Fitness and Performance

Conditioning for Hikers

Oct 29 2018

If you’re a keen hiker then you’ll know that to cover the distance you want to on your favourite hikes, endurance and stamina are key. In this blog our Bodyset physiotherapist Omkar looks at how to condition your body to build the endurance and stamina you need. By combining this training with his advice on strengthening, recovery, flexibility and stretching, you’ll be whizzing up those hills in no time at all.

Before we start, let’s take a quick look at the distances you need to cover to bag the most popular mountain hikes in the UK:

  • Ben Nevis, Fort William, Scotland. 11 miles with 1352m of ascent – up to 6 hours of hiking.
  • Scafell Pike, Lake District, Cumbria. Various routes from 5 to 12 miles with a minimum ascent of 900m – 4 hours minimum walking time.
  • Snowdon, North Wales. Various routes covering 8 to 12 miles with a minimum ascent of 900m.

Endurance is important for you to negotiate these long distances while hiking and walking around the UK. As well as working on building strength, it’s vital that hikers condition themselves to walk with backpacks and winter gear; even in June, the top of Ben Nevis can be covered with snow.

Here are my favourite exercises for endurance which you can do in the gym.

Treadmill walking/running

  • This is an activity in the gym which comes close to hiking.
  • Start by training slowly with a low speed and low distance and gradually increase the speed and duration at the rate of up to 10% per week.

As you progress and get stronger, you can try increasing the gradient of the treadmill.


  • This is a non-weight bearing activity which is very effective in improving both cardiovascular fitness and metabolic conditioning.
  • As you develop, increase the resistance of the trainer and the duration of your workout.


  • A super, non-weight-bearing exercise for conditioning.
  • Over the course of your training, increase the resistance of the machine and the duration of your sessions.

The most important aspect when it comes to conditioning…

Ask any hiker and they will tell you that nothing beats getting outdoors and doing more hiking. You can try your best to build your muscles in the gym but there is no substitute for the real thing.

Walking outside offers more challenges for your proprioception (the neural-muscular response to outdoor stimuli such as a rocky or uneven terrain) which keeps your brain engaged in the workout. Gym machines do not engage the brain’s sensory receptors as completely as outdoor walking and, in addition, do not offer any air resistance which can increase the difficulty of your walk or run. So, we recommend that you make time to get out and about and train incrementally in the great outdoors.

The best way to train outdoors is by planning your walks. Begin slowly and steadily over flat terrain and build up your training. Why not start with your local park or local walks in the countryside or town? iOS Maps have a great app for smartphones which lets you plan your routes and gradually increase the distance and challenge of your walks.

Here is my personal training plan which prepared me for walking up to eleven hours per day, covering distances of up to 24 miles.

  • Start by walking for 20 minutes, three days a week.
  • Incorporate a long walk over the weekend; up to five miles for the first three weeks, preferably over flat gradients of no more than 250m.
  • Increase your weekend walking distance to about eight miles for the next two weeks without increasing the gradient.
  • Improve your walking distance during the week gradually.
  • Increase the walking gradient to 500 m the following week.
  • Increase your walking volume every two weeks by 15% and the gradient by 250m, every three weeks.

Set yourself a challenge…

Periodically motivate yourself by climbing the highest hill in your region. Whilst doing my training in Peak District, I used to climb Kinder Scout (the highest point in the Peaks) or Scafell Pike in the Lake District once every two months as my long walk.

Remember to vary your training…

Each area of England has different challenges and varied scenery to keep you interested:

  • Mountain walking requires continual ascent and descent.
  • Walking…
    • …in farmland requires continual checking so that you don’t end up being attacked by a bull in the corner of the field.
    • …over edges (Rushup Edge in Peaks, Striding Edge in the Lake District) can be technical, especially in wet or windy weather.
    • …on coastal paths has a lot of short ascents and descents.

Do you feel you have some of these issues? Why not consult a physiotherapist? A physiotherapist may be able to assess and evaluate your biomechanics, prescribe you an exercise programme, prolong your walking mileage and walking years without any hiccups.