Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness

It may still feel like winter…but you’ll want to begin your conditioning routine at least four to six weeks before the beginning of hiking season. Below you’ll find two sample exercises adapted from Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness, 2nd ed, by David Musnick, M.D., and Mark Pierce, A.T.C. -- guaranteed to help you get in shape before hiking season beings!


Level surface to start; may progress to hills or balance equipment.

Establish basic buttock, quad, and calf deceleration strength. The squat is also the basis for jumping and plyometrics.

Beginners should start with mini to half squats. Start on flat ground with your weight evenly distributed side to side and front to back. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your buttocks until your knees are at an angle of about 60 degrees. Keep your back in a neutral position to avoid excessive flexion. Be sure that your knees are aligned with your first and second toes. It isn’t necessary to go lower than having your thighs parallel to the ground. If your knees hurt with a squat, you can reduce the depth or unload part of your body width with ski poles. Try 15 reps and do 2-3 sets slowly, then gradually increase speed.


  • Hold free weights or use a pack while squatting.
  • Do a squat on one leg. Do not increase the depth of your squat until your balance has improved and you can do it pain-free.
  • Try doing squats on a hill.
  • Squat machines are another alternative. The best ones are upright or at a 45-degree angle.

—Adapted from Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness, 2nd ed by David Musnick, M.D. and Mark Pierce, A.T.C., with the assistance of Sandra K. Eliott, P.T., published by The Mountaineers Books, $26.95.

Clock Leg Reach


Emphasize balance and strengthen the gluteal, hamstring, and trunk muscles. This is a good, basic balance drill.

Make believe you are in the center of a large clock. Balance on your left leg and bend you knee slightly. Initiate a single leg squat with your standing leg, squatting enough to touch the toes of your other foot to the 10:00 position; do 2 mini-squats and toe touches. Then do the same at the 11:00 position, and then touch around the clock until your right foot gets to the 7:00 position. After you have mastered the basic exercise, try placing your toe touch randomly to do quick directional changes. For example, try this sequence: 12:00, 4:00, 11:00, 5:00, 1:00, 7:00. For an extra challenge, have a partner call positions out randomly. Switch to standing on your right leg and repeat the sequence in the opposite direction. Each time around the clock on a leg is 1 set. Perform 2-3 sets on each leg.


  • To make this more challenging, add a reaching motion with both of your arms in the same direction as the motion of your toe-touching foot.
  • Reach with a free weight or medicine ball to increase the challenge.
  • Do this exercise while standing on a foam half roll.

Progress this exercise initially by increasing the speed and randomness of your toe touch before increasing the distance. Add the arm reach when you feel comfortable with the random toe touching.


—Adapted from Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness, 2nd ed by David Musnick, M.D. and Mark Pierce, A.T.C., with the assistance of Sandra K. Eliott, P.T., published by The Mountaineers Books, $26.95.


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