Fitness: Train for the Trail

Try this easy, no-gym exercise routine to lose weight and get fit for backpacking.

You can look at a Dairy Queen Large Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard in a couple of ways: A. As a delicious summertime celebration for your mouth, or B. As a quadriceps-burning climb to the summit of Philmont’s Mount Baldy. Because a 200-pound man would need to hike for roughly two hours on that type of rigorous mountain ascent to burn off the 1,320 calories in that frosty fat bomb. Still hungry?

Admittedly, comparing a frozen treat to a mountain climb is an evil way to put calories into perspective, but we’re trying to make a point.

America’s obesity epidemic can be boiled down to that kind of simple math: energy (calories) consumed minus energy expended equals weight gained or lost. We’re overeating calorie-dense foods and not exercising enough to burn the energy we consume.

Authorities suggest that adults need at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and kids need 60 minutes. But more than a third of Americans get fewer than six minutes a day—less than 360 seconds, friends. That won’t get you to the trailhead!

As a result, 66 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the problem is worse among the BSA’s membership, both youth and adult. In response, the organization has added muscle to its fitness requirements for high adventure to encourage healthier habits and ensure that you are fit enough to enjoy outdoor programs safely.

For its part, Scouting magazine has created this new health and fitness column to give you practical advice about becoming fitter, happier, and healthier role models for youth.

And we’re kicking off the column with a simple program to get your bodies in shape for fall hiking. Follow this pre-hike workout plan starting three weeks (but ideally five) before lacing up your boots.

For Beginners

Start with a visit to your family doctor for the green light to embark on a fitness program. Safety first, muscles second.

Next, hop onto a scale and record your weight. Studies show that people who weigh themselves regularly are more motivated to stick with diet and exercise practices. And consider this: By losing just 10 pounds, your knees will absorb 48,000 pounds less in compressive load for every mile that you hike. How’s that for incentive to just say no to jelly doughnuts?

Taking 30-minute walks at a brisk pace three to five days a week is a terrific way to start shaping up. But it won’t ready you for a rigorous hike uphill carrying a backpack. So aim for three weekly exercise sessions, split between 20 minutes of strength training and 20 minutes of cardio. If you can’t spare 40 minutes all at once, do strength training one day and intervals another day. It doesn’t matter. The key is to do both types of exercise.

Strength, or resistance training, is extremely important for both men and women as they age. It strengthens the heart, helps burn more calories at rest, and builds denser bones. But we’re not talking about pumping iron in a gym. You can do all of these workouts at home with little or no equipment.

Hike Strong

Schedule your workouts to allow for a rest day in between so that your muscles can recover and grow stronger—for example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Do the workout on each of those days. There’s nothing like hiking to get in shape for hiking, so one day a week (perhaps on a weekend), strap on a loaded backpack and go for a hike around the neighborhood or on a nearby trail.

Do the exercises on these pages as a circuit. That is, complete one set of each move, then immediately go to the next exercise without resting. After completing one circuit, rest for a few minutes then do one or two more.


Warm up by walking briskly for 3 to 5 minutes or climbing up and down a flight of stairs 5 or 6 times.

After two weeks of training, add a second circuit to your workout. Rest for 3 to 5 minutes before repeating the circuit.


Work the gluteals, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
Repetitions: 10 strides per leg

1. Take a big step forward with your right foot, landing on your heel and then your forefoot. Lower your body by bending your knees until they both form right angles and the knee of your left leg is almost in contact with the floor. (Caution: Avoid injury by making sure your forward knee does not move beyond your toes.)

2. Step forward with your left leg, landing on your heel and then your forefoot. Continue lunging forward until you’ve completed 10 lunges with each leg.


Work virtually every muscle in the hips, trunk, and legs and improve postural stability for almost any hiking movement.
Repetitions: 10 to 15

1. Hold a dumbbell vertically in front of your chest by grasping one end of the weight with both hands. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

2. Push your hips backward, then bend your knees and squat as if sitting on a chair. Keep your back and head as upright as possible throughout the lift. Then push yourself quickly back to the starting position.

If you don’t have a dumbbell, hold a bag of sand or a gallon of water. Beginners may want to do the squat without weight for the first few weeks. In that case, place your hands behind your head and do the squat the same way.


Work the quads, hamstrings, gluteals, and calves.
Repetitions:10 per leg

1. Stand in front of a weight bench or a step that’s 12 to 18 inches high. Place your right foot on top of the bench or step. Press into your right foot and straighten your right leg as you lift your body over the bench or step. Place your left foot on the bench or step.

2. Step down onto the floor with your right foot. Keeping your back straight, repeat the move, this time pressing your left foot into the step to push yourself up. Alternate sides until you’ve stepped up five times with each leg.

After you’ve built leg strength, make this move more challenging by strapping on a loaded backpack or holding dumbbells at your sides.


Work the core, upper body, and legs.
Repetitions: 20-30

1. Get into a push-up position with your shoulders directly over your hands and your arms extended straight. Brace your abdominals.

2. Bend your left knee and draw it toward your chest. Straighten your leg back out, then move your right knee to your chest and return that leg to the starting position. That’s one repetition. Keep alternating legs this way, moving quickly.


Strengthen and flex the lower and upper back and buttocks.
Repetitions: 5 per side

1. Get down on all fours with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart, your palms on the floor, and your back straight.

2. Lift your right leg straight out behind you while simultaneously lifting your left arm straight out in front of you. Hold for 2 seconds, then drop your arm and leg, and raise your left leg and right arm. Continue alternating until you’ve completed repetitions.


Improve posture, work core muscles.
Repetitions: Hold for 5 to 30 seconds

Compared with other abdominal exercises, like the classic sit-up, the side plank strengthens your core without putting stress on your lower back. And it helps you develop good posture and alignment.

Lie on your left side. Support your weight with your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your body should form a straight line from head to ankles. Pull your abs in as far as you can and hold this position for five to 30 seconds, breathing steadily. If you can’t hold it for 30 seconds in one try, rest when needed, and continue doing sets until you reach 30 seconds in total. Repeat the exercise on your right side.


Improve posture, work core muscles.
Repetitions: As many as you can up to 15

1. Stand in front of a step or bench and place your hands on it to assume a push-up position. Push-ups are easier to do from this angled position. The lower the angle of your back toward parallel with the floor, the harder they become.

2. Keeping your back and legs straight and your hands beneath your shoulders, lower yourself until your chest nears the step or bench. Then push yourself up until your arms are extended.

Finish with a 20-minute interval workout of your favorite cardio exercise (walking, running, cycling, etc.). Studies show that short bursts of intense physical activity burn more calories and improve fitness quicker than longer, slower-paced workouts.

Warm-up, low-intensity: 3 to 5 minutes at an easy pace

Moderate to high intensity: 30 seconds (your effort is 5 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10)

Low-intensity: 60 seconds at an easy pace (alternate between intensity levels 5 to 10 times)

Cool-down, low-intensity: 3 to 5 minutes at an easy pace

Jeff Csatari is the author of the New York Times best-seller The Belly Off! Diet (


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