If your running is feeling a little stale lately, or you’re having trouble motivating for yet another track workout, it might be time to consider switching things up. Many runners can benefit from swapping a run or two each week for a hike, from both a mental and physical standpoint. Here’s why lacing up your boots and hitting the trails might be the best thing for your running, along with a couple of potential disadvantages to switching your routine.
YOU’LL MAKE AEROBIC GAINS WITH LESS RISK OF INJURY
Hiking is a fantastic low-intensity cardio activity, though anyone who’s done a tough mountainous hiking trip knows a hike typically ends up involving at least a few sections of high-intensity activity as you puff your way up a particularly steep climb. Ultimately, though, this low-intensity cardio, done for longer periods, helps develop your aerobic engine, especially if you’re new to running and find even short runs challenging.
IT’S GOOD TRAIL-RUNNING PREP
While it won’t be exactly the same as trail running, if you’ve never spent much time off road, hiking can be a more gentle introduction to tougher terrain. Going out for a hike on single-track trails might feel less intimidating than heading out for a run, and because you’re moving slower, your body adjusts to navigating rocks and roots with less chance of falling. Because you can opt for a full-size backpack rather than a smaller hydration pack, you can also carry more supplies, from snacks to first aid, so even if you’re out longer than anticipated, you have everything you need. It’s also a simple way to start adding more elevation to your workouts, and since most runners slow to a ‘fast hike’ pace on big climbs anyway, your hiking is preparing you perfectly for runs that include hilly segments.
YOU’LL SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN NATURE
We know being in nature can help alleviate stress, make a person more creative, more productive and decrease anxiety levels. As runners, we’re probably already spending time in nature, but let’s be honest: Many of us opt for time-saving routes over getting out on the trails, and run in our neighborhood or on a treadmill rather than getting to a trailhead much of the time. While running of any type still provides stress relief, spending time in actual nature can be even more powerful. Imagine a full day of hiking in a state park versus a 30-minute treadmill run: Which feels more relaxing?
IT’S A NO-NEW-GEAR WAY TO CROSS-TRAIN
You probably know it’s important to do some form of cross-training to give your body a break from all the pavement-pounding. But plenty of the recommended sports like swimming, cross-country skiing and cycling require a lot of new gear (or pool access). Hiking, on the other hand, doesn’t require any new gear — just a good pair of shoes and a water bottle. You can get away with minimal gear until you start thinking about multi-day trips!
YOU’LL ENGAGE DIFFERENT MUSCLE GROUPS
Runners can sometimes train their bodies to rely on certain muscle groups while ignoring other major ones. Adding hiking might help your body switch things up and start to activate less-utilized muscles. As terrain gets more uneven, you’re going to perform lunging and squatting moves as you navigate over and around rocks and roots. Steep climbs force you to activate your glutes. If you’re doing a longer hike that requires an overnight pack, this becomes even more true.
IT’S EASY TO BRING A FRIEND
Call up a friend and head out on a brisk hike. You’ll be able to enjoy yourselves and move, but you won’t have as much pressure to perform.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While hiking is non-specific training that, ultimately, it isn’t running, it will boost your fitness in general and that’s going to help your running in the long term. If you enjoy it and it motivates you, by all means, get out there. But if your goal race is looming and you’re trying to set a personal record, it’s important to understand hiking won’t do much for your 5K PR.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.