Faster Uphill Hiking

by Fitcoachion | Last Updated: August 17, 2020

One of my goals has been to improve my uphill hiking speed, because I have had difficulty in the past keeping up with faster hiking groups. From my recent training, it seems to be improving: there is one steep road I walk up nearby that was taking about 15:00 minutes and I’ve gotten it down to 12:53. But in a recent issue of Trail Runner Magazine there is an article by David Roche [1], suggesting specific training tips for uphill hiking I want to try. Trail runners often have to hike up steeper sections and this can slow down their overall times, so this motivates them to get faster hiking uphill.

David points out that trail runners often have great aerobic fitness so should be able to hike fast uphill, but their muscles can be more adapted to running, not hiking. But “neuromuscular adaptation” is needed to make the necessary adjustment, and this happens fairly quickly with practice: the brain and nervous system get more efficient at firing the right muscles to do a task. David gives the example of a pro runner that he had train on a treadmill at a 15% grade for about 20 minutes of “tempo training”, which is pretty steep. At first the runner could do this at 4 miles per hour at a heart rate of 160. After only a few sessions of practice, he was walking at 4.5 mph, or 12.5% faster, at a heart rate of only 140. That is a remarkably fast adaptation.

In my case I’m pretty fit from all the cycling standing up that I do, which is aerobically similar to running. I’m excited to specifically practice this on steep hiking. I’m not a treadmill fan so I’ll just practice “tempo training” on steep local roads and trails. My talent level is less and my age is a lot more than the athlete mentioned in the article, so the absolute numbers will be much less impressive. But I should be able to expect a similar percentage improvement, and the qualitative effect that my heart doesn’t have to work as hard. I’ll give an update in a few weeks on how this turns out. Maybe by the time my local fast hiking group decides its safe to resume group hikes, I’ll be ready.

  1. Roche, David, “Uphill Battles”, Trail Runner, August, 2020, p. 56.