The 3 Best Strength Exercises for Hiking

The 3 Best Strength Exercises for Hiking

By: Trystan Balderston

Hiking is one of the best ways to integrate a love of nature and the outdoors with fitness and health. A lot of the personal training clients I work with enjoy supplementing their workout routine with hikes. Maryland weather has bipolar disorder, but on the highs, we are able to get outside and enjoy the multitude of local trails. Hiking is an easily accessible outdoor activity that works as a solo meditation, or a fun family activity. However, some people are limited by nagging aches and pains, injuries, low cardiovascular endurance, and fears of falling. Just because hiking is an easily accessible, fun activity, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a certain level of physical preparedness to start or continue! In this article I will highlight the physical demands of hiking and my top five exercises to keep you healthy so you can enjoy this awesome activity to its fullest!

What Your Training Program Needs

In this section I will describe the physical demands of hiking as a part of my rationalization of the top five best strength exercises for hiking.

  1. Balance/Coordination

Being out in nature is…. A breath of fresh air. Top tier dad-joke out of the way, hiking presents a whole new stimulus as compared to walking around your neighborhood. Rather than flat, concrete surfaces, you’ll be walking on dirt, rocks, roots, up and down hills, etc. The differences and unpredictability of the surfaces you will be hiking on must be considered when starting a complementary fitness program. Adding in exercises to develop your balance and coordination will help you be safe as you venture out into the wild!

  1. Unilateral Strength

Unilateral means one side. Adding in unilateral exercises is, frankly, a necessity in any program. When I first meet with a personal training client, I assess the differences in movement between sides. This gives me a clear indication of which side is stronger, more coordinated, and how the differences between sides may be contributing to daily pain/discomfort. When you walk, one leg moves after the other. Left, right, left, right. If you are weak on one side, your body will develop ways to compensate. Over time you will experience pain and may lose your love of hiking. Unilateral exercises are implemented to ensure even stimulus between sides.

  1. Endurance

This one is pretty straight forward. The ability for a system to work over a period of time is, endurance. The endurance requirements of hiking are cardiovascular and muscular. The ability to move efficiently for longer, will undoubtedly help you reach the summit.

Now that we have established the components of the exercises that will help you hike for longer, lets dive into the list!

  1. Weighted Step Ups

To me, this is the most undervalued exercise in training programs. When people throw around the term ‘functional training’ and don’t include step-ups in their program, I become fairly enraged. This movement is not only directly applicable to the real world (walking, climbing stairs, going up a hill), it can be modified to reach a number of fitness goals.

What You Need

  1. Elevated surface at or below knee level. This can be a bench, step, box, etc.
  2. Weight (optional)


  1. Plant one foot firmly on the elevated surface
  2. Lean slightly, so you feel your weight on the elevated leg
  3. Extend your knees, and bring your hips forward as you drive up
  4. At the top, make sure you are standing tall
  5. Descend with control keeping the same foot on the surface
  6. Don’t bounce or spring off of your back foot as you perform subsequent repetitions


  1. Start with a low elevation and don’t step onto a surface above knee level without mastering this movement
  2. If stepping up with your bodyweight is too difficult, hang a medium-heavy resistance band above you. Grab the band and pull it down toward your body. This will assist you in actually stepping up. You can also more easily control the lowering portion of the movement, which is a great way to train eccentrically, which can decrease your risk for injury.
  3. To further build your strength, add some form of external load/resistance.
  4. If you feel that you are constantly springing off of your back foot on the step up, place a pad or weight underneath the heel of your back foot. You won’t be able to spring off of it this way because your heel is elevated at the bottom of the movement.

My favorite variation of this exercise is with an offset load. All this means is that you hold a weighted implement (kettlebell, Dumbbell, etc.) in the hand opposite the working leg. If your left foot is on the elevated surface, the weight will be in your right hand. This adds an extra layer of balance as you’re the weight will pull you toward the opposite side of your working leg! By performing the movement this way your glutes and core will get a lot more activation.

