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Title image:  Getting ready for expeditions, resources and tips

Expedtion Training Series

Dynamic Warm-up Before Carrying a Backpack

It’s very common to see hikers and climbers hoisting backpacks onto their backs minutes after arriving at the trailhead and immediately heading up into the mountains. However, since you have been sitting in the car perhaps for hours, try to spend a few minutes preparing the body for the workload ahead—just as you would, hopefully, for any gym or town workout. Each move below is a standing bodyweight exercise requiring no equipment and can be done singly or as a group activity. The purpose of any pre-activity routine is to prepare the body for more vigorous movement to follow. Warming up the hips, calves, core, upper body and legs can help immensely in feeling adequately prepared for putting on your heavy pack. It also can help you decrease the likelihood of injury and muscle strain within the first few minutes of exercise.

This dynamic warm-up is designed to help you break a light sweat and prepare tendons, ligaments and muscles for increased range of motion. With each of the five exercises, begin with slow movements in a small range of motion and gradually increase to full range of motion as the muscles loosen up. Do each of the five exercises for about a minute. If you are a trip leader, this warm up can provide a valuable ice-breaker activity at the parking lot or trailhead so that participants can get to know each other a little better. Your whole group will appreciate it!

1. Arm Swings — 1 minute

The first movement for shoulders, back and chest is especially beneficial for rock or ice climbers, kayakers, gardeners, anyone who uses trekking poles, or the person who commonly experiences tight neck or shoulders when carrying a pack. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent, and arms held out from the torso at shoulder level. Cross arms in front of you and swing them open, contracting shoulder blades together behind you, gradually increasing the range of motion until your torso feels warmed up.

2. Shoulder Circles / Windmill Arms — 1 minute

To warm-up the shoulder joints, arms, and obliques, place hands on shoulders and start with small rotations backward and forward, gradually extending the arms long and straight and alternating one at a time. As you warm up, increase the range of motion or speed of the straight arms, in windmill fashion (as though to swim the front crawl or back stroke), to fully engage the core and start to recruit muscles in the hips as well.

3. Partial Squats — 1 minute

The squat will help warm up the large muscles in your thighs and glutes, muscles used heavily in hiking, scrambling, backpacking, trekking, mountaineering, trail running and cycling. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder width apart and toes slightly turned out so that your knees track directly over the middle toe of each foot. Keep your weight back in the heels, chest lifted, and abdominals tight to support the lower back. Lower your hips and torso to a comfortable spot for you then exhale as you stand upright. To increase range of motion and involve more muscles in the warmup, reach to the sky with your arms as you stand up and raise onto your toes, then lower back into a squat (squat-reaching calf raise).

4. Standing Knee Hugs – 3 to 5 per side

To warmup the large muscles in the hips and glutes, stand tall and bring one knee up toward your chest, hug the leg just under the knee joint and hold it close into the chest for a second or two before slowly lowering it to the ground and repeating to the other side. Alternate 3-5 cycles.

5. Toe Touches -- 1 minute

To stretch the lower back, hamstrings, glutes and the whole back side of the body, stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and right arm stretched overhead, left down at your side. Bend forward at the hips and reach right hand toward left toes, left arm back and up toward the ceiling, with knees ever-so-slightly bent. Stand and extend right arm overhead. Repeat 6-10 times. Switch arm and leg and reach left arm toward right toes 6-10 times.

6. Jog or March in place / walk the length of the parking lot

Once you have warmed up the joints with the movements above, take an easy walk around the parking lot or camp site (no pack) to see what other areas might need a stretch or two. You can do a minute of “butt kicking” marching or jogging, reaching heels up to the buttocks, or “high knees”, reaching knees up to your palms face down in front of your hips. After just a few minutes you will be much better prepared to don your pack and start on your way. For the first few minutes of your hike, as you get adjusted to the weight on your back, do a slower-than-pace walk (especially if you start straight up as soon as you leave your car) and then as the body is fully loosened and ready to go you can adjust your stride. Hit the trail warmed up and your body – and hiking partners -- will thank you!

This tip brought to you by Berg Adventures conditioning partner, Body Results. For more conditioning information, products and services and special pricing for Berg Adventures members go to