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What Muscles Do Hiking Work?

What Muscles Do Hiking Work
Photo credit: basecamptraining.com.au

Hiking is an excellent option for calming the mind and maintaining physical health. However, What Muscles Do Hiking Work is also an excellent way to tone nearly every muscle in the body. While many are aware that hiking is a good leg workout, other muscles are also utilized. Nevertheless, which muscles are essential for a robust hike?

The quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, core, and low back are all strengthened by hiking. In addition, this aerobic activity is an excellent cardiovascular workout and will improve cardiovascular health.

To get the most out of each hike, it is essential to keep all of your body’s muscles in good shape. Let’s take a look at the various muscles that aid in hiking and discover why your muscles become stronger and more toned when you regularly engage in hiking.

Hiking As Exercise

Hiking is primarily an aerobic and cardiovascular activity that benefits the heart and lungs and promotes the growth and function of muscles.

According to research, individuals should aim for a certain amount of cardio exercise per week in order to build general stamina. Muscle development also reduces the risk of injury.

There are three important considerations regarding cardio:

  • You must exert sufficient effort to reach 70-80% of your heart’s reserve capacity (maximum heart rate minus resting heart rate)
  • Consistently exercise for at least 30 minutes
  • Aim for four to five workouts per week
  • Since flat terrain and leisurely neighborhood strolls are insufficient to overload muscle fibers, challenge yourself every weekend with a hike.

To gain muscle from hiking, you must consistently engage in strenuous hikes. They need not be at an extreme altitude, but they must be steep.

Each hike should leave you with exhausted muscles. Check out these six suggestions for increasing your strength.

Muscles Worked Hiking

Muscles Worked Hiking
Photo credit: travelinplanet.com

Hiking engages the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abdominal, and hip muscles.

Here are six muscles that are stressed when hiking in the wilderness:


The quadriceps — the anterior thigh muscles — are the primary muscles used for hiking and running. The quadriceps are large, segmented muscles that remain interconnected throughout the tops of the legs. During hiking and running, all quadriceps are utilized to propel the body forward with each step or stride. In both activities, the quadriceps straighten (extend) the knee.


Hamstrings are located at the back of the upper thigh, and one of the reasons you can flex or bend your knee when hiking is because of their presence (together with your quadriceps).

Compared to running, hiking can be quite taxing on the hamstrings due to the fact that it helps to pull the quads back when the body moves forward. This muscle continues to perform the majority of the work while hiking.


Then, we will proceed to the calves. These are always active during a hike, and you will quickly observe how they vary according to the intensity of the walk.

These muscles will experience less strain when walking on a flat surface as opposed to an incline. Before any hike, you should perform calf stretches to ensure that they do not become tight.


The glutes are a group of muscles that assist in supporting the trunk during all types of physical activity.

During a hike, the glutes must support both the body weight and the backpack’s weight. When hiking uphill, the glutes receive a much more intense workout than when walking on a flat surface.

Different Hip Muscles

Maintaining hip mobility and flexibility is essential for preventing injury during either activity. These hip flexors, abductors, and adductors support hip flexion while hiking and running. They support the glutes and lower back to prevent strain and absorb shock while hiking. When you run, they perform the same functions; however, they require greater flexibility and strength because the impact on your joints when running is significantly greater than when hiking.


When you hike, you also work your abdominal muscles, which is unknown to most people. Strong abdominal and core muscles will improve your posture while hiking, especially if you are carrying a backpack.

Your abdominal muscles also improve your balance, which can be crucial when climbing or descending hills. Additionally, it safeguards your lower back and prevents injuries.

Does Hiking Strengthen Muscles?

Yes, hiking strengthens muscles. Since hiking is essentially walking on difficult terrain, the primary muscle groups targeted are the legs and glutes. Walking requires the hamstring and quadriceps to work in tandem to support the knees. It strengthens the area where your hips and thighs meet, and each heel-to-toe movement also strengthens your ankles.

As a shock absorber, this knee-to-shin-front muscle can also cause pain along the shins following rapid walking or walking on an incline. The proper walking poles aid in this regard. Rockier or uneven terrain necessitates greater balance and, consequently, more active muscle groups. Because hiking requires more side-to-side movement – the trail is rarely flat – it also exercises the muscles of the middle body.

In addition to the hips, the abdominal, oblique, and back muscles are engaged. These muscles permit twisting and turning. When it comes to incline and decline movement, our glutes and calf muscles play a significant role.

Hiking is a cardiovascular activity

First, hiking is an aerobic activity that promotes cardiovascular health. Activities involving hiking strengthen our hearts. Most importantly, it prevents potential cardiac pathologies and maintains optimal blood pressure levels.

My doctor is always amazed by my blood pressure when I visit for my annual checkup. It is unusual for an elderly person like me to have the blood pressure of a twenty-year-old. I owe everything to hiking and backpacking.

What types of hikes build muscle the most?

The tough ones. Okay, but seriously, the most rewarding workouts are typically the most difficult. If you want to tear the most muscle while hiking, you should focus on hikes with a high ratio of elevation gain to distance traveled.

The steeper the trail, the more your body is forced to walk at an angle resembling a lunge, and we all know how enjoyable lunges are. If you believe that is still not challenging enough, you should take larger steps. This will bring your body closer to the ground and intensify your workout.

You can purchase a weighted vest if you’re going on a short hike and don’t need a backpack. It will distribute the weight more evenly across your upper body and feel much more comfortable than stuffing random weight into your backpack.

Ditch The Gym — Hit The Trail

Perhaps you’ve recently considered getting in shape but dislike the noise and humidity of the gym.