This exercise hits all of the prerequisite components explained above. The balance demand comes from the movement being a unilateral, and when performed at high repetitions can boost muscular and cardiovascular endurance.

  1. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Full disclosure, I love this exercise and could probably write a graduate thesis on how excellent it is. But I promise to keep it brief. This exercise is excellent for balance, and posterior chain strength/power.

What You Need

  1. Weight (Optional)


  1. Stand on one foot
  2. Keeping a soft bend in your knee, and weight on your balance foot bend over keeping spinal alignment and your back leg in line with your head
  3. At the end position you should feel a mild stretch in your hamstring and be parallel to the floor
  4. Thrust your hips forward, and stand tall with both feet now planted on the ground


  1. Use a bench for support if you are limited by balance and or pain. Place your hand on a surface next to you, keep that same side foot on the ground for the movement.
  2. When you are proficient enough, add some weight!

My favorite variation of this movement is performed with the Sorinex PitShark row machine we have at The Iron Bunker. I will grab one of the handles and perform repetitions with my leg on the opposite side, the same way as I like to load the step ups.

  1. Jump Squats

This is a great exercise that will help you to develop leg strength and power, ability to absorb forces, and build endurance.

What You Need

  1. Weight (optional)


  1. Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder width
  2. Bend your knees as you sit back and descend to the ground in a squat pattern
  3. Extend your knees and drive your hips forward
  4. Jump with your body in a straight line
  5. Land softly, and into a squat position


  1. Add external load.
  2. Slow your descent to increase eccentric load.

My favorite variation of jump squats is with a trap bar. The trap bar deadlift position is exactly the same as if you were going to attempt a max vertical jump. You are essentially in a half squat position, which is ideal for maximum jump height.

Put these exercises into a circuit to build full body strength and endurance for hiking.

How to Get Rid of Hip Pain

How to Get Rid of Hip Pain

Get Hip to the Hip

The hip is a ball and socket joint, meaning it has 360 degrees of motion, and can move through all planes of motion. The vast array of movements in the hip are supported by 17 different muscles! It makes sense that a joint responsible for movement in all planes of motion would have so many muscles to support those actions. However, this can be overwhelming when considering why you have hip pain. To counter hip pain, you should:

  1. Understand the movements the hip is capable of
  2. Observe what movements cause pain
  3. Reflect on how your lifestyle may impact optimal functioning of the hip joint
  4. Take action, based on the above information, to rid yourself of hip pain

What Can the Hip Do?

As mentioned previously, the hip is a ball and socket joint capable of muscle action through all planes of motion. Here, I will list and explain the many actions of the hip.  


This muscle action of the hip entails bringing your thigh closer to your body. Simply imagine standing up and marching in place. The muscles that cause hip flexion allow us to walk, run, and help to stabilize the spine.


This movement is the opposite of hip flexion. So, the muscles responsible for hip extension move our thigh behind us, think of kicking your leg back. These muscles help allow us to rise up from sitting, stabilize the spine, and propel ourselves forward when walking or running.


An easy trick to remember this muscle action is to think of an alien standing next to you and attempting to abduct your leg. This movement allows us to raise our leg out to the side. These muscles can help alleviate knee pain, improve balance, and take pressure off the low back.


To remember this muscle action just think about adding your leg to the center, the exact opposite of abduction. By targeting the muscles capable of adduction you can decrease groin and knee pain, and improve balance.

Internal and External Rotation

When imagining these two muscle actions think of windshield wipers. The back and forth movement of the wipers are a great representation of how your hip is able to rotate, or bring your thigh toward and away from the midline of your body. These muscles help us to change direction, squat with a full range of motion, and prevent injuries to the lower AND upper body.

Ok, so now that you understand what the hip joint can do, and how it contributes to your activities of daily living, lets talk about how you can figure out the cause of pain and make a plan to rid yourself of it!

