tools and ideas for getting outside and loosing some weight through hiking.

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

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Gav Grayston
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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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