If you're looking for tips on how to train effectively for your hikes, then single leg exercises NEED to be a part of your programming! First of all, let me say that not all hikes are created equally. If you're from flat parts of the country at low altitude, you may be thinking "Okay but hiking is just walking". However if you live in mountainous regions with intense inclines, technical scrambles, or do any sort of long-distance backpacking, you know hiking can be far more than just walking! These training tips are for the more challenging summits and long, strenuous hikes that you may find yourself on. And if you're like me, you never want to feel physically held back from completing your bucket list hikes, right?!
That's why it is so crucial to actually physically train with your hiking goals in mind. Not only is this an excellent motivator to lace up your shoes and stick with a routine, but it also can make a world of difference to truly prepare you for your outdoor adventures. So why single leg exercises? Simply put, walking/hiking/movement in general IS at its core, a single leg exercise. Anytime you take a step you are relying momentarily on that one leg to move you forward and hold up your bodyweight. But add in steep terrain, massive boulders, unsteady ground, and miles on miles, and it becomes a whole different ball game. Suddenly moving forward one leg at a time becomes a bit trickier and less stable. This requires your legs to exert more power per step, with the stability necessary to keep you upright. Plus the muscular endurance to keep doing that over and over, sometimes for hours (or days!). So I want to highlight 5 simple, bodyweight unilateral (single leg) exercises that you can start doing TODAY.
5 BODYWEIGHT UNILATERAL EXERCISES
Starting with both feet on a sturdy box, step or platform, take one leg and cross slightly behind the planted leg (that is still up on the box), lowering down to the floor. Lightly tap the floor and stand back up in the starting position, with both feet next to each other. The emphasis should be on the TOP leg, rather than the moving leg. Complete 8-12 reps per leg, 3 times through.
2. Side facing step-downs
Starting by standing on a study box, step or platform, turn to face the side. Keeping your inside foot planted firmly and the weight back in your heel, lower your outside leg to the ground and lightly tap your heel. As you lower, imagine sitting back into a chair. Try to place most of your bodyweight in your top, planted leg. Complete 8-12 reps per leg, 3 times through.
3. Bulgarian split squat to deadlift
Standing in front of a box, step or platform, take one foot and place it behind you on said platform. Then adjust your front foot to ensure as you lower down, your heel does not lift off the ground. The distance will be different for everyone depending on leg length. Keeping your chest tall, bend both knees to lower your back knee as close to the ground as possible. Stand back up to starting position, then lower down allowing your chest to fall and keeping both legs straight. You are alternating between bent and straight leg split squats, thus targeting both the quads and the hamstrings. If using a dumbbell, just let it hang down on the side opposite of your front leg. Complete 8-12 reps per leg, 3 times through.
4. Reverse lunge
This one is the most simple! You will start in a standing position, and keeping the chest tall, take a big step back with one leg. Allow both knees to bend as you try to lower the back knee all the way to the ground. Place all of your bodyweight in your planted front leg. Complete 8-12 reps per leg, 3 times through.
5. Single leg deadlift
Working on single leg/ankle stability and balance with this one! Placing all of your weight in one leg, keep both legs mostly straight (just a slight bend in the knees) as you float the other leg behind you. Your chest will fall forward as you aim to make a "capital T" with your body (back foot parallel with the head). Be sure to only bring your hand/dumbbell down to about mid-shin height so that you don't put excessive strain on the low back. Keep the core tight and complete 8-12 reps per leg, 3 times through.
Let me know in the comments if this is helpful! Keep putting in the work + you WILL see the benefits on the trails, in your confidence and in everyday life.