Swimming to get in shape for hiking

6:05 p.m. on November 22, 2010 (EST)
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mostly, i hike year-round but swim in the summer to help stay in shape.  to me, it's a great way to dampen the impact on my feet, joints & legs, but retain and build on the aerobic capacity i get from hiking.  i'm testing that theory this winter, found an indoor pool and have been hitting it a few hours a week.

any thoughts/experience about this one way or the other?


7:14 p.m. on November 22, 2010 (EST)
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Make sure you waterproof your boots first!

Sorry..couldn't resist.

I love swimming too, and I prefer swimming or using an orbital workout machine to reduce strain on my knees. I used to run, but in the past few years I've had several knee problems, and I'm just now getting over a strained right knee that caused me to post pone a longer hike I wanted to do this past summer.

I'm certainly no fitness expert but it works for me, at least for the aerobic benefit. Swimming probably doesn't condition my legs for backpacking as good as going backpacking though.

7:22 a.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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to deal with the arms vs. legs issue, i probably do 20 laps with a kickboard for every 40 without.  whether that works well, i'm not sure.  

9:18 a.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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I used to cycle to stay in shape, but found I was getting sore legs from hiking downhill (especially as I got older) so I switched to trail running, now I can go out and do a big hike after being in town for weeks and not really feel it. You might want to do some stair running or something in the weeks before you start the hiking season to work on those downhill muscles.

8:02 p.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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I personally prefer spinning as an optimal way to keep fit and very convenient.

My spin bike sits in front of the TV so i can ride while watching ESPN.

9:21 a.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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I wished I could swim more but it takes so much time changing, showering, blah, blah, blah, I just never get around to it. 

I hate running, so my own workout centers around the eliptical and throwing in the stationary bike now and then to add some variety.

I can definitely see the aerobic part of swimming, and I have no doubts it would be helpful. I'd also just say to make sure to add some strength exercises in there as well, if you aren't. Lunges and squats help work the muscles needed in backpacking. Some core exercises are always good to.

10:42 a.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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I can add an amen to BigRed about biking not being super helpful for hiking. I love my mtn. bike but I still get sore after a really good downhill hike.

Swimming is about as good of a cardio workout as they come and I think though, that when it comes to something helping me on the trail its hard to beat jogging or a stair machine.  

If jogging hurts your joints some stationary treadmills cushion your footfall but they aren't as fun as doing it outside.

ANY exercise beats nothing so my bottom line is: Do something you enjoy which will keep you exercising.  Anytime you get bored with a workout you risk ditching it altogether.  Serious athletes (I was one once) do several different styles of workouts to create strength in several different muscle groups.  

Our pool in town is seasonal so its out of the question for me.  I am really enjoying bikejouring with my dog and kicksledding as the snow piles up.  I may even try skijouring in a few weeks. 

6:07 a.m. on November 25, 2010 (EST)
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thanks for the comments - all very helpful observations.

to be clear, i'm considering working swimming into the routine, not turning into aquaman.  i already hike, do stairs and hills with a pack 20-50 pounds (depending on how much i want to work), run springs on a field, and cycle or use a recumbent bike inside.  i'm thinking about 3000m of swimming every week might work nicely to round things out and do a little upper body.  i used to do high rep, low weight upper body free weights but got bored with it, and still felt a little bulky, less flexible than i wanted.  

i went about 2500 meters the other day, first time in the pool since august, and i am pretty sore.  

7:06 a.m. on November 25, 2010 (EST)
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Then I say go for it. Nothing wrong at all with adding some variety into the workout. Keeps you sane.

Always need a change of pace every now and then.

2:36 p.m. on December 1, 2010 (EST)
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It is a time consuming additional activity that isn't doing much for the muscles you are targeting. Aerobic fitness comes from the muscle groups you need in your sport.  If swimming is one of your sports, then splash away.

A proper weight lifting regimen (free weights or machines) at a gym 3+ times a week would be more productive and get better backpacking results.  Generally, cross training tho recommended by many, doesn't work the hiking, backpacking, climbing muscles - unless it is very related to hiking, backpacking, climbing.  It all depends upon how goal oriented you are to a specific sport.  Carrying a heavy pack to train with is not an efficient route to fitness unless you are specifically aware of and are planning what you are doing with the extra weight.  Just being out for a stroll uphill (or on the streets) with it should not be in the plan.

I get bored lifting weights too. I still like to swim, however.  I like the repetitive action over a long period.  It is relaxing. It is part of my after exercise recovery plan as it is not using those other muscles.

Any wiggling is not necessarily better than none at all.  If you switch your activity to using muscles other than those you have been/are working on for one sport, you gain a higher VO2max/ lactate threshold in those new muscles at the expense of the ones you have been neglecting.

