Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

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nikorock28
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Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 2:02 pm

For any of you gym peeps out there, do you find it difficult to balance your hiking along with your strength training workouts? My background is as a gym rat and I primarily got into hiking for the cardiovascular benefits. I have found that pushing hard on high grade trails has done more for my cardio than anything I ever attempted in the gym. I say attempted because I was never able to continue my cardio day in the gym for more than a few weeks at a time.

Anyways, since I started hiking in 2010, it has been a continual challenge to balance gym workouts with hiking and vice a versa. I would like to be well rounded and find it hard to improve in all the various facets of hiking... fast on short Squaw Peak type hikes, maintain a fast pace on moderate type hikes and have endurance to complete long, death marches... while still maintaining/gaining strength, particularly in the upper body (since hiking does little, if anything, for those muscle groups). I find it difficult to train for all the above, and long hikes have assumed the lowest priority. But, I would like to have the ability to knock out a rim to rim or any other 20 miler and not extremely slow like I typically do on longer hikes. However, in order to train for such length hikes, I find it impossible to not neglect shorter, push 100% ones, along with a much decreased volume in strength building exercises. How do you guys and girls reconcile the varied goals?

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LindaAnn
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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by LindaAnn » Oct 28 2015 3:44 pm

It's interesting, I've had this same conversation with three different people recently, and the general consensus every time was that unless you have an endless amount of time to devote to exercise, you pretty much have to pick one over the other.

Personally, I focus on longer hikes and endurance (although I"m not super fast), with very little strength training. Being a woman, upper body strength isn't much of a priority, and I only get 30-60 minutes per week of working out with weights. If I wanted more, I'd probably have to give up some hiking or time on the treadmill.

My husband is the opposite. Just from a pure weightlifting standpoint, he's one of the strongest people I know; but anything longer than a 4-5 mile hike, and he's accusing me of trying to kill him. On the occasions he tries to focus more on cardio, he says his weight lifting suffers.

I have a friend who spends hours at the gym everyday, and also has the time for plenty of cardio; he's much faster than me on a super short hike (Squaw Peak or Camelback), but even on a hike approaching 8-10 miles, he starts to lag behind me. Even with all the time he has, he feels like one thing has to take priority over the other.

So, I'd love to hear suggestions from anyone who's able to successfully balance everything!

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by SpiderLegs » Oct 28 2015 5:16 pm

This is a topic near and dear to me. I used to go Jackson WY for work a few times a year and whenever I did I made sure to catch a gym session or two at Mountain Athlete. The gym started out as a place to train "blue collar" athletes that lived in Jackson, people who are mountain guides, ski patrol, forest firefighters, climbers and the like. If these people are injured, they can't work and earn a paycheck. So it was a great combination of strength work, endurance work and mobility. I could write a book on this, so will try to keep this brief.

Personally what I try to do is carve out a couple of 6 week periods every year where I focus on heavy lifting in the gym. Do something like "Starting Strength" or another basic lifting plan. Focus on the big lifts like squats, deadlifts and presses (bench and military). This adds around 10-12 pounds on my normally skinny frame. I've found this comes in handy for that yearly big fall I take while hiking or running. Have gotten bruised and bloody, but never broke or tore anything. During this time I cut back on mid-week hikes and runs.

Then for maintenance work the rest of the year I have a set of kettlebells that I keep at home. Do a bunch of kettlebell swings, presses, Turkish Get Ups and other exercises. Plus have a pullup bar to do pullups, do some pushups and I can maintain quite a bit of the strength I got from the gym.

I used to overthink things, but after much trial and error this seems to work best for my hiking and trail running.
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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 5:44 pm

Great post Linda! Thanks for sharing all that information. Everything you stated I can personally relate to and it is exactly how I feel. Even with an endless amount of time, one still requires downtime to recover and recuperate. This is especially important when it comes to strength training, because you gain strength during the recovery period, not during the actual exercise. Overtraining will definitely hurt your progress.

I used to do squats and deadlifts, but have scratched those since I started hiking (and due to injury as well). It is just really hard to hike when you need multiple days to recover from intense lifting. Forget about pushing (on short hikes) to the point where you have to sit down (or hands on the knees) because your legs will fatigue far before you ever are breathing heavy. So, I have held back on the intense lower body lifting and mostly do back extensions, body weight squats, static wall holds and leg extensions. They keep my legs with decent strength, but I am sure I don't have the power I used to. Upper body work is easier to maintain, but you still need the energy to do the work and the time to recover.

