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Is Hiking Good For Your Abs? (Core Training For Hikers)

Hiking is more than a simple stroll through the forest. It takes incredible strength, and you might be surprised at all the muscles you use on a hike. Not only will your glutes, hamstrings, and calves get a workout, but it turns out your core could get toned while hiking as well.

Hiking is great for strengthening your abs, but it won’t build muscle like targeted exercises will. Instead, hiking will help you lean down so your abs become more visible. If you want bigger muscles, you’ll have to perform additional core training exercises to gain more mass.

Even if it’s not much of a mass-builder, hiking can still help you get and keep a lean physique. Read below to discover the truth about hiking and your core and learn how you can use hiking in tandem with other methods to reach your aesthetic and fitness goals.

Does Hiking Give You Abs?

Hiking can’t giveyou abs. You already have abs. We all do, even if they’re hidden under layers of skin and fat. What you’re likely looking for is a more toned or defined look to your abdominals. And as with any strenuous exercise, hiking can help a lot with toning your abs and core.

How can this be? After all, hiking involves upright walking. It seems to target the muscles in your legs more than anything. The glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves are hard at work during a hike, and this is where you’ll most likely feel the burn. But rest assured, your core is still getting a good workout.

Toning Muscle

Hiking means you’ll be going through a lot of ups and downs, especially if the terrain is rough, and you’ll be using more muscles than you realize. Your abdominals, obliques, and pectorals will stay engaged as you shift your weight to carry your pack downhill and back up again.

Hiking over uneven ground helps keep these muscles constantly activated. It will tone them up nicely and make them more defined than walking on a flat surface alone will. So, while hiking doesn’t “give” you abs, it can certainly help strengthen the ones you already have.

A Holistic Approach

Furthermore, hiking targets back muscles that support abdominal aesthetics. When you’re striving for that toned look, you need to focus on holistic training rather than spot-training. And in the case of your abs, you back muscles could play a more important role than your actual abs.

Contrary to popular belief, working the abs too much can give you a stockier, shorter look, which is probably the opposite of what you want. Training your upper and lower back helps elongate your torso, contributing to a long-and-lean look you won’t get from an ab workout alone.

Burning Fat

Perhaps most importantly, hiking is a great form of cardio that burns a lot of calories. Research suggests the average 150-pound person will burn around 400 calories an hour from hiking, while a 200-pound person can burn over 500 calories per hour. This is great news if you want more well-defined abdominals.

Burning calories helps you lose body fat, and fatis what prevents you from having that six-pack you’ve always dreamed of. Body fat in your abdomen obscures your naturally occurring abdominal muscles, making it so you can’t see them. But as you lose fat, your abs become more visible and more defined.

Since hiking helps burn fat, it can also help you achieve the washboard abs of your fantasies. Of course, this won’t happen over the course of a weekend. Even if you hike four or five days a week, it can take months and even years to lose enough fat for a six-pack.

Can You Get A Six Pack By Walking?

You can’t get a six pack just by walking. Walking on a flat surface doesn’t engage the abdominal muscles specifically, and it won’t help enlarge your abs. In order to see your six-pack properly, you need lower your body fat percentage. To lower your body fat percentage, you need to do cardio.

Fortunately, cardio doesn’t necessarily mean running a marathon. Walking is also a wonderful form of cardio. Not only does walking improve cardiovascular health, but it also burns away body fat and helps you achieve the aesthetic look you want.

You should walk every day if you’re using this method to lose weight. The average 150-pound person burns around 250 calories an hour from walking, while a 200-pound person can burn around 330. Unfortunately, walking doesn’t burn as many calories as hiking. But it’s still a great exercise for making your abs pop, and it’sway better than doing nothing at all.

An Accessible Option

For some people, walking can be even more beneficial than hiking. That’s because hiking trails aren’t always available to us. Many people live in cities, or far away from trailheads. It takes time and money to drive to hiking locations, and many people don’t have either to spare.

But walking provides the best of both worlds. It’s a perfect compromise, as it helps with weight loss and is accessible no matter where you are. You can walk right out the door and start burning fat, with each step you take getting you closer to your six-pack.

Walking is a relatively easy form of steady-state cardio, but it provides the same cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits as hiking. This makes it better for beginners and people with limited endurance or mobility. If you want to start slowly or want some variety, incorporate walking into your fitness routine.

Is Hiking Good For Your Core In General?

Hiking is great for your core strength in general, as well as your cardiovascular health and overall fitness. And if you hike with a backpack over varied or rough terrain, you’ll get a full-body workout that trains each major muscle group and gets your heart rate up as well.

You’ll also be using your upper and lower back muscles a lot when hiking, as well as your hips and pelvis. These groups work in tandem with your core to support the weight you carry, so they have a direct link with your core strength. The more muscles you activate during exercise, the more calories you will burn.