A very good discussion about fitness training for our sport is in The Mountaineering Handbook - Craig Connally.  The book covers a considerable number of topics all spot on for backpacking...including cross training.  One of those books you will save the cost of purchase by the tips provided.

9:21 a.m. on December 2, 2010 (EST)
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thanks.  Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is part of my library and has a section about training.  i used to do more in-gym strength training but now shun that in favor of doing stairs, lunges, squats, and so on with weight on my back.  It's true that without a plan, just carrying weight around is good without being great.  sets of lunges, squats, steep stairs with 20-40 pounds in a pack, however, are highly beneficial.   i've been training like that for years - started out carrying cinder blocks up steep hills in college, over 25 years ago, in a gone but not forgotten Wilderness Experience pack.  

most guides about hiking and climbing don't talk about swimming.  i'm gathering that's because it's not ideal or focused on hiking or climbing.  guess i'm still debating internally.  though not ideally targeted, swimming helps with flexibility, endurance, shoulder strength, and lessens the impact from the other forms of training.  


6:38 p.m. on December 2, 2010 (EST)
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The Mountaineering Handbook by Craig Connally adds to Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills with his, albeit biased, opinions on the 'new style' of doing things with a bit more science behind it. 

It is a great companion to Freedom of the Hills

9:48 a.m. on December 3, 2010 (EST)
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after a fair amount of research to optimize my  own training circuits, it seems that the best methods of training are those that are spinal loading - walking, running, stairs, eliptical, etc.


While swimming will give you great cardio endurance, it may not provide the spinal loading endurance you'd actually experience on the trail.


Soreness and fatigue occurs when doing any exercise because your heart, circulatory system, and lungs, are not efficient enough at delivering oxygen to your muscles to be used as fuel. This means that you are working in anaerobic zones, meaning oxygenLESS metabolizing.


This creates by products that are bad for your muscles, like lactic acid, and leads you to be fatigued and sore, faster.


If you are within aerobic capacity, you are successfully using oxygen for your muscle's fuel, and not ATP, which is the chemical fuel being used during anaerobic.


With all that said...you may be increasing your endurance for swimming, but might find that hiking and climbing is a different type of exercise that your body isn't as efficient at.


ANY cardio is certainly better than none, and swimming is a great type of cardio. Maybe you should do that along with a spinal loading exercise like the eliptical. The eliptical doesn't give your joints any jarring impacts, and that should be less painful and easier on you.

11:39 a.m. on December 3, 2010 (EST)
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i'm starting to think i might enjoy a new road bike more....


9:56 p.m. on December 5, 2010 (EST)
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I recently joined a gym that has these contraptions called Tread Climbers -- basically a treadmill/stair-climber combo. I find I get a much more natural workout on these because it's more like walking/hiking than the ellipticals.

Any thoughts on gym training for downhill? I don't see anything that replicates the action of walking for miles with the brakes on.


8:29 a.m. on December 6, 2010 (EST)
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tommangan - closest thing to replicate going downhill is just increasing muscle strength in the legs, which will help keep the knee joints safer because the muscles will take the brunt of the stress as you go down.


Squats, lunges, and leg extensions are big ones. The quads are really important for going down.

10:31 a.m. on December 22, 2010 (EST)
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Personally, I really enjoy swimming.  Others may say its low impact on the joints, good for the muscles, etc. etc.  I do it cause I enjoy it.  I actually just started swim training at a local university.  They're only charging $5/month and I can swim as much as I like and get coached doing it....  A great deal for me.  When I'm not able to swim, I'll stick to roller blading, mountain biking, and jujitsu.

I don't enjoy just working out at the gym, for working out sake....  However, during my jujitsu class, we spend one night a week doing this training course.  It takes about 30 min; where we pump out as many reps as we can in a short amount of time, then move to the next exercise.  We'll basically spend about 1-2 min at each station, then move to the next.  We'll warm up w/ 5 min of jump rope and end w/ 5 min of jump rope.  By the end, I'm totally worn out, dripping sweat, and within 48 hours, every muscle group is sore.

Most cities will have some type of boot camp-like program that would do basically the same thing.

So in general, as long as your doing something you enjoy that also keeps you in shape, then you're doing good.  Stay active.  Then, when you are planning a hike, you'll be in shape already, and enjoy the hike that much more.  Just don't get complacent and stop getting out there and doing stuff.  To me, the gym is boring, but get me doing something fun that also gets me in shape, and I'm all in.

