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The Top 3 Specific Training Focuses for Winter Hiking

Escape the crowds, stay safe, and enjoy more of the great outdoors on the trails this winter.

BCF client Josh on a winter expedition in New Zealand

1. Aerobic Endurance

What can kill a winter hike just as easily as snowstorms or freezing temps?


Anyone who's done any amount of winter hiking knows it's a constant battle between freezing and sweating. While layering properly and constantly changing clothing is a necessity, control of your heart rate can make a huge difference in how sweaty you get, and how quickly. A hiker with low cardiovascular fitness will need to pump more blood per minute to supply oxygen to their muscles than a fitter hiker, meaning that their effort will reach "sweat level" much faster. Their ability to control and lower the elevated heart rate is also much slower than that of the fit hiker, meaning that once they start sweating, it often doesn't stop. Address this with a strong base of easy, zone 2 heart rate cardio. That means easy to moderate hikes, or moderate walks on an incline treadmill. You can also reach this zone with strength training supersets, or low intensity circuits (not HIIT!)

2. Core Stability

Winter hikes often means more gear, which means a heavier pack. The muscles around your back and core, most notably your transverse abdominals, rectus abdominals, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and obliques, need to take the brunt of the load to reduce stress and strain on your neck, lower back, and pelvis. You can strengthen these muscles with core stability movements, such as the plank or pallof hold, major compound movements such as the deadlift and squat, and by loading other movements in an offset position, such as the offset step up.

3. Lower Body Joint Strength and Stability

Snow and ice come into the mix during many winter hikes, and along with them, microspikes and crampons. I've seen more than one person blow out a knee or suffer a high ankle sprain when their footwear has caught a lip or rock, putting the joints under tremendous force. We can't train to lessen the impact of ice, but we can can lessen the chance of falls and tears by

  • Stability training, especially with the ankle and hip, such as with single leg cone touches and single leg sit to stands.

  • Strengthening around the joint, with a focus on hamstring and adductor/abductor strength. With most people having tight quads and weak hamstrings, leading to higher risk of injury, exercises like hamstring curls, glute bridges, and Copenhagen planks can help balance out the muscles that impact the knee.

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