How to Strengthen Your Back for Hiking Trips With a Backpack

Man and woman standing on boulders

Extensive walking and activities that involve lifting and carrying a heavy load, such as hiking, can lead to back pain. Other symptoms may include muscle stiffness, swelling, reduced range of motion and discomfort when standing or sitting. If you’re planning a hiking trip, strengthening exercises for your back muscles can help to prevent injury and back pain.

Perform exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles at least three times a week. Effective abdominal exercises include crunches on an exercise ball and the bicycle maneuver. Perform two sets of eight to 12 crunches. To do a bicycle maneuver, lie down on your back with your hands behind your head and legs outstretched. Begin a cycling motion by alternating bringing your left knee toward your right elbow and then your right knee toward your left elbow. Do two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Perform leg raises while lying down on your abdomen to strengthen your lower back. Lie down on your abdomen facing frontward with your chin on top of a folded towel on the ground. Tighten the muscles in your left leg and slowly lift it a few inches off the ground. Hold for 10 seconds and return your leg to the ground. Switch legs. Repeat the exercise five times.

Do two sets of eight to 12 pushups to strengthen your upper back and shoulders.

Do five to 10 wall squats. Slide down the wall with your knees bent about 90 degrees without your knees protruding over your toes. Hold for five to 10 seconds and then slide back up the wall.

Perform exercises to strengthen the gluteus medius muscles in your buttocks as gluteal pain can masquerade as lower back pain, according to the March 2009 issue of “Massage Today.” The gluteal medius muscles are involved in moving your legs sideways, hip flexion and keeping your pelvis level when you walk. Do two sets of eight to 12 squats and single-leg squats to strengthen the gluteus medius.

Practice walking with a backpack a few days each week. Start with just the backpack at first. Gradually add weight to it until you’ve reached the final weight your backpack will be when you’ve packed all your gear.

Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep affects the levels of hormones associated with muscle recovery; which is necessary for training effectively to build and strengthen muscles in your back.


Do strengthening exercises three to four times a week to give your muscles at least a day off to recover.

Always stretch after your workout to help muscles recover and prepare them for your next session of back-strengthening exercises.

Use proper lifting technique when hoisting your backpack onto your shoulders. Stand as close as possible to your load. Bend at the knees into a squat with your back as straight as possible. Use your legs to push upward out of the squat. Never bend forward from your waist.


If you haven’t been exercising for a while, or have a medical condition such as heart disease or chronic low back pain, do not begin exercising without consulting your doctor.