While it is evident that hiking is a great way to feel physically and mentally fit, there is a common question on whether it can build muscles. Well, a first look at the activity does not promise much for muscle building and making you feel like a hefty Superman. However, there is more to hiking than just helping you lose weight, as it can help develop your muscles. Yes, it is possible for hiking to build muscles to an extent. However, there is a catch to how this happens and how far hiking can help.
Obviously, the muscle-building effect of hiking is not as apparent as that of weight lifting; the same is true for all cardiovascular exercises. But with the right approach and good consistency on the trail, you can start to see some rewards on your hiking expenditure, especially in helping you pump the muscles. This guide will consider the role of hiking in muscle building and overall fitness and everything else you should know.
How Does Hiking Build Muscles?
Hiking can build muscles but hold on a bit before getting all excited. It will not give you all the ripped look you are imagining. No hiking as an activity and exercise will not single-handedly give you that. Hiking builds muscles via a combination of major factors influenced by your choices. The three factors in building muscles with hiking include:
- The type of terrain
- The intensity of your hike session
- How often do you hike
If you hike only once a month or several months, hike on plain ground, and only cover a few distances with each session, you will likely not achieve any real muscle development.
Now, hiking is predominantly a leg-focused exercise, so most muscle-building happens in the leg, just like running and jogging. So, where you build muscles is mostly in your leg regions, and for that to happen, you have to:
- Hike more regularly. Hiking at least once a week will be a good start and is often good enough for the long term
- Cover a relatively long distance. This is one of the major ways to build muscles via hiking. Spending two hours hiking is not exactly good enough if you want to develop the muscles in your leg or at least make them strong and healthy. Using up to 4 hours on the actual walk while taking breaks in between is a good way to start the entire process.
- Target steep terrains for your hikes. This is the way to go if you want to develop your leg muscles and see the results within a few weeks to a month. Steep terrains are tiring to climb and would generally require you to engage your lower body much more than you would do on an even surface, but the reward in developing your lower body muscle is worth the effort.
The Muscles That Hiking Build
As already stated, the muscles that develop with hiking are those of the lower legs. I know I personally have bigger lower legs than average for my size, and that’s because I hike a lot. Hiking is all about the ability of your legs to move you from one place to another. This reason is why many experts recommend the need for hikers to use good shoes when hiking. With progressive movements on steep inclines or even level surfaces, you will build your leg muscles with hiking.
The major areas that hiking targets and improves are the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calf, planar fascia muscles, and shin. These areas cover the upper and lower part of your legs and are engaged when you hike. The best result is usually seen when you hike on a steep incline. Inclined terrains at 12 degrees are likely to engage your entire legs, and all these muscles 3.3 times better than hiking on an even surface. This stat is based on a study presented at the International Society of Biomechanics in Sport, so there is good backing to the information.
However, it is also essential that you get good footwear as that is the best way to protect your legs and enhance your stability when climbing steep terrains. Get good shoes that offer very good cushion support to prevent leg and lower back injury.
Your hand may sometimes be engaged when hiking if you use hiking poles, which also helps develop it. Though you may not see obvious broadness there. They will definitely feel stronger but won’t necessarily look ripped and bulging compared to the impact hiking has on your legs.
As a side tip, you should stick to the reward of consistency in hiking and muscle-building relationships. While hiking once a week is cool, you could target steep walking and climbing between your once-a-week main hike to engage your leg muscles properly. If you climb a steep elevation up to three times a week, with each session lasting at least an hour or more, you will notice massive improvements in your leg muscles.
Hiking is Best for Overall Fitness Than Muscle Building
It is clearly obvious that hiking is not primarily designed for building muscles. However, it is very helpful in maintaining high-level fitness and a good weight. Going out three to four times a week will see you become more physical and less chubby in the long run. Most experts advise that consistent hiking improves shape and posture.
Hiking also improves your overall endurance. As an activity, it improves your resiliency, making you more of a marathon fitness enthusiast. If you plan to get into more energy-bursting activities like jogging, consistent hiking can help prepare your endurance level. Once you become better at hiking, you can easily transition into jogging and even do both for the best benefits.
Hiking will also help with more medical and psychological benefits. Walking for a considerable length of time can help you relieve stress. It can disconnect from all the pressure and worries that come with the outside world. It is a safe way to lean more into yourself and have that well-desired fresh air to stay mentally at the top of your worries and fears. It can also improve your confidence and help you battle depression.
Medically, hiking has been linked with improved immune system functioning. Clearly, the activity helps to ensure proper blood flow and triggers regular boosts in your metabolism.
So, hiking can help you build muscle to a certain extent. Moreover, it is a complementary activity to more major muscle-building techniques. Weight training and other resistance training activities are the main way to build and sustain a ripped, muscular body. Hiking will maintain your fitness level to a very good rate and ensure your legs and lower body are consistently strong and developed.
Getting Started as a Hiker
Now that you know all that hiking actually offers, it would be nice that you know all that it takes to get started as a hiker. The good thing is that the process is not difficult. You just need to get the best of everything to reduce the risk of injuries and other concerns in your journey.
- The first step to successfully kick off your hiking journey is to get all of your gear ready. This includes your choice of clothes, hiking poles, and footwear. Your gear can help reduce your risk of sustaining injury. So choose wisely.
- Planning where and how you intend to walk is very important. You can use local parks and other outdoor areas. You could also seek permission from neighbors or people in your area to go through their property if necessary. Adequate planning help reduces the drama that comes with hiking.
- Join a group or recruit friends and family to form your hiking team. That way, you kill the boredom and have real fun on the track. With a team, you have people to talk with and share quality time on the trail. This makes the entire experience more lively and much more fun.
- Choose the right food and meals. It is extremely important you move with the right food and meal choices if you want your hike to be successful. Eating on the trail significantly differs from your home eating habits. So watch it.
- Know your limit when on the trail. Do not over-push yourself or overdo it. You will get better with your walk over time, so it is really not in your best interest to push yourself past your limit and risk getting injured. Take a break and rest to avoid possible injuries.
So you may not build as many muscles as you would love through hiking. The activity is not exactly a kind of resistance training and is more of a cardiovascular activity. This makes it more likely for you to achieve overall fitness from head to toe than specific muscle growth and bumps. Regular hiking will make you look more ripped and slimmer and have a confidence boost. Additionally, your leg muscles will pump up to an extent and become strong with regular outings. You do not need to force the process by pumping up your hiking intensity. That is not advisable. It is best to maintain consistency so your leg muscles develop and become stronger with time.