9 Fantastic Backpacking Cross-training Exercises!

August 18, 2016

Upon preparing for a recent backpacking trip to the Chicago Basin area in Colorado and then also a trip to the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness area in Oregon I had a client ask (in reference to backpacking…) “How do you do this and not get hurt?” This is a VERY good question and one that I answered with, “Backpacking Cross-training, gentle progressions towards the final goal, and practicing with your gear.” This article will go into backpacking cross-training detail and share 9 fantastic exercises I have used to get me backpacking ready!

My desire to remain outdoor adventure ready is one of the main reasons I stay committed to a fitness routine at Portland TEAM Fitness. I want to be able to hike mountains, run trails, play on a paddle board, carry a 40lb. backpack, and crawl under and over the wilderness with confidence. I want to do it all AND I want to remain injury free with a smile on my face (90% of the time….)

There are 9 exercises shown in the PTF Backpacking Cross-training Workout Video below. These movements were chosen to train the body in all 3 planes of motion, and bring strength and stability to the hips, knees and ankles. These exercises were also  picked to get the body ready to stabilize against unpredictable loads and uneven terrain.  Please read on for descriptions of the movements. Your goal is to work up to 3 rounds of 1:00 of all of the backpacking cross-training exercises shown. Some movements will occur on the right leg as well as the left leg. Be sure to do even and/or equal reps/time of each. Begin by completing one minute of all of the exercises shown (1:00 on BOTH right and left side of the body) and work up to doing 3 rounds of the 9 exercises for a minute each exercise! If this is the first time you have tried the exercises do a warm-up round with low weights to get your form down, and then increase your weight on the next two rounds. If you are at home, you can use the distance of two stairs for your step up, and you can do donkey kicks over a coffee table, ottoman, or simply keep your hands on the floor and jump your feet up and over an object to give you the sensation of getting up and over something.

Exercise #1 Cross-Over Step Up
Grab weights (or no weights if you are starting out) and stand to the side of the bench, feet parallel and pointing forwards. If your right shoulder is to the bench step up and over with your left leg keeping your feet pointing forwards. Drive your heel down and squeeze from your glutes to complete the step up. At the top make sure both feet connect with the bench. Step in back of your left leg with the right leg to lower back down to the floor and remove the left leg from the bench. This lateral motion is great for hip mobility and strength.

Exercise #2 Renegade Row to Push Up
You need a strong upper body and core for lugging that backpack around and we picked the renegade row push up because it blends both pulling muscles and pushing and core muscles into one fantastic exercise. Assume a plank position with feet slightly wider than hip distance. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and engage the core by flexing your abs and also pulling your hands towards toes. Row one weight towards your hip, replace it slowly. Row the other weight, replace it slowly and then complete a push up.

Exercise #3 Under Over Over Under
Whether you start with an over or an under, this exercise is great because you certainly will duck under and step over items in the wilderness. Making sure your hips can handle the motion is ideal for injury prevention and if you find yourself needing or wanting extraw focus on hip mobility you should check out Hip Neutral by Trainer John Lindala. The over under is one of his favorite training moves! Begin about 2 feet from the bench and hold a weight up in front of you. If your right shoulder is to the side of the bench, step your right leg out and squat down as if you are ducking under something. As you stand bring your feet together. Now that you are next to the bench take your right leg up and over the bench and have your left leg follow. Take another step squatting down and to the right and have the left leg meet the right leg again. Repeat this going to the left. Keep your torso lifted as you squat down and also as you lift your leg up and over. If you struggle with

Exercise #4 Kneeling to Stand with One Weight Overhead
In backpacking I find that I am constantly kneeling down to tie a shoe, pick something up, and when I stand back up one of my legs is truly doing 95% of the work to help me stand. For backpacking cross-training this exercise will prep your body to be able to stand from only one leg if needed, and it will load the body asymmetrically which also occurs if your pack is not evenly packed. Begin in a standing position and hold one weight overhead. If the weight is in your right hand, kneel down with your right leg first, then bring your left knee down to the ground. From her place your right foot back on the floor and come to a standing position. Keep the weighted arm as vertically extended as possible. Engage your core and use your gluts to stand as well.

Exercise #5 Donkey Kicks
This movement uses the core and gets you comfortable with being a bit air-born, something that might happen if you need to vault yourself over a fallen tree, log or rock.  Place your hands on the bench and step both feet to one side. Press into your hands and jump your feet up and over the bench. Imagine you are doing a crunch as you bring your feet over so that you use your core as well as the upper body and lower body. Land as lightly as possible.

Exercise #6 Lateral Band Walking
The hips and gluts play a huge part in propelling you up a mountain as well as keeping your knees safe on the descents. This exercise will strengthen the hips and gluts. Place the stretchy band (you can get one at Perform Better) at your lower ankle. Keeping tension on the band begin to walk sideways. Keep your toes slightly toed in and maintain tension on the band while you move. Go 30 seconds in one direction then 30 seconds in the other direction.

Exercise #7 Front/Back Lunge over bench (add one weight in one hand)
What I love about this lunge is that you have a little extra height from the bench going forwards into your lunge, than just lunging on the ground can provide. This is great training for the downhill aspect of backpacking. Begin with one foot on the bench. Keeping that foot on the bench, step the other foot over the bench and into a lunge. As soon as you land in your lunge, press yourself back and all the way over the bench so that you are in a lunge position. As soon as you are in THAT lunge press yourself up and over the bench so you are in the front lunge position. Lunge back and forth this way trying not to tap down in the center for greater challenge on your balance. Holding a weight in one hand will also increase core engagement. Make sure that your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes and that the knee does not extend past the tip of the toes on the forward lunge position. It is also VERY important to flex the abs as you push yourself backwards over the bench so that your body is moving as one solid unit and you do not strain your low back.

Exercise #8 Single Leg Eccentric Calf Raises
I often forget this exercise, but it is a great exercise for prevention of lower leg injuries and will help you be stronger at both uphill and downhill hiking. Place your feet at hip distance and position yourself on an edge somewhere you have access to something to hold for balance. Use both legs to lift up and then shift all your weight to one side and slowly lower down on only one leg. Lower below the edge of the ledge. Lift up again using both feet, and lower down again on only one side. Repeat each side. :30-1:00 on each leg. If you have NOT worked these before only complete 1 set the first time you do this, and then increase the next time.

Exercise #9 Vertical Abs Wall Reach and Balance
When people think about training their core, they often think planks and crunches. If you have ever carried a heavy backpack, you know that the force of that pack wants to pull you backwards and that it is your abs that are working so that you don’t topple over. This vertical core drill helps prep your body for the challenge of stabilizing your heavy pack in space. Begin closer to the wall than what is shown here. As you ensure that this feels ok on your low back you can move further away. Balance on one leg by bringing one leg up towards your chest. From here reach both arms up and slowly start to lift up and tilt back trying to tap the wall behind you. Allow your lifted leg to stretch out straight. Be sure that you are not collapsing into the low back, but are lifting up and out of the low back as well as lengthening from the front of the hip of the grounded leg. Return to the starting position and repeat.