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How To Prepare For Hiking Half Dome

Take on one of the best hikes in Yosemite.

By: Kevin Abernethy + Save to a List

The infamous Half Dome; we have all seen pictures, some of us have heard stories, and the lucky ones have experienced it firsthand. I have fortunately experienced this hike on two separate trips and the prep work definitely helped me reach the summit. You might be able to make it to the top without any training, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The trek up the underrated sub-dome is no joke and at the end of that strenuous journey you are faced with the final 400 foot ascent up two steel cables. Practice these 7 exercises 6-8 weeks before your trip and you will hopefully be able to enjoy the view rather than begging your legs to get you up one more step.

1. Pull-ups

This exercise is a game changer for the cables. Most people shy away from pullups because it takes a tremendous amount of strength and the average person can’t do too many. There are great options to help you progress and to make the exercise more doable. Look at options like the LifeLine resistance band to help you rep out 8-12 pullups for 2-3 sets. Lower body strength is crucial, but when pulling yourself up on the cables you will thank yourself for having the upper body strength to make the work easier for your legs, especially after the steps on the sub-dome.

2. Weighted Lunges

Lunges are an obvious exercise, but add some dumbbells or kettlebells to the exercise to improve strength and to increase muscular endurance. Most people do lunges in a straight line, but add in diagonal and reverse lunges to make the exercise more functional to hiking. Aim to perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 lunges on each leg 2-3 times a week.

Backpack to Little Yosemite Valley Campsite and Hike Half Dome | Photo: Eddie Jo

3. Lateral Bounds

Fortunately hiking trails are never just a straight line. Unfortunately, most people don’t focus on hip strength when prepping for a hike. The Half Dome cables take you straight up, but traversing the sub-dome requires a lot of lateral movement. Start with your feet together and use your outside foot to leap to the opposite side. Aim to land on one foot and once you find your balance bound to the other side. Try to perform this exercise in a controlled fashion for 30-45 seconds and perform 2-3 times. If you find this exercise too difficult you can perform lateral shuffles using a resistance band to help strengthen your hips.

4. Squats

I wish there was another exercise to choose here, but squats are invaluable in general and they can’t be emphasized enough for your journey up Half Dome. Add some dumbbells or kettlebells to simulate the weight you will have from your pack. Up the intensity by performing squat jumps or by holding the squat in the down position for 2-3 seconds. Perform 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets.

Hike Half Dome via the Mist Trail | Photo: Bijan Rafie-tari

5. Cable Rope Rows

Again, this exercise helps your upper body assist with the workload up the cables. Start with the cable above your head, lean back while keeping your back straight, and then pull the cables towards your chest. For added benefit and variety alternate between using both hands and one. Perform 3-4 total sets and 12-15 reps per set.

6. Cardio Training

Whether you are hiking the 16.5 miles round trip from the valley floor or taking the shorter 7 mile round trip from Little Yosemite Valley you are going to need plenty of cardiovascular training to enjoy your trip. I prefer interval training, but any form of cardio is going to be beneficial for you. In order to see gains just ensure you are giving your body greater stress than what you are normally accustomed to. Examples include: 10-15 total minutes of 10 second sprints followed by 60-90 second light jogs, 20-30 minutes of jogging at a moderate intensity, or brisk walking up a 10-15% incline for 30-45 minutes.

7. Stairs

Throw on a weighted pack and start putting one foot in front of the other. Variety is key here, add in some lateral steps or walk downwards to simulate the hike back to camp. Add in intervals to improve cardiovascular and muscular endurance; high intensity for 10-15 seconds and then move to low intensity for 60-90 seconds. If you don’t have access to stairs or a Stairmaster you can use a hill for comparable benefits.

Climbing Half Dome should be a bucket list item for any outdoor enthusiast and hopefully these exercises motivate you to prep for your trip. Whether you are gasping for air at the summit or jumping for joy, you won’t regret it. Have questions about the exercises or looking for more options? Comment below and let us know.

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Cover photo: Joel Bear

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