Does Hiking Build Muscles: A Comprehensive Guide

Hiking is one of the most effective types of exercise, without a doubt. It’s excellent for shedding off the extra pounds, but it also improves the work of the heart and the lungs. Even more importantly, it can do wonders for building strong muscles on your legs, stomach area, and arms.

Suppose you are looking to build muscles without being obliged to go to the gym. In that case, you can always try hiking and see how effective it can be for both the body and the mind. We will tell you about this topic, so stick around to learn more: Does hiking build muscles? 

In Which Cases Does Hiking Build Muscles?

Hiking can build muscles in most cases. Think about it this way – when you walk regularly, your body uses up to 200 muscles for you to be able to take a step. When hiking, you have uneven, often uphill, terrain to walk on. That terrain puts a more significant strain on your body, so it must engage more muscles while also using more energy and power to help you get from point A to point B.

To add to that, most people carry heavy backpacks on hiking trips, which is something that doesn’t often happen when you are taking a regular walk. The heavier pack can strain your back, hips, legs, shoulders, and even the abdominal muscles. When you put the backpack on, all these muscles activate and start working harder.

So, when you think of it, you don’t need to do anything special besides hiking to build muscles. The process of hiking activates the muscles, helps build them up, and makes them stronger. Because of this, we encourage everyone to either replace the gym with hiking or incorporate hiking as part of their exercise plan.

Which Muscles Are Used when Hiking?

The previous section briefly mentions some of the muscles engaged during hiking. However, we want to further detail the muscles used when hiking, where they are located, and what they are used for.

The truth is that most muscles in your body can be engaged during a hike. Muscles in the legs, hips, and abdominal area are the ones that are mainly used. But that doesn’t mean you cannot engage other muscles by incorporating weighted belts, vests, or trekking poles.

For now, let’s focus on the muscles engaged by hiking alone. Here is the list:

1. Abdominal Muscles

The abdominal muscles are divided into five groups, but hiking engages three of them. Those are the external obliques, internal obliques, and the ones known as transversus abdominis. These muscles are usually involved when carrying a heavy backpack, so the body works harder to allow good posture and load support.

If you tend to hike with a backpack, you will see some abs forming on your body. And imagine, you can get the abs without doing any dreadful ab exercises!

2. Glutes

As we mentioned with the abdominal muscles, the glutes are also connected to good posture and load support. They are located in the buttocks and get quite a beating during hikes. However, you can do exercises on the side to make them stronger or do more uphill hiking to help them improve and get a nicer form.

3. Hamstrings

Hamstrings are the muscles located on the back of the thighs, near the rear. They are engaged even when you walk or climb stairs but get the most exercise during hikes. Thanks to them, you can flex and bend the knees while hiking, which is very important. If you have bad knees, hiking could be pretty difficult, but you can do more hamstring exercises and help the knees get better.

4. Calves

The calves are muscles on the back of the leg, stretching from the knee to the ankle. These muscles are essential as they help with movement in all situations, not only hiking. When hiking, especially uphill, the calves can get big and strong and look quite impressive.

5. Quadriceps

The quads, as they are known, are located on the front and side of the tight. They function similarly to the hamstrings as they help flex and bend the knee. At the same time, they help move the body forward, no matter if it’s on a hiking trail or elsewhere.

6. Hip Muscles

The hip muscles can be divided into three groups: flexors, adductors, and abductors. All of them are engaged during hikes and have the crucial task of supporting the lower back and helping move the legs.

Is There Any Way to Build More Muscles when Hiking?

Hiking helps build muscles, but you can always do more to strengthen your muscles further. While you can go to the gym and work out using the machines, that is unnecessary. You can still rely on hiking, but you can add a few things to make it more interesting. Here is what you can do:

1. Do More Uphill Hiking

If you have been taking it slow with your hikes, it’s time to step it up. Most demanding trails with higher elevation gain but fewer miles are the best for building more muscles than you would usually do. So, try incorporating more such hikes into your schedule.

Further reading: How to overcome the fear of heights while hiking? 

2. Use Trekking Poles

If you want to work your arm and back muscles, you can also use trekking poles when hiking. They are perfect for upper body exercise but will also limit the strain on your legs. So, get two quality trekking poles and use them whenever you go hiking.

3. Take a Heavier Load

Try taking a heavier load when hiking to work on your abdominal muscles. Even if you go on more accessible hikes, you can use a weighted vest or backpack to help build more muscles. If you decide to go with the backpack, make sure that all the straps are adjusted and fit the shape of your body well.

What to Do for Muscle Recovery after Hiking?

Muscle recovery is just as crucial as building muscles. After all, you cannot have one without the other. If you put more strain on your muscles during your hikes, you will need to help them recover afterward. Here is what you can do as part of that recovery process:

1. Get Enough Rest

After the hike, get a good night’s sleep. Resting for at least 8 hours a day is recommended as that is enough time for the entire body to relax and recuperate. If you don’t have other obligations, we recommend that you spend more time laying down or sleeping after the hike.

2. Rehydrate

Hiking can drain much of the water in your system, so you need to drink more water during and after the hike. Rehydrating is essential, especially after summer hikes when the sun contributes to dehydration. So, make it a task to drink at least 3 liters of water daily during and after your hike.

3. Eat High-Protein Food

High-protein food is recommended for the actual hike and the days following the hike when your body and muscles need to recover. Under high-protein food, we mean eating more red meat, poultry, and even fish. Then, you can also eat eggs and dairy products.

It would be best if you did not leave behind foods rich in fats or carbs. The body and muscles need all the energy they can get, so they will appreciate your efforts to help them recover by eating great food. Still, remember to eat the food in moderation – too much of anything can make you sick, even if it’s food that can benefit the muscles.

4. Don’t Shy Away from Stretching

Hiking doesn’t have to be the only time you do exercise. It’s wise to incorporate a bit of stretching into your day-to-day activities. It will help with muscle recovery and overall posture and joint pain. So, do some stretching or yoga after your hike, and you will immediately feel better.

5. Return to Hiking Soon

If you experience soreness or muscle pain, don’t let that keep you away from the trails for long. With hiking, it’s wise to practice it as often as possible, so your muscles get used to it and stop hurting. If you wait weeks or months to do another hike, you will be right where you started and have to go through muscle pain again.

However, keep this in mind – if the muscle or joint pain does not go away after a few days to a week, you should probably see a doctor. Some hiking trails are so demanding that they can cause injuries to your legs, especially if you are a beginner hiker who doesn’t have quality gear.

Conclusion: Does Hiking Build Muscles?

Hiking undoubtedly helps build muscles. Depending on the hiking trail, you can get more or less exercise but always know your limits no matter what you do. It’s better to be safe than risk an injury, no matter how pressing you think it is, to build more muscles. So, stay safe, do your best, and happy hiking!

Last Update: 15. June 2022
About the Author

My name is Thomas, and I love the outdoors. I'm currently living in Germany and I would like to encourage my readers to go outside with this blog. Here you can read more about me.