Building Hiking Stamina & Strength

I have just started walking and can do 3-5 miles without any problems. The difficulty starts with hills, I have a hard time climbing. So how do I build up my stamina. I realize nothing happens overnight…
We are heading to Nova Scotia in October and I would like to be in a little better shape by then.
Keep up the great job, and thanks for your help,

Forest trail


You are right – nothing happens overnight, but it is definitely possible to have much better stamina!

A reader asked a similar question in the past, and here’s what I wrote for him: Training for A High Altitude Hike. The altitude part isn’t relevant for your trip to Nova Scotia, but the training is.

The best way to train for hiking is by hiking 🙂 Walk/hike at least 1-2 times per week, and try to find fun hikes near you that have some hills. Just take it slow so you don’t strain any muscles before your trip! You will slowly build up stamina. Take the stairs instead of elevators; walk as much as you can; and be sure to stretch afterwards (or do pilates/yoga if you like either of those).

Another exercise to incorporate is calf raises. This will help you strengthen your lower legs, which will be very helpful in getting up hills! Place either one or both of your hands against a wall, and raise up and down on your tip toes. Doing a few sets of 10 or so each day will strengthen your calves fast!

Happy trails!
Hiking Lady

Do you have a question for the Hiking Lady?


  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Parimala. The best thing for you to do is to hike in the hills more. The more you do it, the stronger your muscles will get and you’re body will get accustomed to it. Also, when your on flat ground, wear your backpack so your body will get used to it. That will help strengthen your thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings). As far as fear of heights, perhaps find trails that don’t have steep drop offs. There are plenty of hikes around the world with safe trails that will take you high up into the mountains without being at the edge of a mountain. Hope that helps, and happy trails!

    And yes, “surya namaskar” (yoga sun salutations) will help you increase stamina if you do lots of them. Hiking in the hills as much as you can will increase your stamina even faster!

  2. Parimala S M says:

    I want to increase my stamina for hiking. When I walk on plain topography I m fine. But on hills carrying my bag its very difficult for me. My thighs pain and I dont have much stamina for climb. Also I m scared of height. I m 41 years old. Please help.

  3. ritu says:

    Hello I m Ritu, I have to go for mountneering course on 17 oct 2016, but my ankle is paining badly and I don’t want to lose such a lovely opportunity of mountneering course, so please tell me how can I lessen my ankle pain or what should I do so that I can complete my course without any huddles

  4. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Rohani, thanks for your question! Do you also have knee pain when you hike uphill, or just on stairs? Stairs can be very difficult on a person’s knees, and I’d recommend that you make sure you talk to your doctor about your knee pain. If they say it is okay for you to hike, then go for it! Be sure to use trekking poles; that will help alleviate some of the pressure on your knees. As far as the “huff n puff”, that will improve simply by hiking regularly. The more you hike, the less you’ll huff n puff. 🙂 Happy trails!

  5. Rohani says:

    Hi… I’m Rohani from Malaysia. I have knee problem, slightly pain when climbing stairs n if in rush makes me huff n puff,
    is it ok for me to hike moderate hills?

  6. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Vickie,

    Great question. While yoga and walks are excellent exercise and will help keep you in good shape, the only way to really train for hiking is to hike! I’d recommend doing weekend hikes like Mount Woodson more frequently, and you’ll get stronger each time.

    Happy trails!

  7. Vickie says:

    I am a 61 year old woman in pretty good condition. I walk at least 5 days per week for at least an hour . I do yoga twice a week . I love to hike but find I get extremely winded on hikes that have a lot of up hill or switchbacks. We just did Mount Woodson in California 2.5 hours up and 1.5 down. It was quite the struggle getting up to the top. My daily walks are in a very hilly aria so I’m not sure why I am struggling so much. Any suggestions on how to improve this are appreciated!


  8. johnny bocchetti says:

    I’ve been hiking for over three decades, starting in Yosemite 1970’s then moved to a cabin in the cascades, now back in the city of San Francisco for the last 10 years and continue hiking with many hills, stamina comes when you can put in 10 miles ..

  9. Susan chan says:

    I have been consistently hiking up hills but my stamina is not improving but getting worse. I puff n stop more now. Please help

  10. Hiking Lady says:

    Great question, Lanie! In order for your body to see changes, you need to vary your workouts. Here are a couple of tips on how to improve your stamina and strength:

    • Wear a backpack when you do your staircase routine. Fill it up with gear or water bottles. The additional weight will help improve your leg strength.
    • Your stairclimbing training will help you build stamina, but not much strength. Incorporate squats and lunges into your workout routine to build strength, and be sure to strengthen your core with balancing exercises or pilates and yoga.

    Good luck and happy training!

  11. lanie says:

    Dear Lady,

    Would like to check with you I have been training for 2 months on stair case of
    high 125m for 6 lapse but seems not much improvement. Kindly advise how to improve my stamina n muscle strain on my leg ?

    Thank you.

  12. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Nancy,
    I definitely think so! While I’m not a Medical Doctor, I have seen friends of all ages build more stamina through increased hiking activity and training. Keep hiking, and stay at a comfortable pace. Allow plenty of opportunity post-hike for rest and recovery (Stretching, re-hydration, sleep, etc.) and get out there again for another hike!
    Have fun, and happy trails!

  13. Nancy says:

    I’m 58 female and have climbed moderate white mountain trails but I huff and puff and stop a lot. Is it possible at my age to build more stamina?

  14. Hiking Lady says:

    Great question, Grady.

    There is a rule of thumb call the Naismith Rule, so if you like math, here it is: t = 1/3d +1/2h. Therefore t, the time it takes in hours, is equal to 1/3 the distance in miles plus 1/2 the elevation gain measured in thousands of feet. On easy, flat terrain, h=0, so you’d likely be able to hike about 3 miles per hour. If you have about 1,000 feet of elevation gain per hour (which is a lot), you’d likely be able to hike about 1.5 miles.

    This is all an estimation, but hope it gives you a sense of what is reasonable. Trail conditions, weather, your fitness ability, whether or not you can follow the trail, etc. all will impact this. Hope it helps! Happy hiking!

  15. grady says:

    how many miles can a first time hiker ; in good shape ; walk in one day on a trail that is — easy (flat) — moderate (small hills )— hard ( steep hills ) ?

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