Weekends are truly the only days where I feel "fresh" for quality workouts (I do what I can during the work week) with proper amount of rest, pre and post workout meals, etc. and it is a constant dilemma if I want to focus those precious days on improving my strength, improving my time on a short, steep hike or gaining endurance for a longer hike. I've hit the point where I have improved in everything, but usually one thing suffers over the other (I let my distance hiking suffer).

I guess it is the classic debate between the sprinter and the marathon runner. Now, unless you are a genetic freak that can bench 300, squat 4, deadlift 5, run a sub 18:00 5K and sub 3 hr marathon, I think most of us normal folk need to focus on one thing over the other. But, I just want to be as well rounded as I can be and will keep working towards it. For me, it doesn't make sense to be strong, but not be able to walk 10 miles just as it doesn't make sense to run a marathon, yet you can't even do a simple pull up or bench press your body weight. It also doesn't make sense to be able to hike for long lengths or alternatively bench press twice your body weight, yet struggle up a Squaw Peak. That is how I see things for me, anyhow.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 6:00 pm

Great thoughts Spider. I like the idea on focusing on the heavy lifting for a period of time, then coming back to it later. Even though you will lose when you switch over to the hiking/running, your body will remember the next time you go back to it. I have found it works the same way when you de-emphasize the cardio; your body will remember.

I think about this stuff a lot and have tried various methods. Even if I don't do my short, push hikes for a few weeks or so, even just doing some super sets in the gym that shoot my heart rate through the roof, will dramatically improve what I am able to maintain once I get back on the trail. As for longer hikes, I have found that since I maintain upper body strength, I simply use a hiking pole for anything over 10 miles and that helps alleviate the endurance factor on my legs, even if I haven't hiked that length for some time.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by The_N » Oct 28 2015 6:09 pm

I used to feel the same pressure to balance lifting and hiking. Now I just make sure I'm doing at least one of em per day and I'm happy. Leg day mid week so I have plenty of time to recover before weekend hikes. I've gained 20lbs of lean mass in the last year but now my dilemma is this...what are the long term effects on my knees? Adding weight, even though it's muscle, and then hiking regularly might not be best idea for my knees.
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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 6:51 pm

Leg day mid week is a good strategy. Since hiking, I have also switched to full bodies instead of split routines and have dumped a lot of isolation exercises, such as bicep curls, tricep extensions and the like. i like to do conpound movements, which seem to work better for my hikes. i dont destroy any one body part or muscle group, so mever really get sore. I also like to break it up between weights, body weight exercises and static holds. All these things have seemed to help when i get oit there for my hikes. Don't you have rest days?1

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 6:56 pm

Yes, good point on the added mass affecting your knees. It would suck not being able to exercise in your latter yrs or preventing you from doing activities you enjoy.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by rcorfman » Oct 28 2015 7:05 pm

So what do you need all the strength for? Beyond basic core strength and fitness, why bother? Maybe if you want an edge for picking up babes at the bar I can see it, but beyond that why? Does your job require it? Does any other activities you like to do need it? If not, then why bother with all the strength?
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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by SpiderLegs » Oct 28 2015 7:38 pm

When I trained at Mountain Athlete his base strength goals for people that are doing outdoor pursuits are this: 1X bodyweight bench press, 1.5X bodyweight back squat and a 2X bodyweight deadlift. Any more than that and you are carrying too much weight around. So for me that ends up being a 180 lb bench press, a 250 lb back squat and about 270 lbs for the deadlift (I'm really tall and lanky, just can't deadlift for some reason). I also used to race bicycles in college and learned that it is all about power to weight ratio. You want to be as strong as possible and as skinny as possible.

Plus the other thing that nobody talks about is once you hit 30 years of age or so, you lose 1% of your muscle mass every year. By the time you are 50, that's almost 20% of your muscles. You need to lift in order to counteract what your body naturally is losing. The other thing is that lifting, especially squats and deadlifts increases your body's testosterone, which is helpful for a number of other activities.
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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 8:04 pm

Unless you are a power lifter, a 270 pound deadlift is solid. I think twice your bodyweight is rather ambitious and more difficult to achieve than the 1.5 squat and much more difficult than the body weight bench. that being said, I am curious as to why the coach stated any more than that and the person is carrying too much weight around. did he believe the "athletes" could lose some of the extra muscle mass and thus improve their outdoor performance?

