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Getting fit to hike—back to the basics!

Winter is a time of hibernation … That might be true in Australia’s southern states (aka. ‘down south’) but here in Queensland we enjoy some of our best weather during winter.

In fact, its a great time to get outdoors and start exploring, on foot!

There's only one problem! You have been hibernating, or at least rugged up on the couch for longer than strictly necessary, ever since the weather turned chilly …

And now you realise there’s some fitness training needed before you can take to the tracks and trails of Queensland National Parks for a winter hiking adventure.

Everyone’s fitness levels will be different, but there are some basic principles that you can follow to get you fit and fabulous, or, at the very least, provide you with the foundation you need to stride out with confidence in our parks and forests.

Walk 10,000 steps a day, at least

Two walkers on boardwalk surrounded by bush.
Walkers in Noosa National Park | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Walk, then walk some more! Aim for the minimum 10,000 steps a day (every day). If you have bush trails or natural terrain nearby, walk on these a few times a week. If you don’t, walk on the grass or natural surfaces wherever possible, even in an urban setting.

After 2 weeks of basic walking, start to increase the distance 2 days a week. Or walk for a longer time on one day, and then walk faster on another day and cover more distance in the same amount of time.

Strengthen your legs and lungs

On your walks, add in some ‘climbs’. Find a set of stairs or a steep hill and ascend these as fast as you can—descend slowly as your recovery, taking care on the way down. Each week add a few more ascents. During these ‘intervals’ you will increase your heart rate and also build strength in your legs. When out hiking on undulating terrain many people struggle with the descent as much as they do on the ascent. This is because we spend so much time on flat, smooth, hard man-made surfaces and our bodies are generally not attuned to coping with uneven terrain underfoot.

Walk with your pack

Person in wet weather walking gear sits on rock adjusting boot.
Walking with your pack | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Having a backpack on your back changes the way you move—even a lightweight pack makes a difference. A daypack packed with water for a day’s hike, a rain jacket, food, mobile phone, sun protection, rain cover and first aid kit can easily weigh around 8kg. This is significant, especially climbing a steep hill! So, walk with your pack as often as you can to get used to the extra weight. Start slowly by building up the weight from 2–3kg and add 1kg a week to a maximum of 10kg. By adding weight to your backpack, you can increase the intensity of your walk training, especially if you are doing sets on stairs and hills.

Walk on undulating terrain

Two hikers help each other over uneven terrain.
Walking on uneven terrain | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

Trails can vary greatly in our parks and forests. You will encounter roots, rocks, loose stones, sandy trails and slippery river crossings—all part of the adventure! Practising walking uneven natural terrain wherever possible will help to prepare your mind and body for navigating different surfaces. You’ll build agility, balance and strength in your ankles and other joints. If you wear glasses or contact lenses you might also want to check how they affect your depth perception when navigating steep terrain.

Add core and strength exercises

Include simple bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges and the plank hold in your daily walk. Do these once you have warmed up and aim to include a number of repetitions during your walk. Remember to adapt movements if you have any pre-existing injuries or conditions. Be aware of your posture and alignment when performing these exercises.

Listen to your body

If you have a pre-existing injury, or even a niggle that worries you, seek advice from a qualified practitioner. Stop training if you’re feeling unwell or something doesn’t feel right.

Consider your posture—if you spend most of the day at a desk on a computer, you may need to ‘rebalance’ your posture before setting off with a heavy backpack! Work on stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak areas as part of your preparation.

Stretch it out

Walker stretches her legs before walking.
Stretching | Greg Cartwright © Queensland Government

As you step up the intensity of your walking or start to get more active, it is vital to support your new training with some active recovery and stretching. If you spend a lot of time at a desk, you need to do some daily work to give you the mobility to engage in hiking without risking injury or strain. Everyone has different stretching needs, depending on build, level of activity and daily movement practices. Common stretches for hiking include: calf stretch, hamstring stretch, hip opener, hip flexor stretch and upper back (thoracic) stretch.

Remember, only stretch when your muscles have warmed up and don’t stretch to a point of pain. Remember to breathe!

Keep it simple and safe

Start by walking in your local area. As you get fitter, extend your walking ‘territory’ and discover somewhere new. One of the best things about hiking is exploring places you haven’t been before—it takes you back to your childhood.

Before taking on any new activity you should always seek advice from your doctor or practitioner and adapt your training accordingly.

See you out on the trails!

Now you’re motivated and know what you need to do, we’ll look forward to seeing you out on the trails, enjoying all the benefits of walking in nature!

Start planning your next walk here.

Last updated: 14 July 2020

Acknowledgement of Country

The Department of Environment and Science acknowledges Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land. We recognise their connection to land, sea and community, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Design developed by Boyd Blackman, a Butchulla and Birri Birri man, featuring the artwork of Elaine Chambers, a Koa (Guwa) and Kuku Yalanji woman.