Hiking can build muscle, mostly in the legs and back. While it won’t make you the biggest guy or gal on the block, it’s a great workout, especially for cardio.
Let’s hop into the specifics and how you can build some muscle from your time on the trail!
How muscles grow and how it applies to hiking
Muscles grow stronger by tearing the muscle fibers down a bit, then are repaired by your body when you’re resting. This is a basic way of explaining hypertrophy.
Now for your body to repair those muscle tissues efficiently, you need to have adequate resources for it to do so, namely protein. You don’t have to eat a ton of it, and a balanced diet goes a long way to providing the other nutrients you’ll need.
When you first start hiking, you may even put on a little bit of muscle without trying. However, once you get past a basic level, you’ll want to keep in mind how many calories you’re eating too. Hiking can burn a lot of calories, and if you’re not in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn) that will affect muscle growth.
There’s a reason that people tend to lose a lot of weight on long thru-hikes!
Which muscles are used for hiking?
Your calf muscles will get a lot of work supporting your ankles, ascending, and descending terrain. Even the flattest paths have some points of elevation!
Leading up from those muscles, your hamstrings and quadriceps will help with the same things. However, they’ll acting as support for your knees. A great example of these muscles in use is when you’re carrying some weight in a backpack.
Lastly, your glutes will act as stabilizers and further support for ascending / descending hills.
For all the details, the anatomy shown on the right includes all the little muscles within these groups. It’s more than I had intended to show, but it was the best image for this article.
While hiking may engage your core a bit (abs, back) – it’s less likely to see as much muscle change here.
Is it worth training for hiking?
Absolutely! I’ve written about training for hiking, but to sum it up: you will definitely benefit from any kind of preparation you do. Whether that’s in the gym, at home doing yoga, or just jogging. While hiking will hit the lower body muscles the most, it’s still a full body exercise.
I can tell a noticeable difference in my hiking performance just from regular calisthenics work that I do. Not only does it make ascending difficult trails easier, it helps with my endurance. If you’re interested in hiking for fitness, make sure you choose trails that seem easier than necessary to begin.
I’ve underestimated trail difficulty in the past and it’s not the most enjoyable time!
You’re ready to get your hike on
So the answer is that hiking does build muscle and can help you build legs of steel. However, there’s way more to the health benefits of hiking than just muscle growth. The boosts to your mental health and cardio are enormous!
Hiking is one of the best exercises out there, even if it’s not really meant for building muscle all over. There’s always alternatives for that though.
By taking a holistic approach to training, you can take your hiking to new levels!