Hiking Fitness Tips – Why Focus on Calf Strength for Hiking??

Today’s hiking fitness tips is all about how to get the calf muscles strong for hiking and avoiding ankle injuries and calf tears.  As a mad keen hiker, I am always looking forward to hiking somewhere.  Whether this is a day long or multi day hike I have learned through experience, not to neglect calf strength.  Many times, I have seen hikers sitting on the side of a track stretching out their calves that have become tight and sore, threatening to tear.  When the calves are very tight our gait starts to change and we are more likely to have sore knees and hips, or perhaps roll an ankle.  If this sounds like you it is good advice to stop and stretch but ultimately wouldn’t it be better to head out with strong calves and avoid this problem altogether?

 Let’s Get our Calf Muscles Strong for Hiking

Our calves are the muscle at the rear of the lower leg and they and help us get up hills.  Calves and the other muscles around the shins and ankles all work together to stabilise the ankles.  Let’s think about what the ankle does when we hike up hills – the push through our toes repeatedly.  Descent is the opposite.  Try these exercises 3-4 times a week in the lead up to any walk.  Your hikes will be so much more enjoyable if you are fit for it.

 Here is a 4 week calf muscle strengthening program. 

Add this to your everyday walk or workout:-

Week 1 straight knee calf raises

Start with both feet on the ground near a wall to hold on to. Raise your heels and go onto your toes as high as you can. Ensure that you’re keeping your weight over all toes evenly and your knees straight. SLOWLY lower back down to the ground.

Repeat until you feel it – for some this is 10-20 repetitions, for seasoned walkers it is more.  Please note you should feel this enough to ultimately get muscle growth, but do not overdo it either!  You should not end up overly sore.

Week 2 Once you can do 50 slow and steady calf raises add weight to a pack – 5-7kg is fine for day walkers (more for multi day walkers).  Repeat this same exercise every second day

Week 3  Once you feel strong and confident doing this try the straight knee calf raise with your feet on a step.  Raise onto your toes and then lower the heels below the step.  You should be near a wall or rail so you can hold on.

Week 4  Once you can lift and lower with control and confidence add the weighted pack again. 


Of course calf strength is only one aspect of hiking fitness but I think it is worthy of some special attention as no one wants the trip ruined by calf pain or injury. Here is another article I wrote on hiking fitness – exercises to do to reduce sore knees while hiking.

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Jo Cordell-Cooper operates the award winning business Jo CC Holistic PT, offers personal training, stress management strategies, preparation for hiking workouts, and adventure travel to multi-day hikes, locally and overseas.  Jo’s personal training private gym is in Geilston Bay, just east of Hobart, but you can work with her online too.  Join us on facebook in my free group Holistic Personal Training for more healthy lifestyle tips and tricks.