Ask yourself these Three Questions

Where do I feel pain? When do I feel pain/limited movement? How does my lifestyle contribute to my pain?

To answer the first question simply perform a body scan. Close your eyes and allow yourself to explore where exactly you feel pain on your body. Since the hip is capable of so many movements and the muscles connect to various other pieces of your body, you may be experiencing pain in the hip, knee, groin, or back! The location of the pain provides the first clue to the culprit.

Answering ‘when do I feel pain’ allows you to explore different movements that aggravate your areas of pain. In my experience working with clients presenting with hip problems I have heard things such as “It hurts when I have been standing on my feet for prolonged periods of time,” “I feel pain when I try to bend to pick something off of the ground,” “It is really difficult for me to stand up after sitting for a long time.” Now these are just a few answers to this question, make sure that your answer is true to your experience. I would also suggest putting your knowledge of how the hip moves to good use! Simply move through all the muscle actions listed earlier. Try them one leg at a time to see what causes pain and where you feel limited in your movement.

Answering the final question requires analyzing your standard day to day activities. Based on my personal training experience, some of the most common lifestyle factors that contribute to hip pain are

  1. Sitting and driving. Unfortunately, a lot of jobs require working at a desk which can cause the muscles of our hip to tighten, weaken, and to be turned off. The same effect can occur to driving as we are cramped into that same seated position. I had fairly significant discomfort in the front of my hip during a summer landscaping job that was a 90-minute one-way commute. That pain was caused over the course of only one summer, now imagine what working a desk job for 5, 10, 20 years could do!
  2. Compensations you have been unaware of. At Towson University, where I completed my undergraduate degree, there is a large flight of steps in the middle of campus. I noticed on the days where I had to climb that staircase a few times, the outside of my right hip would be killing me! What I noticed was that I would always take the first step with my right leg, and when I would step up with the left leg, I would still try to drive up from that right foot. I quickly realized this was not an isolated phenomenon as when standing stationary, me weight would shift to that right leg!
  3. Limited physical activity or an exercise regiment that is limited. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you are not engaging in any physical activity your muscles will ‘forget’ how to work for you. If you have been sitting much of your day for several years, you shouldn’t be stunned when walking to the mailbox starts to cause pain. The same goes for those currently involved in a regular exercise program! For instance, when I was first getting into weightlifting and strength training, I really wanted tree trunk legs. I associated this with speed, power, and strength! So I started to squat. A LOT. At one point I was back squatting and front squatting twice a week each and getting in some sets of leg press with leg extensions. My quads got massive. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a gym member who said, “Your quads belong in a book.” Looking back that book would probably be called “The dummy who forgot about glutes and hamstrings.” Loading the squat pattern to the point of obsession caused a massive discrepancy in the muscle mass of the front and back of my legs. This caused me knee and hip pain. By adding in movements like Romanian Deadlifts, banded abductions, Copenhagen planks, among others, allowed me to target all of the muscles in my hip and get rid of the pain I had been experiencing. Oh, and it made my squat get even better!

Putting it Together

To give summary to this blog, the hip is capable of a wide array of movements, all of which support our longevity in activities of daily living. Hip dysfunction can present as pain in many different spots, so it is necessary to explore what makes the pain worse, so you know where to target your efforts. It is also important to understand how your lifestyle can be impacting the pain you experience, so you can make the necessary changes, and take meaningful action to overcome it.

Why Your Child Needs Personal Training

Why Your Child Needs Personal Training

With rising rates of childhood obesity, unrealistic body standards across age groups, and the limited scope of health education in the school system there is significant value in getting your child started in personal training. It is never too early to get started on a personalized fitness program if it is designed by a fitness professional that understands the developmental needs of children. The cognitive and physical development of children must be considered when developing a fitness program.


