With sunny spring days in full bloom, it’s prime time to take your cardio to the great outdoors. One way to do so is with a hike. Approximately 34 million Americans go for a hike annually, according to the American Hiking Society. You might already be in great cardio shape if you run or walk all the time. But if you don’t work out on an incline or vertical trainer very often, your fitness might not cut it when it comes time to climb. “When you hike or climb, you’re working against gravity. It challenges your metabolic pathways differently,” says Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham. “It adds more of a strength approach to training. With running you are working with forward propulsion to help move you forward. With climbing, you aren’t.” Don’t lose hope, though. You can actually use the stair climber to train for a hike.
The best thing you can do to get ready for a hike is, of course, hike. However, if you don’t live by a mountain, this can get tricky. Enter the stair climber. This gym staple is the perfect tool for training when you can’t get to an incline outdoors. “It’s very effective,” says Cunningham. “The only difference is air quality. If air quality will be thinner on your hike, you might need to do more altitude training.”
Mix up your workouts.
Cunningham recommends alternating between long, steady-paced climbs and workouts where you work at a higher pace. The first will up your endurance. The second will help prep your body for the uneven terrain you’ll cover outdoors.
Focus on form.
Working out with proper form will help you breathe deeply and generate the most force from your lower body to get you up the stairs (and eventually the trail). “Think about standing with a neutral spine always,” says Cunningham. “Hunching over only inhibits your ability to use your lower body properly by putting pressure on your lower back.” Also, focus on pushing off from your heel with each step to help you power up the incline.
Swing your arms.
Resist the urge to lean on the handrails! “You should try to do more of your workouts without holding, to mimic actual hiking,” says Cunningham. She suggests pumping your arms forward and back as you will when you’re actually climbing an outdoor ascent.
Add some weight.
If you’re getting ready for a one-day hike (or longer), you’ll likely be carrying a backpack with snacks and other gear. You don’t necessarily have to bring that to the gym. However, Cunningham does suggest slipping on a weighted vest to help you get used to climbing with the extra pounds on your back. Don’t start out with the added weight, though. Make sure that you can stair climb comfortably without it before you bump up the challenge.
Do some downhill.
Hiking on a decline may seem like a piece of cake compared to the climb up. However, it’s actually way harder on your quads. To help get yours ready to handle the downhill terrain, add some intervals of walking down a flight of stairs or lunging down a hill to your routine, after you finish with the machine. Pay attention to your foot placement, says Cunningham. You should touch the ground midfoot—not with your heel—when going down.
Ideally, you can use the stair climber to train for a hike in addition to actually finding some nearby trails to practice on. But, if you’re in a training pinch, the stair climber can get you in shape to take to the trails.