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I used to hate working out. I would trudge away on the elliptical watching the minutes slowly decrease until I hit a specific number of calories burned (yup, seriously). As enticing as that workout sounds, I was never able to keep up a consistent workout routine. I thought sheer boredom was part of the struggle of being fit and continued to force myself to hit the gym.
It wasn't until I discovered ClassPass a few years later that I really started to enjoy attending fitness classes like yoga and Pilates, both of which were definitely more my speed. But as challenging as those workouts are, I still found myself craving a cardio workout that would get my heart rate up and help me break a sweat.
So when my college roommate suggested going on a hike instead of working out at the fitness center, I said yes. After reaching the mountain peak that first time, looking down at all that we had accomplished (and taking lots of pics, of course), I was officially hooked. Moving to California a few years later allowed me to frequent hiking trails on a regular basis, and it quickly became integrated into my weekly workout routine.
Not only have I found a workout I actually can stand doing, but hiking is also really, really good for you. Here are a few reasons why you should add it to your routine, according to personal trainers. Don't live near a hiking trail? No problem. Keep scrolling to the end for some ways to reap the same health benefits at home.
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Celeb trainer Patrick Murphy (who helps stars like Ruby Rose and Zac Efron get into shape) applauds the benefits of moving your workout outside: "Working out outdoors can be super beneficial. For me, it’s the ultimate mood booster! Contrary to the normal 'stay out of the sun' advice, I make sure to get 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight on my body while accomplishing hikes. Vitamin D absorption aids in immunity, gut health, and mood-boosting hormones. Get outside!"
Having to adapt to different terrains is also an added challenge when exercising outdoors. As Carrie Underwood's personal trainer Erin Oprea tells us, "Hilly terrain works the booty, core, calves, and legs. Working out in the sand makes everything just a bit harder making you dig deeper for the same old moves and hot and muggy weather tests your cardio and endurance." Of course, don't forget to stay hydrated, and wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from getting too much sun.
WundaBar founder Amy Jordan gave us this very motivating statistic: "If you're looking to burn calories hiking can do that at a rate of 400+ burned per hour." And from personal experience, an hour (or more!) truly flies by when you have your eyes set on a specific destination.
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One of the reasons I love dabbling in several fitness classes is to prevent myself from becoming bored—and I'm not just talking about mentally. Shaking up my workout routines keeps me from becoming too comfortable with a particular workout and helps me stay challenged. Since you can always take different hiking trails or adjust your speed, hiking is an easy way to keep getting results.
"Our bodies can plateau if we don't change our approach to movement—hiking in different terrains keeps your body guessing and away from using rote muscle memory. Changing things like the terrain you hike on is a great way to keep results coming as you challenge muscles from different angles and varying intensity levels through the workout," says Jordan.
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That post-hike muscle soreness is enough to convince me that hiking is definitely more than just a cardio workout, and Jordan confirmed that hunch. Don't count on seeing calve muscles and tightened glutes overnight, however. "Steep terrain can assist in building muscle, but it takes a lot of hiking to achieve sincere changes to muscle mass in the body," she adds.
If you want to add some toning moves to amplify your hike and make it a full-body workout, Patrick suggests interval training. "I sometimes hike moderately for 15 minutes, stop to perform a circuit of power moves (e.g., 20 jump lunges, 20 ice skaters, 20 squat hops) two times, continue for another 15 minutes, and then repeat the circuit."
You can also give your body a cardio break once reaching the top with a Pilates sequence. "I often add a plank series if a bench or log are nearby, or even flat on the ground will work!" Jordan notes. "To condition your knees and core, I also recommend squats at the top of the climb before descending—keep your knee aligned with big toe/second toe, and allow the knee to come in front of the ankle as you squat. To engage your core, bend your knees as far as you can before lowering your height—your low belly will light up immediately."
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Don't live near a hiking trail, or bad weather preventing you from heading outside? You can still get similar results by heading to your gym and hacking your treadmill. Play around with different intervals to give you that "climbing" effect and help train your body for your next road trip. REI has some great example programs you can test out for free here.
A parting piece of advice via Oprea: "Hiking is great for building the booty, so make sure you hold it tight as you push up those hills. Keep yourself tall and engage your core for a little extra toning and to help work on that posture."