Hike to Build Complete Cardio Health [ Aerobic & Anaerobic ]

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Hiking through uneven terrains, over tree roots, around rocks, streams and fallen tree trunks result into a holistic workout session. Exercises such as hiking can help one achieve peak physical conditioning, so is hiking aerobic or anaerobic activity?

Hiking is a blend of aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (muscle building) built into one single activity. It pushes your heart rate and respiration at times, for example, the PUDS. While hiking you are building your leg muscles greatly while melting off body fat to reach peak physical conditioning.

Hiking is mainly an aerobic exercise as it boosts the heart and respiration rate through long endurance exercise. It also incorporates plenty of anaerobic exercise which helps to strengthen lower body muscles.

There is a lot more to know about hiking and how it helps you reach your maximum fitness potential. Let’s find out how hiking can become a means to peak physical conditioning.

Young people hiking up a mountain with 30+ pound backpacks on.
Young people are hiking in Carpathian mountains in the summertime

Is Hiking Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Hiking can be both an aerobic and anaerobic activity. In most cases, it is an aerobic activity but before I explain the reason behind that, let’s look into what aerobic and anaerobic activities are.

What Is Aerobic?

Aerobic The term “aerobic’ refers to energy produced with the help of oxygen. Hence, oxygen is essential to produce energy for aerobic activities. 

Aerobic activities build up the endurance level of your lungs, heart and muscles. Thus, endurance and cardiovascular exercises that increase the breathing and heart-rate of a person falls into this category.

Brisk walking, cycling and swimming are examples of aerobic activities that many people already do frequently.

What Is Anaerobic?

The term “anaerobic” refers to energy produced without the presence of oxygen. Anaerobic activities do not require increased amounts of oxygen absorption and transportation.

Instead, these exercises use up the stored energy by breaking down the glucose in your body.

Anaerobic activities are great for building muscle and burning fat. These involve highly intense but quick exercises.

Jumping, heavy weight lifting and sprinting are examples of anaerobic activities that many will do already. 

Hiking Blends Both

Hiking for a few hours will increase your heart rate and keep it up during the whole time. When you take a hike you are utilizing all your limbs, especially if the trail is rugged and steep. Of course, it requires a lot of oxygen and thus it is an aerobic activity of high intensity. 

If your hiking trail is steep and rugged enough your hike may involve anaerobic exercises too. Lunges, squats and other HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) exercises are all examples of anaerobic activities. Each step on a steep hiking trail is like a one-legged squat. 

Hiking on a rugged terrain will strengthen your core and leg muscles. Since anaerobic exercise helps to build muscles, you could say it is incorporated in a complete hiking trip.

How Hiking Can Help You Reach Peak Physical Conditioning?

Since hikes incorporate a full-body workout and prior training, it is an excellent form of exercise to achieve physical conditioning.

If you hike regularly while maintaining a routine workout and diet, your overall physical condition will develop with time.

Usually, athletes reach peak physical conditioning through years of training and maintaining a proper diet. But achieving peak physical conditioning is not impossible for regular people. 

Peak physical conditioning is the maximum fitness potential of humans. Although most people cannot reach the peak physical conditioning athletes can, they can reach their maximum fitness potential.

Here is how anyone can reach their peak physical conditioning,

  • You have to be mentally prepared before you commit to a long term fitness journey. You need to be passionate about your workout regime so that you can continue doing them for years. You can change up a general training program, but if you are trying to maximize your potential in a certain sport, you need to stick to it for years.
  • Train yourself rigorously. Choose a training program that works for you and stick to it. Train with people who know more than you and they will push you to the next level. While training, do not just mindlessly workout, be present and stay focused. That way you are also training your mind. 
  • Time your exercises, note down your progress or lack of it and evaluate. You should choose a time during which you can give your maximum effort. For example, mid to late afternoons are the best time to expend maximum effort in strength. 

If you want to reach peak physical fitness through hiking, you need to be passionate enough about it to continue it for years. You need to set personal goals and train rigorously to improve at hiking with time. 

Since you are outdoors in nature while hiking, you cannot help but focus on your surroundings and exercise. Hence, your mind is also being trained to focus better when you hike regularly. 

Peak physical conditioning cannot be reached with brawn alone. You need to maximize both your physical and mental abilities to reach that state.

Hiking ensures the development of both physical and mental fitness which will also help you reach peak physical conditioning. 

How to Train for Hiking?

If you are a couch potato, you need to train before you plan a hiking trip. You cannot just decide to go on a sudden hiking trip without repercussions. Hiking requires balance and strength, without it you may injure yourself. 

Whether you are planning on a simple hiking trip or one of the loftier ones, you need to train your muscles beforehand.

You need to build endurance, strengthen your core muscles, improve your balance and cardiovascular health before hiking. 

Here are some general fitness tips that will help you shape up for hiking,

  1. Take a walk or jog in the sand to build muscles that will protect your ankles and knees during a hike. 
  2. A strong core will help to improve your overall balance. Strengthen your core muscles by doing crunches, squats and lunges. The proper way to do lunges and squats is to go slow while keeping the back straight.
  3. Get a resistance band and build your range of motions. Use it while you are doing squats and lunges. You can also use it to do lateral band walks to increase your mobility.
  4. Do regular push-ups to increase upper body strength. Strong back muscles and arms will help you carry your backpack at ease while hiking. 
  5. Hit the treadmill or jog regularly in the park to get your regular dosage of cardio. It will increase your endurance, strengthen your heart and increase your lung capacity.
  6. Do step-ups weeks before a multi-day hiking trip. Fill up your backpack so that it weighs 10 kg, then wear it while you step-up on a park bench that is 16-18 inches high. Each week increase the weight by 2kgs and keep doing the exercise till you can do around 700 steps in half an hour.

In case of a more intense hiking trip, such as mountaineering, you will need to train more. You will need to do cardio, endurance and strength exercises got over months before mountain hiking.

You can stick to a 6 months training program to prepare for any big hiking trip. During January and February, you should build up your lower muscle strength by doing cardio exercise.

During March and April, increase your speed while walking or sprinting. You should also increase the weights you are carrying while training. In the last phase of this regime, you should focus on maintaining your fitness.

Final Thoughts on Is Hiking Aerobic or Anaerobic

Hiking is a dynamic exercise that makes use of both aerobic and anaerobic systems as a means to reach peak physical conditioning.

Regular hiking along with a rigorous training regime incorporating diverse exercises such as lunges, sprinting, squats etc. can help anyone reach their maximum fitness potential.

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