Fitness and Childhood Development

As a personal trainer who enjoys working with children, I have developed an understanding of psychological and physiological development across the life span. To prevent this article from being too long winded, I will be separating childhood development into two pieces, pre-adolescents, and adolescents.

When training pre-adolescents (pre-school and elementary age) I:

1.Focus on foundational movement patterns
Children in this age group are still developing their motor programs and body awareness. I make sure that they learn how to move their bodies in a purposeful and controlled manner BEFORE introducing any type of implement or resistance.

2.Keep my coaching cues/ instructions kid-friendly
Making instructions to complicated is never a good thing, especially when working with pre-adolescents. It is very unrealistic for me to expect a child to understand what I mean when I say “Load your hips, sit back and bend your knees as you descend” when coaching a bodyweight squat. However, they might understand “Now I want you to show me how a frog stands, then stand up to show me how tall you are.” This is something that a child can visualize and apply to their movement! Then I make corrections as needed, for instance, “Mr. Frog keeps his feet flat on the ground so that he doesn’t start to float away.”

3.Create an environment where fitness is based on ‘fun’
The last thing I want is for a child that I’m training to dread coming into our sessions because they are too rigid, school-like. This is their time to get active and have a blast doing so. I try to turn exercises into a fun game, have them pretend they are their favorite superhero or athlete, etc.


When training adolescents (middle school and older) I:

1.Talk to them about their personal goals and desires
At this stage of development your child has developed and connected with their identity and are searching for new ways to utilize their autonomy. As a personal trainer I need to make a program that is PERSONAL. If I do not express interest in their needs or validate their feelings, the program will not be successful.

2.Capitalize on their hormonal development
This stage of development begins at the onset of puberty. During puberty a variety of androgenic hormone concentrations increase. These include testosterone and human growth hormone. This is a very important consideration because their body is now more able to tolerate training. It is in this stage that I begin to move away from basic movement patterns to promote motor learning and body awareness to strength, muscle building, and sport specific training methods.


How Will This Help My Child?

Personal training presents numerous benefits for your child!

1.Motor Learning
As your child gets taller, their limbs get bigger and there is a definite learning process to moving around with a larger body. Personal training will help your child to develop control over their body, so they are more able to reach their physical potential and avoid developing imbalances/injuries later on in life.

2.Building Confidence
Exercise represents a challenge that can only be overcome with effort. As your child starts to learn new movements, get stronger, get faster, they build their self-confidence. They are putting in the work, feeling the results, and realizing they are a capable human being!

3.A Competitive Advantage
A lot of kids are involved in some type of sport, and parents like you want to see them do well. Getting your child started in personal training will help them to develop the physical attributes they need for sport performance.
Personal training is a great way to get your child involved in a healthy lifestyle that transcends physical performance. Here, at the Iron Bunker, we take pride in understanding the needs of ALL our clients and creating a plan that is appropriate for them.

Don’t Wait, Lift Weights!

Don’t Wait, Lift Weights!

How women can thrive with weight training 
By Trystan Balderston

In this article I will address the misconception that weight training is guaranteed to make you ‘bulky,’ and the advantages of female physiology as related to weight training. 

“I don’t want to get bulky”

This is one of the most common fears I hear from women in personal training consultations. You may be concerned that lifting weights will make you ‘bulky,’ more masculine, and less of yourself.

At the same time, I hear “I want to tone up,” just as often as “I don’t want to get bulky.” This presents a bit of a paradox because to ‘tone up’ you will need to engage in resistance training, the very thing that sparks fear! So, lets explore tone vs. bulk. The two terms vary based on the person, but I will do my best to differentiate them. 

The way it has been explained to me in consultations and outside conversation, to be tone is to have clear muscle definition, not large muscle size. To be bulky is to have an amount of muscle much higher than the average person, and a certain “fluffy” quality to the physique. 

How do I tone and not bulk??

To answer this question, I’ll start by breaking down these concepts into mathematical terms. 