Terrain Matters

Of course, the terrain you’ll be hiking through matters a lot. Flatter terrain is easier. It requires less muscle activation in your core. Meanwhile, hilly or mountainous terrain requires constant engagement. It’s more difficult to keep your balance when hiking through hills.

You need to put thought and physical effort into shifting your weight forward and backward to balance your backpack when climbing and descending. If terrain is rocky or uneven, you could need to shift weight quickly to avoid falling. All of this requires lots of tension in the core muscle groups, so they tend to get a great workout during a hike.

Posture Pays Off

No matter what sort of terrain you’re hiking through, good posture is essential for any hiker. Ascending uphill, you’ll need to shift weight forward while maintaining a neutral spine, so engaging your core to offset the weight of your pack pressing forward is necessary. While descending, your pack tends to pull you backwards. You’ll need to use your core to stop yourself from tumbling back.

At all times, you must keep your spine in a neutral upright position. Hyperextending it, over-flexing it, or rotating it too much in any direction could cause an injury. To keep it aligned properly, you must engage the abs, obliques, and supporting muscle groups.

Can Hiking Burn Belly Fat?

Hiking can burn belly fat, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. The truth is that no exercise will rapidly burn your fat away. While you can spot-train specific muscles to make them bigger, you cannot spot-reduce fat to make any one body part smaller.

Hiking can burn a lot of calories and it can reduce your overall body fat percentage. Since your belly is part of your body, hiking can burn fat off it as well. However, this will be part of general weight loss and won’t be targeted specifically at your stomach.

In fact, fat loss won’t be targeted anywhere. For most people, fat is reduced at much the same rate around the body. Of course, everyone varies. Some people will notice fat loss in the thighs first, while others will notice shrinkage in the abdomen first. It depends on your genetics, and you can’t control it.

The Fat-Burning Equation

Of course, it’s also possible that hiking won’t burn any fat. Losing weight usually takes a concentrated effort, and you need to be in a caloric deficit to see results. To be in a caloric deficit, you must expend more energy than you take in through food.

This means that if you hike a lot but eat enough calories to offset the burn, you won’t lose stomach fat or any fat at all. You’ll still reap many benefits of hiking, like cardiovascular health, increased strength, and improvements in mood and sleep. But you won’t see weight loss if you’re not in a caloric deficit.

Benefits Of Core Training For Hikers

Core strength isn’t only a benefit that comes from hiking. It’s also a requirement forhiking. Ideally, hikers will partake in a core training regimen to supplement their hikes. Instead of relying on the trail alone to strengthen your core, a planned core training regimen allows you to grow and improve your strength with measurable progress in a controlled environment.

Core training gets you ready for long hikes the safe way. With a training regimen, you can really push yourself and see just how far you can go without running the risk of getting injured on the trail. You don’t have to “throw yourself to the wolves” in the great outdoors without preparing properly. Instead, you can work up to the challenge.

This is especially important for newer hikers who may not have adequate core strength for hard hiking situations yet. It’s also good for more advanced hikers who simply want to improve their stamina and performance on a hike for better times or more difficult trails.

Regardless of your hiking level or how strong you currently are, core training will always be beneficial. It helps to stabilize the spine, which takes pressure off your lower back and places it on your abdominals and obliques. This helps prevent injury and discomfort during movement and makes you a stronger hiker in general.

3 Core Training Exercises For Hikers

1. Dead Bug

Anti-Extension | 10 Reps | 5 Sets

The dead bug is one of the most effective ways to train your core. In this simple exercise, lay flat on your back with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Your knees must be directly above your hips, and your calves should be parallel with the floor. Then, take your arms up perpendicular to the floor, kind of like a dead bug.

In a controlled motion, lower your left arm back above your head to come parallel with the floor. At the same time, extend and lower your right leg down to hover right above the floor. Slowly return to the original position, then switch sides so your right arm and left leg go through the set as well.

Why It Helps

The trick to getting this exercise correct isn’t in the exact positioning of your arms and legs. It’s all about keeping the lower back on the ground. This is hard to do and may take some practice, as your low back naturally wants to pop up off the ground when you extend your arms and legs.

But as an anti-extension exercise, dead bug helps protect you against this action. During a hike, it’s critical to keep your lower back stable. However, it’s jarringly easy to flex it in all directions as you’re scrambling around in the mud.

Hiking encourages your body to move in all directions, which can be dangerous if you’re unprepared. Dead bug helps train your spine to stay neutral and stable while your arms and legs take the brunt of the flailing. It’s fun and looks hilarious, plus it will prevent low back injuries on the trail.

2. Side Plank

Anti-Flexion | 30-Second Reps | 10 Sets

For this exercise, lay on your right side with your legs extended out to form a strong, straight line from your head to your toes. Prop yourself up on your right forearm, raising your torso, knees, and calves off the ground. Only your forearm and the edge of your right foot should be touching the floor.