You cannot be faulted for preferring an outdoor setting to a weight room to get in shape. Fortunately, you do not always have to exercise in a noisy gym to reap health benefits.

There are many obvious advantages to hiking. One, however, is frequently neglected: muscle development. Perhaps this is because most do not equate a leisurely hike with a rigorous deadlift and squat session.

Trail running is an excellent way to build a solid foundation of core and lower-body strength—just it’s you and the open air. Best of all, there is no monthly fee. Honestly, how can you possibly top that?

Is hiking an effective means of weight loss?

Hiking is one of the most effective ways to lose weight available. It can increase your breathing and heart rate while making you feel energized. Even if you only walk without jogging, the uneven terrain and uphill and downhill movement can help you get a good cardio workout in no time.

In fact, the average hiker burns close to 400 calories per hour! If you can do this at least a few times per week and consume a healthy diet, hiking can be an effective way to lose weight.

It is essential to spend enough time hiking and to do so at an appropriate pace. A leisurely stroll around the block for a few minutes per day is insufficient for weight loss.

The most efficient way to burn calories and lose weight is to go on a vigorous hike with varied terrain and a quick pace. Remember to get enough sleep, limit your stress (which hiking can also help with), and consume healthy foods, and you will see how hiking can aid in weight loss.

These muscle groups are strengthened by side-to-side movement

Hiking involves shifting your weight from one leg to the other as you walk. This action engages the hips, abdominals, waist, and muscles that support the back and spine in general. The lateral oblique muscles are responsible for the trunk’s rotation and flexion.

The lower back is supported by the lumbar square and multifidus muscles. Involved as well are the abdominals and the large group of muscles, the erect spines, located on both sides of the spine.

How Hiking Can Strengthen Your Various Muscle Groups?

The incorporation of longer hikes, varied terrain, and elevation gain increases is more advantageous for toning the various muscle groups. As with athletes who engage in intermittent high-intensity exercise, this provides a temporary muscle overload stimulus that promotes muscle growth.

Your muscles will adapt to stress in a short period of time, and as a result, muscle size is likely to increase rapidly. Moreover, if you wish to continue gaining muscle mass, you will need to select even more difficult hiking trails.

What Muscles Are Developed Through Hiking?

Hiking engages multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, core, lower back, and calves, as well as muscles such as the shoulders and upper back.

When navigating a trail with a steep incline, the angle’s gravity alters which muscles are engaged, thereby increasing the strain on those muscle groups. Pacing up a steep incline for an extended period of time can leave your legs feeling like Jell-O spaghetti! Hiking involves the same process of muscle breakdown as the majority of other exercises. This is why hikers are typically recognized for their chiseled legs and incredibly strong core.

Benefits Of Hiking

Hiking is a beneficial cardiovascular exercise with numerous benefits, including:

  • Enhances blood glucose and blood pressure
  • Similar to other weight-bearing exercises, it increases bone density.
  • Reduces the possibility of heart disease
  • Better balance
  • Improves the strength of the lower leg and hip muscles
  • Contracts the abdominal muscles
  • Increases the capacity for weight loss
  • Improves mood and reduces stress


Hiking will not give you the physique of a bodybuilder, but consistent strenuous hikes will improve your muscle tone.

If you carefully manage your diet, you can also gain muscle. Understand the limitations of your body, pace yourself, and give yourself ample time to rest.

The process of building muscle through hiking takes time. You will see results without risking injury if you are patient.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs) about What Muscles Do Hiking Work

Does hiking tone your body?

When hiking with a pack, upper- and lower-body muscles are utilized. Both hiking and running are great forms of exercise. Each provides cardiovascular and pulmonary benefits and targets major muscle groups, allowing you to increase your endurance, strength, and muscle tone.

Is hiking an effective way to gain muscle?

Similar to weightlifting, I’ve been practicing it for years and can attest to its incredible physical benefits. The majority of people can build leg muscle by hiking. Hiking will not increase muscle hypertrophy if you are an advanced weightlifter or athlete, but it will improve your endurance and cardiovascular health.

Can one become ripped while hiking?

Long periods of hiking involve a slower pace on varying terrain grades. This assists in enhancing your strength. You will notice a slight difference in muscle mass, but don’t expect your legs to grow to the size of tree trunks from slower hikes.

What effect does hiking have on your physique?

Abdominal mass, lean mass, waist-to-fat ratio, and fat-free ratio are all positively impacted by consistent, prolonged hiking. It also has additional fitness benefits, such as a higher caloric expenditure, and lifestyle benefits, such as a decreased risk of chronic cardiovascular disease.

What are the legs of a hiker?

Hiker legs, also known as “trail legs,” are acquired through multiple days of extended backpacking (say, three to four months).

Does hiking reduce abdominal fat?

Yes, hiking can aid in the loss of abdominal fat. While it is impossible to spot-reduce fat, you can engage in physical activity that burns fat all over your body, including your stomach. Hiking is a form of exercise that can involve both aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (muscle-strengthening) activity (to build muscle mass).

Will hiking make your legs bigger?

Walking does not build large, musculature, but it does build some muscle. 1 Some individuals avoid using the incline on the treadmill or walking outdoors on hills out of fear that building leg muscles will make their legs appear larger. This is highly unlikely, as even vigorous walking is aerobic exercise.

Is it acceptable to hike daily?

You may then wonder if daily hiking is undesirable. No, daily hiking is not bad. The opposite is true. Typically, we associate hiking with traversing steep mountain slopes, rocky terrain, and dense forests.

Is hiking a form of cardio?

Similar to brisk walking, hiking is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness, especially if your route includes hills, which will require your heart to work harder.

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