7:57 a.m. on December 23, 2010 (EST)
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i do sets of steep stairs, up and down, with a backpack on to simulate hiking and to train for uphills and downhills.  i vary the weight in the pack.

for a quad-specific exercise that doesn't require a gym or weights, or backpacking up and down stairs (  :)   ), try alternating jump squats and wall sits.  for jump squats, try to keep your back as straight as possible, put your hands behind your back, start with your quads as close to parallel to the ground as possible in a squat position, then jump in the air, and try to land in the same squat position you started in.  do those in sets that make sense for you.  for wall sits, position yourself with your back against a wall, quads parallel to the ground, with the line from your knee to your ankle roughly vertical.  hold that position for sets that make sense - 1, 2, or 3 minutes should get your quads burning.  


by the way, i have been swimming some since i put this post up, but i have tended more toward a recumbent bike - which gives a pretty good quad workout too.    




5:09 a.m. on December 24, 2010 (EST)
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Have you considered running, but changing the way you run?  I have had shin problems on a very consistent basis for the last three years.  Last summer I did a loop hike that was around 60 miles and really regretted the fact that I had not been running before the hike.  I was very fit and had no problems with muscle soreness by my tendons and ligaments were screaming!

Late last fall I decided to give "bare foot" running a try.  I haven't actually been running barefoot, I started out on a gravel road running in sandals.  After working my way up to 20 minutes of running I bought a pair of Nike Free shoes and started on pavement.

The Nike Free is a very minamalist shoe, especially for somebody like me who has high arches.  I was a little sore at first but have slowly worked up to 30 minutes of running three days a week.  The sandals and the Frees have forced me to change my stride, I now land with either a mid or fore foot strike instead of landing on my heels like I did before.  As a result of this the tendons, ligaments and muscles involved in running are much stronger than before.  I also don't have the pain in my shins that I used to have. 

The one thing I have really noticed is that I can run on pavement two days in a row and not have any lingering soreness after.  My guess is that landing on my forefoot allows my arches to absorb shock and that my tendons and ligaments are much tougher than before.  Instead of feeling that my days of running are over I am starting to feel that my running is really starting to be productive.  I can run the same mileage as before without pain and as my feet become stronger my mileage is going to keep rising.

I also work my upper body at least three times a week.  I swim, lift weights and do calisthenics.  I still think that running, especially with my new stride, is the best thing I can do to prepare for a longer trip.

3:29 p.m. on December 30, 2010 (EST)
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Downhill training at home or gym is from a box up to chair height.  Slow controlled drop of a single foot to the floor, same to recover.  Alternate legs.  The impact training on the feet is something that has to be done jogging/walking.

One type of training that we need out west is for 'post holing' and having to extract a leg sometimes from snow that is up to the hip.  There is no specific weight training at a gym short of pulling your leg free of very sticking, sucky mud.

Better training for what we do, other than the long term damage you can get from jogging or running is to set the treadmill as steep as it can be set up and then walk as fast as you can - without slipping into a jog.  The inefficiency of a walk just less than run is a great trainer and you get the extra leg work of going up hill fast.  This works as well with even less joint stress using an elliptic trainer.  But somewhere along the line you have to get the bones and tendons of feet and lower legs accustomed to a pounding.  That takes months not weeks.

9:54 a.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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post-holing up to your hip is horribly hard work and probably hard to replicate.  maybe find a pair of really steep stairs and take them 2 or 3 at a time for some of your reps.  is that in snowshoes? if you don't mind me asking, what kind of snowshoes are you using? might want a pair with more float.  

my take on barefoot running is that one should get into it gradually and be careful.  i was a college distance runner, often doing 70-90 miles per week, and i got a couple of stress fractures in my feet.  not planning to get those in my 40's, when it will take longer to heal.  my experience with the five fingers is that the ball of your feet is still vulnerable to bruising, even if you adapt and become a forefoot-strike runner, if you run on pavement like most people.  i might do barefoot more if i had better large parks or dirt trails accessible.  i do think the five finger shoes help strengthen parts of your feet and legs that don't normally get used, and that walking & hiking in them once or twice a week has been very good the past few months.  but like working swimming or any other of these recommendations into a workout regime, i think 'all things in moderation' and building up gradually have to guide what we're doing.  

2:31 p.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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I thought I was keeping in shape by just hiking. So what do I need to do to keep in shape for swimming. Seems like it would be never ending. Just kidding. I know various activities that focus on different muscle groups is the best solution. Biking, hiking/jogging/running and swimming are three areas that cover the range of muscles, and offers a variety of cardio. What the heck...train for an iron man competition. Muscle building is very important for mountain biking and climbing. Sometimes you need to pick up your bike or save yourself :). A good core too-sit ups!!

3:00 a.m. on January 19, 2011 (EST)
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Lots of good information to pick out of this thread. I'm trying to get back in shape for a major summer trip, after getting married I jumped from my usual 150 to 193. Ekk.