Tone=muscle definition. Muscle definition= muscle activation + caloric balance or deficit 

Bulk= maximal muscle size. Maximal Muscle size= high volume muscle activation + Maximal muscle growth + caloric surplus + low regard for body composition

If you want to ‘tone’ you need to be involved in a resistance training program that allows for muscle activation and is structured to keep your heart rate up, inducing fat burning. This also implies keeping an eye on your nutrition to achieve your body composition goals. 

If you wanted to ‘bulk’ you would engage in a resistance training program designed for muscle growth and eat in a caloric surplus, so the muscles grow larger. 

Why women have an advantage in the weight room

Physiologically, you have some distinct advantages over your male counterparts regarding resistance training. Long story short, you can exercise at a high intensity with lower recovery periods, maintain a higher training volume.  Essentially, you can work out harder, for longer. If you are able to utilize these advantages and adhere to a personalized program based on your goals, you are well on your way to achieving these goals!

To get started on a personalized routine, send an email to [email protected] or schedule a consultation directly on our site 

Big and Strong

Big and Strong

“Lift big to get big.” A common phrase that echoes through the corridors of the iron sanctuary, the dumbbell dojo, the weight room. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this statement. If you want to get big, you will need to lift progressively heavier weights. The problem that I have with this saying is that it is extremely limiting and possibly harmful with its influence on exercise programs. In this article I will explain how weight is not the only moderator of muscle size, and that lifting heavier weights could be killing your performance and longevity.

Max Weights Max Muscle

We have all seen that guy in the gym. He’s 150 pounds soaking wet, yet he’s squatting 400 pounds, while the 220-pound muscleman is squatting 225. How is this possible? Building strength and building muscle are two very different processes. Strength is the ability to overcome resistance and represents a neurological adaptation. In short, strength increases as your brain and muscles become more in tune with each other. As you lift, your brain sends signals to your muscles that tell them to fire. Muscles are made of motor units, varying in size. A person who is ‘strong’ has a developed ability for the brain to quickly send signals to the largest motor units in a muscle group. That is why someone can maintain muscle mass and still lift progressively heavier weights.

Muscle growth occurs due to muscular damage and healing. The primary factors in this process are load and time under tension. Looking back at the scenario from earlier, the smaller person is lifting a heavier weight, but they are lifting it for less repetitions, in the 1-3 rep range and is taking several minutes in between sets. The more muscular man is squatting less weight but is performing sets of 8-12 with 60-90 seconds between sets. He is incurring muscle damage by performing more repetitions with a load not representative of maximal strength.

A Steak Mistake

If you’re not a strength athlete (powerlifter, strongman/woman, etc), what makes you believe testing your one rep max is valuable? How will you use this information?

If you answered these questions by saying “Testing my one rep max is how I see if I’ve gotten stronger,” I need you to realize that’s a possibly damaging way of thinking. This answer is the equivalent of saying the only way to know if your steak is cooked is to cut into it. If you cut into that steak before its done, you’ll never forgive yourself for disrespecting your taste buds in such a way. You can do the poke test or better yet grab a meat thermometer and get an exact measurement! Sorry, I’m writing this while hungry. Moving on, there are many safer ways to keep track of your strength gains that don’t have as much risk as going for one rep maxes all the time. If you can lift a weight for more reps, would you say that you have gotten stronger? If you can lift a weight faster, would you say that you have gotten stronger? These aren’t trick questions; the answer is yes! Observing your increases in repetitions and speed are two ways to keep track of your strength without putting your body on the line like you would in a one rep max test.

Sum it Up

To conclude, the processes of building strength and building muscle are very different. Strength is a neurological adaptation and muscle growth occurs due to muscular damage and healing. When you are measuring strength, remember there is more than one way to do so, and recognizing these methods can help you stay safe and able to continue on your wellness journey!

By: Trystan Balderston