Strengthen Your Back for the Trail

When it comes to the outdoors, one word you’ve seen me mention time and time again is “preparation.” With some activities, though, this means more than simply packing ahead of time or planning ahead for possible emergencies, and entails conditioning your body to handle such things. Backpacking, for example, is an activity that involves a lot of heavy lifting and puts a lot of strain on your back. If you’re not ready for this, it can wreak havoc on your back. Today, I’ve provided you with a few simple ways to strengthen your back and core for more comfort and less injuries on the trail.

One area that is very vulnerable to twists and strain is your lower back. One way to strengthen this part of your body and prepare your core for unreliable terrain is to perform an exercise called the kneeling halfmoon. Start by kneeling with a 10-pound weight on your right side. Bend at the waist, grab the weight with both hands, lift it above your head with a full extension, then place the weight on your left side and reverse the motion to complete one rep. Do four sets of five reps a few times a week and you’ll find your lower back and core strengthened like never before.

A common problem that inexperienced hikers experience is improper form, such as leaning forward too much, which can quickly lead to aches, pains, and fatigue. Performing loaded step-ups is a great way to fix this and it also does a good job of improving cardio fitness. First, load a pack with 15 to 20 pounds. Then, step onto a 15-inch bench, making sure to fully extend your leg and hip as you stand. After, step down and repeat the move with the opposite leg. Do this for 30-minutes a few times each week and not only will your back become stronger, but your cardio capabilities will improve, as well.

This last exercise doesn’t require weights or equipment, but is amazing at quickly strengthening your muscles for carrying a loaded pack. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and lean forward from your hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while extending your rear backward and your torso forward. While in this pose, hold each of the following positions for 15 to 25 seconds: arms extended behind you, arms along your torso, arms raised above your head, and hands on your knees. Repeat four sets a few times each week.

I prepared for a week of backpacking in the Bruce Peninsula by performing the exercises listed above, as well as a few others, and I could really see a difference in my body’s ability to handle the strain that backpacking puts on it. Prepare for your next outing by doing the same and you’ll find that you’re more capable of handling the uneven terrain of the trails and the heavy weight of a full pack.