12:22 p.m. on January 19, 2011 (EST)
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I don't run any.  From what I've read/heard, running is tough on your body.  I just started a swim team and here are a couple things they do to build your swimming abilities.


We usually swim a minimum of 2500 yards.  This should take you about an hour and a half and up to two hours w/ breaks.

Try exercises such as a 200 yard warm up using whatever stroke you like, then freestyle swim for 50 yards at a medium pace, 50 yards sprint, 150 yards start slow, build up to a sprint (last 50 should be sprint).  Then try swimming 200 yards and alternate breathing pattern so that you are breathing on the third stroke, then fifth stroke, then seventh stroke, then on the ninth stroke, start over.  Then switch to back stroke and do medium pace for 50 yards, 50 yards sprint, then 150 building to a sprint.  then do a 200 yard cool down at the end using whatever stroke you like.

Do this at least 1-2 times a week and you'll get in much better shape.

also, to lose weight, think about changing your diet permanently.  eat leaner foods, no fast food, sodas, no hydrogenated foods, no High Fructose Corn Syrup (a biggy when trying to lose weight), eat more eggs (the whole egg), eat more bran and whole grain wheat which as more bran in it than whole wheat.  cut down on red meats which cause you to gain weight.  and eat as frequently as you are hungry. this keeps your metabolism high.  I lost 25 lbs doing all this.  if you do eat a lot of red meats and you are a grown male, start giving whole blood.  this will cut down the excess iron in your system which makes you gain weight.

11:29 p.m. on February 4, 2011 (EST)
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Sierra Nevada spring in the far back country.  I use Denali and they are fine even on some good grades.  Its when you just haven't brought them on a long hike, and the temps shoot up but still a lot of snow where you wanna go.  Late afternoon is snow hell at times.  Postholing is usually not continuous but happens at random times and just when you are not prepared for it.  It is tiring when near trees large rocks, etc.

As a response to other bits of thread here, the general current idea is don't add pack weight as a training method.  For the time you spend, the chance of injury and the general wear and tear on undeveloped soft and hard tissue is not worth it.  Best to do directed and specific exercises at a gym with weights or resistance machines.

9:50 p.m. on February 15, 2011 (EST)
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4:34 a.m. on March 17, 2011 (EDT)
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Swimming is great.

Got a good idea on this having won a medal at the Pan Pac Games.  If swimming is your only indoor alternative during summer then go for it. 

Great aerobic fitness and really helps with controlled breathing. Definitely do varied leg exercises, e.g with kick board - straight kicking, breaststroke kicking.  And another for legs, try egg beater kicker moving in a forward and backward direction with your hands above water.

If you have alternatives, use a rowing machine, e.g. Concept2, and also an elliptical machine, both for legs and arms, will give great results.

2:25 p.m. on April 13, 2011 (EDT)
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NOT !!


I am a certified personal  fitness-trainer,  group fitness-trainer,  part-time Yoga instructor.

Squats are not good.   Trust me.



4:50 p.m. on April 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I am a certified personal  fitness-trainer,  group fitness-trainer,  part-time Yoga instructor.

Squats are not good.   Trust me.

Why no squats? Or do people just do them wrong?

7:37 a.m. on April 17, 2011 (EDT)
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I am a certified personal  fitness-trainer,  group fitness-trainer,  part-time Yoga instructor.

Squats are not good.   Trust me.

Why no squats? Or do people just do them wrong?




Can be done ... but, properly.  And ... this is very, very important.


Here's how:  Must use something, like a low bench, either right under the butt, or to straddle the bench.   The goal here, is to NOT exceed roughly a 90-degree angle of the upper-and-lower legs (the knee being the pivot-point).

Ideally, keep the upper-body (and spine) erect.   OK to use additional weights, like a barbell across back-of-neck and on shoulders ....

It is strongly suggested, to warm-up with moderate lunges (one leg at a time).

The whole thing here, is to avoid potential knee injury, and hamstring pulls.  Warm-ups and stretching are always recommended beforehand.


Yogi Robert


8:08 p.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Re-visiting this post-topic ....

I am presently re'habing from four surgeries in the past 12 months; the most recent of which was for hernia-repair in late January.

I cannot emphasis enough, that the wisest and the best training or conditioning for hiking is CROSS-TRAINING.

Do almost everything and anything, IN MODERATION, and on a continuous basis.

Your goal should be to condition your entire muscular and skeletal system.

I also advocate taking Yoga classes.   Stretching and flexibility are part-and-parcel of Yoga, as well as balance.

Balancing on one foot, while alternately moving the raised foot back-and-forth, front to rear ... will strengthen muscles in the calves, ankles and feet, as well as conditioning knee and hip  tendons and muscles.

Yogi Robt

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