5 Easy Core Exercises For Hiking

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While hiking provides a ton of health benefits, doing it alone isn’t enough to strengthen the core. And a weak core can cause a lot of problems if you’re trying to climb steep peaks, hills, and uneven terrain. In this article we are going to cover what are the best core exercises for hiking. In addition to providing a sample core workout for hikers that way you can get started.

Having a strong core is important in supporting the spine, reducing fatigue, and injury prevention of the back and knees. During a hike the core is constantly being challenged during unstable terrain, elevation, and carrying loads for extended amounts of time. 

When we hike the core provides stability for all our uneven steps. Overtime, a weak core can cause weakness and pain. According to this article long term core strengthening was found to be important for reducing back and knee injury which are both prevalent in hikers

Now most hikers know that doing exercises for the core are important. However, most are doing the wrong types of exercises. Majority of core routines found suggest doing tons of sit ups or crunches and that’s it. Well, that’s not the best way to approach your training. To get the best results, a hiker should be doing anti movement exercises. 

The days of old traditional exercises like sit ups, crunches, and Russian twists are overrated. They focus on creating movement in the spine. While anti movements focus on preventing motion at the hips and spine. Research has found that the natural role of our core is to resist movement, not create it. Keep reading on to learn what the best core exercises for hiking are.

The Best Types of Core Exercises

The best core exercises can generally be grouped into one of three anti movement categories. 

The main three would include anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion. Though some exercises may easily fall into two of these categories. Next, we’re going to dive in and discuss how these movements are important for building a sturdy functional core. 

Anti-Extension Exercises

These exercises refer to the spine, extension of the spine occurs when the back moves backwards or arches. This can also happen when the hips drop forward towards the ground like in the plank exercise. 

Overall, anti extension exercises are usually great at engaging the transverse abdominals. The transverse abdominals are the deep core muscles important for keeping your stomach flat and preventing excess motion.

Great exercises for hikers that challenge anti extension. Would be exercises like the dead bug and front planks. 

Anti-Rotation Exercises

Anti-rotation exercises train the hips and spine to resist rotation or tipping over. Having good rotation is super important for many activities especially for hiking. 

The following exercises are fantastic for challenging anti rotation. The exercises are listed in progressing difficulty: Bird dog and pallof press.

Anti-Lateral Flexion Exercises

For hikers anti lateral flexion exercises are highly important. Many times a hiker will have to resist side to side movements when walking on uneven terrain and carrying a heavy backpack. 

Anti-lateral flexion movements challenge the obliques and quadratus lumborum (QL). The QL muscle is an underappreciated muscle however, it has a big job. It is mostly responsible for controlling your body during a single stepping motion. It’s the big reason you don’t fall over when you walk so make sure to say “thanks!” to the QL.

To train anti lateral flexion you must learn to resist bending to the side. The best basic exercise for this is the side plank and the unilateral weighted suitcase carry. 

The Best Core Exercises for Hiking 

In this core workout for hikers, I recommend doing one to three sets of the exercises. This routine typically takes about 7 – 21 minutes depending on how many sets you do. 

I do recommend that you gradually try to either increase the length of the core workout or the difficulty of exercises. This is called progressive overload or simply getting stronger over time. So start at 7 minutes and build to 21 minutes. 

But, if you’re short on time just do 7 minutes of core work. The cool thing is that even after a short session of core isometrics there are immediate benefits as shown in this article

Core Workout For Hikers

Dead Bug (30- 60 seconds)

To complete the dead bug start by lying on your back, make sure to keep the back in a neutral position. Next, position the arms straight over your chest and then bend the knees in 90 degree position. 

Most importantly engage the core by bracing it like you would block a punch. Following that begin to slowly alternate the extended arm and opposite leg, be sure to continue to breathe and resist any compensatory movements. 

Side Plank (30 – 60 seconds) 

Start off by lying on your side, bring one foot slightly in front of the other. Then, place the forearm on the ground, to support your body, and bring the hips up from the ground. The goal is to try and keep the body in a straight line without any sagging at the hips. 

When starting off, it may be easier to bend the knees for the side plank. Then to make it gradually more challenging straighten the legs out and maintain good form.

Bird Dog (5 reps, 10 second holds)

The bird dog is one of the best back and core exercises, yes even better than the overrated superman exercise. In fact if you are still doing the superman exercise you may be hurting your back…This article found the bird dog to be more effective and safer for strengthening the back muscles than the superman.

To complete the bird dog start on all fours, Simultaneously extend the right arm forward and your left leg back, while stabilizing on the two stationary limbs. Tighten the core as if you are bracing a punch and continue to alternate for reps. 

Glute Clamshell (12-15 reps) 

For the glute clamshell start this exercise by lying on your side. Bend your knees in about a 45 degree angle and lay your legs over one another. Next, open your legs and close them similar to that of opening and closing a clam. Be sure to not arch you back, and you don’t have to open all the way up. Comfortably open and close and make sure you feel the glutes working. 

Glute Bridge (12-15 reps, 1-2 second squeeze)

Okay, to start a glute bridge start by lying flat on your back with hands down by your side. Keep the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You may play with the position of your feet by putting more weight on your heels or your toes or just keeping the feet flat. Next, push up against the ground with your feet to bring your hips up off the ground into a bridge position. Really emphasize squeezing the glutes and try to keep the back in a straight line path. 

Common Questions About Core Training

How do you engage the core? 

When engaging the core you should be bracing it like you would be blocking a punch. One way to prime your mind and body for engaging the core is a simple activity. Lay down on a flat surface and place a hand on your stomach. Inhale air and then slowly exhale all the air. When you exhale the air your abdominals should naturally brace. That is what it should feel like to generally brace the core during core training. 

When should I train? 

The best time to train is what works best for your schedule. My preference is to use these core exercises as a warm up prior to strength training. This works great for me now and I am able to at a minimum get in at least 3-4 core workouts a week. In the past I used to do my core training in the morning after about an hour of waking up and it became a part of my morning routine. 

The best advice I can give is to find and do what works best for you. Example: If you’re a busy mom. Do the core training when the baby sleeps or when you have time. If you’re short on time just do a single circuit. Something is always better than nothing. 

Last Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has provided you new information on the benefits of core exercises for hiking and why they are essential to hikers and really anyone. There are many more core exercises around. But, these basic exercises are a fantastic starting point. 

If you found this helpful leave a comment down below. If you think someone else would find it helpful, share it. Have any questions about these core exercises for hiking, as always feel free to ask in the comments down below.

Editor note: This post was originally published May 5, 2022 and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness

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