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by big_load » Oct 28 2015 8:06 pm

I find balancing fairly easy. I work through three lifting cycles every 6-9 days. Usually hiking is a cardio-only day that fits naturally into the cycle or is accommodated by shifting the cycle a day earlier or later. Back-to-back hiking days tend to shift the cycle a day later. Backpacking trips more than two days are a true interruption.

What I find to be a bigger challenge is working legs within my cardio schedule. I usually do legs immediately after 7-9 miles of cardio, which I admit taxes my gumption. Sometimes I skip a leg workout when I do my big hill repeat workout, since there's so much overlap.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 8:13 pm

That is my goal, to be as light as possible and as strong as possible. UnfOrtunately for me, the as light as possible hasn't been achieved yet as I am about 8 lbs heavier than when I started hiking. I weigh more, but I am also faster, more agile, and with much better cardio. I don't want to lose any strength, so working my weight back down will be a process.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 8:20 pm

@big_load
If you only have one cardio only day, it is impossible to train for endurance and also train for that all out, break 20 mins up squaw peak prowess. Since your cardio is 7 to 9 miles, you are more on the enduranice end of the spectrum. Also, as you noted, leg day is strength training, and the most difficult thing to get in if you hike also.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by LindaAnn » Oct 28 2015 8:35 pm

I like SpiderLegs' kettlebell suggestion. I've been using kettlebells since 2009 and love them. They can be great way to maintain strength while focusing on other things, and they are quite effective with minimal time requirements. Plus the convenience factor is a big point in their favor.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 8:45 pm

@lindaagm
Having the ability to do things from home is a huge benefit. I purchased a pull up bar last year and my back and arm strengtg have dramatically increased just from doing extra sets when I feel like it. One set Here, another set there makes a huge difference. I think I will look into kettlebells. Anything I can do from home will be great, especially since we are headed to winter Herr and it is more effort to get out.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by nikorock28 » Oct 28 2015 9:09 pm

@rcorfman
Yes, I often go bar hopping here at the plethora of establishments at the South Rim. I especially enjoy frequenting the joints in the dead of winter. I wear tank tops and flex my pectorals, which have been built from all that bench pressing. The female Australian tourists seem to dig it. That is why I strength train.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by friendofThundergod » Oct 28 2015 9:37 pm

@nikorock28
@lindaagm
unless you have an endless amount of time to devote to exercise, you pretty much have to pick one over the other
That quote sums it up. I am certainly not the authority, but I think I do relatively well with both weight training and hiking. But its a major commitment. For example, I have hiked 1300 miles this year, but I can honestly say other than backpacking trips I have still gone to the gym at least five days every week consistently. In fact, I still enjoy working out nearly as much as hiking. But I don't really hike to workout if that makes sense. I like the workout, but that is rarely the objective. I often get harassed for going to the gym Sunday after a backpacking trip, or day hike, or for choosing the gym over Boulders, but I think those are the habits one needs to keep if looking for substantial gains in areas related to weight lifting. I can devote an endless amount of time to exercise because I coach. Some weekdays of mine go like this: gym with team in morning before school, practice for two hours and then LA Fitness, with a lot of eating in between ;)

Spiderlegs offers some great tips and points in my opinion. But, don't worry about a little extra mass impacting knees. If the extra mass is good lean muscle and you are training properly, your legs will also grow and strengthen along with upper body. There is a big differences between putting on five pounds of muscle and putting on five lbs of fat. I lift for strength and size all the time and do just fine, I think the hiking just keeps me lean which is nice, but I still feel strong, usually rep around 225 for bench and might on occasion go up to 275 or so for squats. But I will admit I do legs every other week now, because they are hard to plan around hikes and they immobilize me for a day or two. lol Also don't forget the body is built in the kitchen not the gym, that could explain the additional 8 pounds gained. You can keep working out at home with the pull-up bars, maybe do the kettlball suggestion etc and prob notice some nice gains in strength for sure. But if you feel you need more substantial gains or more strength, you might think about a more traditional gym and more time in the gym. The hiking will ultimately just complement all that hard work you are putting in elsewhere and I think you will be happy with the results.

Don't stress about if a 20 mile hike is better for your gym routine or physique than a ten mile hike, just lift hard and eat well the next day :)

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by Jim_H » Oct 28 2015 9:44 pm

God, and to think that I went hiking for the enjoyment.
Nothing more enjoyable than a good hike out of town.

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Re: Balancing Hiking with Strength Training

Post by big_load » Oct 28 2015 9:51 pm

Jim_H wrote:God, and to think that I went hiking for the enjoyment.
:lol:

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