Build strength using your backpack and this resistance-training plan

Use your backpack as resistance to help build strength for adventures ahead.


Once upon a time, there was a committee member named Jack who decided at the last minute to join his troop on its overnight backpacking trip just a week away. “I haven’t trained, but how hard could it be?”

It didn’t take long for Jack’s quadriceps and lower-back muscles to inform him just how tough 16 miles under a heavy pack can be to the body of an out-of-shape 39-year-old.

If you’re planning to join your troop or crew on an outdoor adventure trip, don’t be like Jack. The sooner you begin prepping your muscles, the better. Start a shape-up program four to eight weeks before your trip.

Any resistance training program will do the trick if you pair it with at least one day a week dedicated to walking briskly for about 45 minutes while wearing a loaded backpack.

If you don’t have weights at home, here’s a solution: Use a loaded internal-frame backpack for resistance to help build strength.

Use this simple strength and conditioning workout designed to build the muscles you’ll use on the trail. Do it just twice a week, plus a third cardio workout, and you’ll be in shape to enjoy the rush of adventure without the residual soreness of using muscles that are not prepared.

(You should always check with your physician before starting a new exercise routine.)

Getting started: Fill an internal- frame backpack with 15 to 30 pounds of soft gear. Do the four pack-resistance exercises back to back with 30 seconds of rest between exercises. After completing the fourth exercise, rest one minute and then repeat the round. Do three total rounds.

Workout A (Tuesday)
Exercise Repetitions Rest Between Exercises Sets
 1A. Weighted Plank 1 hold, 20-60 seconds 30 seconds 3
 2A. Bear Squat 10 30 seconds 3
 3A. Walking Lunge 10 30 seconds 3
 4A. Shucking 10 30 seconds 3

1A. Weighted Plank – Targets the core and back

Weighted Plank

Secure a weighted internal-frame pack to your back. Get on all fours as if assuming a pushup position, but bend your elbows and place your forearms on the floor. Elbows should align directly under your shoulders, and your weight should be supported between your forearms and toes. Brace your core and don’t allow your middle to sag. Try to hold this position while breathing normally for 20 seconds, gradually working up to 60 seconds.

2A. Bear Hug Squat – Targets the quads, hamstrings, chest, glutes and calves

Weighted Bear Hug

Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, with your backpack sitting on the floor vertically between your feet. Squat down and pull the pack up to your chest, hugging the pack with both arms and returning to the standing position. This is the starting stance.

Keeping your head and back straight, push your hips back and slowly squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor — your knees should be directly above your toes, but avoid letting them extend past your feet. Then push yourself up into a standing position, knees unlocked, and repeat. Do 10.

3A. Walking Lunge – Targets the hamstrings, quads, glutes and calves

Walking Lun ge

Stand with feet hip-width apart, wearing your loaded backpack. Take a big step forward with your left leg and lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Your right leg should be bent at 90 degrees, its knee hovering just an inch or two above the floor. Push off of your front foot and the ball of your back foot and take another big step forward with your right foot, immediately lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. That’s one rep. Do 10.

4A. Shucking – Targets the lower back, hamstrings, quads, glutes and trapezius


Stand in front of your loaded backpack with feet more than shoulder-width apart. Hinge at your waist to reach down and grab your backpack either by the straps or material. Your knees should be slightly bent. Without standing up, swing the pack from foot to foot by transferring your body weight from one hip to the other. Keep the weight on your heels and your shoulders down and back.

With each swing, you can touch the pack to the floor — but don’t let go of it. Speed up as you become comfortable with the movement. Shucking from one side to the other and back equals one rep. Do 10.

Workout B (Thursday)
Exercise Repetitions Rest Between Exercises Sets
 1B. Backpack Pushup 10 30 seconds 3
 2B. Farmer’s Walk 20 yards 30 seconds 3
 3B. Clean and Press 10 30 seconds 3
 4B. Windshield Wiper 10 30 seconds 3

1B. Backpack Pushup – Targets the chest, shoulders, triceps and core


Secure a loaded backpack to your back. Kneel on the floor and get into a push-up position with your arms straight, hands shoulder-width apart and your legs extended behind you, feet together. (If this is too difficult, omit the weighted pack until you build up your strength.) Bend your elbows and slowly lower your chest toward the ground and the slowly push yourself back up until your arms are straight (elbows unlocked). Do 10 repetitions.

2B. Farmer’s Walk – Targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, traps, forearms, calves and grip

Farmers Walk

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with the backpack lying on the floor horizontally in front of your feet. Bend your knees and carefully lift the pack up, resting it in the crooks of your arms, close to your body. Pushing off the balls of your feet, walk forward for 20 steps, turn around and walk back. As strength builds, progress this exercise by pressing the backpack over your head before walking forward.

3B. Clean and Press – Targets the whole body

Clean and Press

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the backpack lying on the floor in front of you. Push your hips back, bend your knees and reach down to grab the top and bottom of your backpack with a strong grip. In one explosive move, pull the backpack upward toward your shoulders by pushing your hips forward and driving your feet into the floor to straighten your legs.

As the pack reaches your chest, allow it to roll over your knuckles above your hands, and then press the pack over your head until your arms are straight. Reverse the movement to return the pack to the floor. Do 10.

4B. Windshield Wiper – Targets the core muscles.

Windshield Wiper

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Grab your loaded backpack with both hands and extend your arms above you. Keeping the pack raised above you and your head and back flat on the floor, slowly pull your knees up and toward your left shoulder. Slowly lower your legs to the left — keeping your feet from touching the floor — and then repeat the move, this time drawing your knees toward your right shoulder and toward the floor. That’s one rep. Do 10.

Cardio (Saturday)
Hike wearing loaded backpack for at least 45 minutes over varying terrain.

Keep doing these workouts and you’ll build strength to help you this summer.

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


  1. This is excellent, Jeff. There’s a growing movement to exercise with weighted rucks or packs. See, started by former Green Beret, Jason McCarthy. Thanks for the great article!

  2. Thanks for the great article. Our troop is headed to Northern Tier this summer. Can you suggest a good workout to prepare us for days off paddling and portaging canoes?

  3. Excellent! I like to see articles like this targeted at Scout leaders. A Scout is Physically Strong, at all ages. Let’s set the example for these boys and be the kind of men they want to grow up to me, not an out-of-shape “old guy.”

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