Try holding the side plank for 30 seconds, pushing your hips down towards the floor and hovering them an inch or so above the ground. This will be difficult. Eventually, you can add additional challenges like raising your top leg and arm. When you’re done with the right side, switch to the left side and repeat.

Why It Helps

The side plank might seem old-school, but there’s a reason it’s a hiker’s best friend. This is an anti-lateral flexion exercise, and it helps your body learn how to resist flexing or swaying to the side. As you lift yourself to hold your body upright, you’ll naturally want to sag down to the floor.

Instead of doing that, engage your core muscles and resist. Keep your body in that strong, straight line, flexing every core muscle you have like you’re about to get punched in the gut. In that way, you’ll train your obliques to support the spine and keep in in a neutral position during a hike.

3. Shoulder Taps

Anti-Rotation | 10 Reps | 5 Sets

Shoulder taps are hard but well worth the burn. For this exercise, set yourself up in a high plank position, which is a plank where your handsare braced against the ground rather than your forearms, like you just completed a push up. Your palms should be directly under your shoulders, and your feet should be hip-width apart.

Engage your core, then pick up your right arm in a slow, controlled motion to tap your left shoulder. Hold the tapping position for five to ten seconds before slowly returning your hand to the floor. Perform the motion ten times, alternating with your left and right hands.

Why It Helps

Shoulder taps are an anti-rotation exercise. Their purpose is to train your obliques, abs, and glutes to support the lower lumbar spine and protect it from rotating excessively to the side. For hikers, this low spine stability helps prevent injury not just in the back, but in all parts of the body.

As you hold the plank, engage every muscle in your core to stop yourself from sagging in the middle. The challenge of shoulder taps lies in the form. Keeping your hips square to the ground without rotating them, sagging down, or popping up requires total core engagement.

You’ll need to concentrate fully to keep the form. It’s a good idea to look at yourself in a mirror the first few times you perform this exercise, so you know if you’re doing it right. If you need more of a challenge, position your feet closer together. If you need to take it easy, position your feet further apart.

5 Tips For Hikers Starting Core Training

1. Make A Plan

Don’t begin training unprepared. While doing random core training exercises is better than doing no exercises at all, creating a training regimen adds structure and accountability to your workout. Put some thought and research into your plan. Find out what’s recommended by professionals and test several exercises to see what works for you.

A well-thought-out plan will prevent you from overtraining certain muscle groups. It will also give you a goal to work towards. A bonus is you can go through the motions of a plan even when you don’t feel up to it. There will be bad days when you won’t be motivated, but a plan sets out a block of time you know you can conquer and get through.

2. Control The Movement

Many strength training beginners make the mistake of going through their reps and sets as fast as possible. While this may have been in vogue decades ago, modern sports science tells us that slow and steady is much more effective than quick and jerky.

Your form is what builds strength, so it matters much more than how many reps or sets you can do. It’s much more beneficial to do three reps of an exercise in a controlled, slow manner with perfect form than to do ten reps with poor form. To complete core training exercises with poor form can be detrimental and can even cause injuries.

3. Train Consistently

Train on a set schedule and try not to miss training days. How much you start off with will depend a lot on how much you’re hitting the gym already. If you don’t go at all, start off slowly with one or two days per week. A slow start will help you become acclimated to the process, and it won’t be overwhelming.

After you’ve been training for a few weeks, slowly increase your training days. Your schedule will ultimately depend on your desired level of fitness and core strength, but consistency is much more important than volume. That means it’s better to train three days a week for a whole month than to train seven days a week for one week and then fall off the rest of the month.

4. Incorporate Progression

At first, you’ll start off slowly. But gradually, you need to work your way up to more difficult exercises and more challenging repetitions. Going through the same motions week after week isn’t helpful because your body adapts to exercise fast, and you’ll become used to your initial program quite quickly.

After a while, you’ll stall on your progress and probably get bored. Once every three to six weeks, it’s a good idea to reassess your plan. Kick things up a notch with extra reps, sets, and positions. This process is known as progressive overload, and it’s the only way to improve once you have overcome a previous challenge.

5. Vary Your Movements

You don’t want to go to the gym and do an hour of dead bug. This will get boring, fast. You’ll start to hate dead bug, then you’ll never go back to the gym again. Furthermore, you’ll more than likely do some real damage to your body. Too many repetitive motions can tear and strain muscles in a way that’s not helpful to your progress.

Instead, incorporate varied movements. Don’t do more than five or ten reps of any one exercise in a row. Work on finding a fun and diverse range of core training exercises, and don’t be afraid to try out new things and switch up your plan. Nothing is set in stone and keeping an open mind about training will help you grow and develop as a hiker.

Final Thoughts

Hiking is good for your abdominal muscles. While you won’t get a six-pack from hiking alone, it will help you burn fat and tone your body overall. Having a strong core is an advantage when hiking, as it will help prevent injuries. There are lots of exercises you can do to strengthen your core.