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5 Exercises To Stifle Back Pain On The Trail

Make your back love carrying your pack.

By: Courtney Carr + Save to a List

Prior to becoming a regular on the trails, the first several hikes I went on left me with a dull ache in my middle and lower back. Trudging several miles with what felt like a pile of bricks on my back became like an annoying sister I couldn’t get rid of. I needed it to carry the essentials for my hike but I couldn’t stand it being constantly strapped to my back.

After one seriously terrible hike, I came to the conclusion that I had to do something to make my back love my pack and get rid of the dreaded “pack-ache”. Add these five exercises to your regular exercise routine to help strengthen and support your back. You'll be able to add mileage to your hikes and carry a bigger pack pain-free!

Hike White Oak Canyon | Photo: Christin Healey

1. Upright Row

As you throw on your pack, you’ll notice your shoulders bear the weight of the back as you lift the pack up, not to mention the pressure from where the straps lay on your shoulders. Enter the upright row. This exercises several of the shoulder muscles involved as well as the muscles in the upper back.

Standing tall with your feet directly underneath your hips, pull the dumbbells directly up the front of your body leading with your elbows. Stop when elbows are in line with shoulders. Pause. Return to starting position. Perform 3 sets of 12. (This movement can also be performed with a barbell).

2. Deadlift

Say buh-bye to that lower back pain with this exercise that targets the muscles in your lower back. This simple movement is critical to core stability and helps keep you from hunching under the weight of your pack as it aids the muscles critical to correct posture.

Standing tall with your feet directly underneath your hips and weights at sides, hinge from the waist sending your hips to the back of the room. Keep a slight bend to your knees and back flat as you lower weights to just below the knees. Return to standing position. Perform 3 sets of 12.

Backpack from Glacier NP to Waterton Lakes NP | Photo: Kathleen Morton

Hike Quartz Ridge | Photo: Nick Tort

3. High-Plank

As you work to stabilize your body and back while trekking the trails and trying to remain upright, you’ll feel the muscles in your core working. Adding this to your routine will strengthen the muscles needed for proper posture on the trail - even with a pack on!

Begin on all fours, with knees directly underneath hips and palms directly underneath shoulders. Pressing through your palms lift your knees off the ground and lengthen legs behind you. Pull your belly button toward your spine and breath. Your body should form a straight-line from the crown of your head to your heels (like a plank!). Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 4 times.

4. Thread-the-Needle

As you pick up the pack and twist through your core to place your pack on your back, you’ll feel those muscles along the side of your tummy - your obliques! Use this exercise to mimic this movement and hoist that pack with ease!

Lying on your right side, lift your hips toward the ceiling with your feet stacked and right elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Your body should remain in a straight line. Placing your left hand behind your head, take your left elbow to meet your right hand, twisting through your midsection as you gently lift your hips a little higher. Bring your left hand back behind your head and repeat. Perform 15 repetitions. Repeat on opposite side.

5. Chest Stretch

On a daily basis, sitting at a computer or hunched over tightens the muscles through our chest which lengthens the muscles of our back leaving us a hunched posture. Combat that terrible posture with this corrective exercise to stretch those tight muscles which pull our posture forward and feel the relief on the backside and huge improvement in posture!

Lie with your head, neck and hips supported lengthwise along a foam roller. Widen arms into a “field-goal” position and place elbows as close to the floor as you can get them. Close your eyes and relax. Try to remain in this position for two or more minutes. Slowly roll off to one side after two minutes and lie in the same position on the floor as your shoulder and back melt into the floor and you notice the extra space and openness through your chest. Enjoy!

Add these 5 exercises to your routine at least two times a week and stifle that post-hike pack ache. Happy trails!

Backpack Bryce Canyon's Under the Rim Trail | Photo: Emily Goodman

Camp At Bear Rocks | Photo: Christin Healey

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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