But, if you’ve considered hiking more of a leisurely activity than a kick-ass workout, you should know that hitting the trails is a worthwhile sweat sesh for your weight-loss plan.
“Hiking is actually considered by many experts to be better for fat burn than other forms of cardiovascular exercise,” says Chuck Pelitera, M.D., C.S.C.S., and assistant professor of kinesiology at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Our bodies are better at using stored fat for energy with activities of high duration and low intensity.
Plus, when you head out on the trail, you’ll have to head back. There’s no hitting the stop button when you want to quit, says Doug Barsanti, C.S.C.S. and owner of ReInvention Fitness in Santa Cruz, California.
Sold? Perfect. Now take a hike with these trainer-approved tips to help you burn more calories.
“By forcing the body to go slowly in a downhill hike, you’ll actually increase caloric burn,” Pelitera says. That’s because walking slower makes your decelerating muscles work harder than if you just cruised through the downhill phase, he says.
When you head back uphill, pick up your pace for a more intense calorie burn, says Pelitera.
Hiking is already a great lower-body workout, but you can turn it into a total-body workout by adding this upper-body move, says Rachel Straub, C.S.C.S. and co-author of Weight Training Without Injury: Over 350 Step-by-Step Pictures Including What Not To Do!
“Sporadically including pushups engages your upper body and core while allowing your lower body to rest,” she says. And even though your legs are getting a break, you’ll amp up your calorie burn overall since you’re engaging more mucles on the trail. If you can’t do traditional pushups, use a bench, table, or rock, says Straub.
Before you make fun of them for looking dorky (we all know they do), you should know that they could be your calorie-torching secret weapons, says Straub. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that trekking poles increased calorie burn without making participants feel like they were working out harder. (Win/win.) Plus, working the poles takes pressure off of your joints, which can prevent injury, says Straub.
Adding speed is an easy way to get more calorie-burning power out of your hike, says Barsanti. You can do this by walking at a faster pace or running uphill, he says. (Your knees will tend to hurt more when you’re going downhill, so stick to a slower pace on your descent.)
Break up your climb into one-minute intervals of running and walking, says Barsanti. You can also do two-minute intervals of running and one minute of walking, he says.
Get a bigger burn during your hike by incorporating squats or walking lunges, says Lisa Reed, C.S.C.S. “They improve your balance, engage your entire core, and are amazing for conditioning your legs,” she says.
An easy way to increase how many calories you expend while hiking is to add more weight to your backpack. “One way to accomplish this would be to fill up any empty space in your pack with bottles of water,” says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S. and head trainer at Exercise.com. “And you’ll be sure to stay hydrated out there,” he says.
A good rule of thumb: Pack at least one quart of water for each hour you’ll be hiking, says George Padilla, C.S.C.S. and a trainer at Los Angeles Athletic Club. A gallon of water (four quarts) in your backpack can add eight pounds of weight, which increases your calorie burn while hiking by about 14 percent, Padilla says.