Bodyweight Workout for Hiking: Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain


Do you love to hike?! Do you ever experience knee pain during or after your hikes? I have created the best bodyweight workout for hiking to strengthen around the knee joint with a big emphasis on glute activation. My name is Emily (M.S Exercise Physiologist) based in Summit County, Colorado where I hike a lot and have noted a lot of others (myself included) often experience knee pain.

These six bodyweight exercises are amazing for preventing knee pain wile hiking! I did this workout in my backyard here in Keystone, Colorado. The fall colors where also very enjoyable and made me more motivated to workout!

What is glute activation and why is it critical for hikers? We have all heard the saying “use it or loose it” this is how I think of our glute muscles. I personally am guilty of “losing” my glute muscles. Unless we are specifically training ALL 3 of our glute muscles, the smaller muscles around our knee will take over when we do activities of daily living or attempt things like strenuous or even gentler hikes. You might be neglecting training your glutes without even knowing it!

Over time the muscles that we are more familiar training, like the front of the leg (quadriceps) and back of the legs (hamstrings), take over and begin to develop symptoms of tendentious. These small over-use injuries can result in bigger injuries or can just become very uncomfortable on longer hikes.

Notably (especially for women) it is the inside or medial part of the knee that begins to get sore, or a “dull ache” sensation as our hikes begin to get more strenuous – perhaps our glutes are not doing their fair share of the work!

Be intentional when activating the glutes! When you go through this workout I want you to be intentional about doing the work with your booty! When recovering from this exact injury myself (I worked with a physical therapist) it took me over 3 months of discipline and honesty to actually engage and learn my own body enough to realize when I was letting my legs do the work or my butt. Here a few helping hints to help you activate your glutes during this workout:

  1. Pull up your big toes whiles performing squats, this takes it out of muscles you are more familiar working.
  2. Look up images of glute muscles on google! It may help you get a realization of where they are inside your body.
  3. Take your time – lower the repetitions if you need to.
  4. If you feel knee pain you may not be recruiting the correct muscles and you are out of alignment. Learn what sensations are correct for your body.
  5. Check your health insurance for free preventative physical therapy. At the very least a little time spent learning one on one with a therapist may motivate you to keep up on your workouts.

How to do this bodyweight workout for hikers:

  • This workout is designed for all levels of fitness.
  • Exercises can be completed outside (intentionally for hikers who are car camping or spend a lot of time outside!) up off of the ground.
  • No weights necessary.
  • Beginners: 15 repetitions X 3 sets of work, 1 minute of rest between sets
  • Intermediate/Advanced: 20 repetitions X 4 – 7 sets of work, 1 minute of rest between sets
  • *I include glute activation workouts in my weekly exercise 1 to 2 times per week.

Let’s get to work! The Best Exercises for Knee Pain Prevention:

Goddess Squat

Goddess Squat

  • Keep spine tall & straight
  • Align the center of your knee with your middle toe as you squat down
  • Slowly rise up
Standing Glute Kick Back

Standing Glute Kick Back

  • Start in a strong, athletic balanced stance
  • Pull heel up and back (using glutes!)
  • Keep standing leg with a small bend in the knee
Step Ups

Step Ups

  • Find a stump, rock, or bench to firmly plant balancing foot on
  • Pull your bodyweight up (using your standing glute!) hold for 1 full second
  • Intentionally step foot back down
Lateral Step & Squat

Lateral Step & Squat

  • Find a strong, hip width squat
  • “Feel the heel” and balance with big toes up
  • Take two small steps right, and two to the left in this low squat position. Thats one rep. Booty will burn!
Standing Clamshell

Standing Clamshell

  • Find a tree (or wall) for balance
  • Align your big toe to ankle of standing leg, “butterfly” your leg open and close. Thats one rep. Activate the inner glute.
Hip Hinge

Hip Hinge

  • Soften through the knees
  • Hinge to a bit less than 90 at the hips, when you rise up pull the glutes together
  • This is a like Romanian dead lift without the weight, so really focus on using glute muscles and core.
  • This exercise should NOT hurt your lower back, if pain presents lower your range of motion.
A quick video demo from my Pinterest!

I love these six core glute and leg movements because if you are like me you may be out camping a lot or just prefer to be outside so they are easy to memorize and you do not need internet. Let me know how this workout goes for you and if you are successful at activating your glutes. Check out my other blog post for a little extra motivation to go hiking here 16 Health Benefits of Hiking for the Body & Mind.

Thank you & happy (pain free) hiking – Emily!


6 responses to “Bodyweight Workout for Hiking: Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain”

  1. […] Plan a 14er Mission. If you are looking for a more serious hiking mission take your pick of any of the Collegiate Peaks. While I am not a 14er expert I have climbed Mt. Yale (in October..brrrr…) others I have heard that are easier include Mt. Antero or Mt. Princeton. Most trail heads are less than one hour away from town center. Let me know if you hike one! Side note: If you are working on your hiking fitness and getting ready for a strenuous hike check out some of my favorite exercises for hikers here Bodyweight Workout for Hiking: Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain […]

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  2. […] Strong Booty. Knee injuries (strains/sprains/tears) are a significant portion of all reported injuries; yes the skiing mechanics, conditions, equipment etc. play a role but the overuse of muscles in and around the knee are also a contributing factor. Instead, focus up higher on the body – how strong are your glutes and core? Are you only training your leg muscles and not recruiting your glutes? They are harder to activate muscles (especially for women) and arguably harder to train. Start building your booty now for ski season! Here are a few of my favorite glute exercises that I wrote about for hiking but I will also compile one soon for skiers: Bodyweight Workout for Hiking: Exercises to Prevent Knee Pain […]

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