To be fair, we can’t find any other activity that can compare to the good old long-distance hiking. Although probably not as attractive as hitting the gym and doing other sports, hiking is still a go-to activity among all age groups, and can, in different shapes and forms, even come as a great addition to pretty much anyone’s exercise routine.
And, of course, we’re not talking about just your regular walking through a park, but rather full-on hiking. Essentially, this includes long walks, mostly done on trails in nature, at a more intense pace compared to walking. But just like with any other sport, you might wonder whether you can combine it with other activities and ultimately improve your results.
Biking, for instance, can help you in hiking if exercised properly. And this includes active cycling sessions at a moderate to a higher heart rate that serves as an additional cardio routine. We’ll get deeper into this topic and see how biking can help hiking.
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What Is Cycling and How It Affects Your Fitness Levels
First off, let’s see what’s cycling, or biking, and how it affects your body. Cycling includes several different disciplines that include riding a bicycle. We can do a general division and put it into these categories:
- Long-distance road cycling
- Track cycling
- Mountain biking
- BMX (bicycle motocross)
- BMX freestyle
Long-distance road cycling is the most popular and widespread type of cycling. It’s a mass-start competitive activity where both the individuals and entire teams race in multiple stages. This Olympic discipline gives a very lean physique and an ability to keep a steady pace at long distances. Some events may also include shorter “sprint” disciplines in combination with longer stages. Road cycling is often used as an additional steady-state cardio activity for athletes of all different kinds.
Track cycling is done as an indoor activity in so-called velodromes. It’s also an Olympic discipline that includes five events and is usually focusing faster sprints. With this said, track cycling is a great intense cardio activity that activates your body in similar ways to short to mid-distance running. These athletes are much more “buffed” compared to those participating in road cycling, much closer to weightlifters’ body. Their immense raw power can be seen with their very strong leg muscles.
Mountain biking consists mostly of off-road paths with a lot of twists and turns, as well as sudden uphill and downhill sequences. The bicycles are also built for harsher terrains and are designed for much wider tires. Likewise, mountain bikers are somewhere in between the road and tracking cyclers’ physiques. It can be used as a cardio exercise that combines steady-state and intense intervals.
BMX, or bicycle motocross, is done for shorter distances but includes a lot of different obstacles and sudden turns. It’s a classic racing sport, only it focuses more on shorter and very intense routes. With that said, BMX athletes are physically similar to mountain bikers, although they can be a bit more “ripped” in the classic sense of that term.
Finally, BMX freestyle is the youngest cycling discipline. It’s a competitive sport based on similar principles as skateboarding, in which performances are scored by a team of judges. A freestyler’s physique is similar to those of skateboarders.
Can Cycling Help You Get Better at Hiking?
In short, cycling can help you get better at hiking. However, you should bear in mind that casual bicycle rides of up to 7 or 8 miles won’t really be of much help here. What we’re talking about is exercise, not using a bicycle as a low-effort leisure activity, or a means of easier transportation down the road to your nearest grocery store.
One thing that makes hiking and cycling similar is that they both can be used as longer steady-state cardio exercises. Of course, there are some differences, but you’ll usually target the same or similar heart rates. For instance, active hiking is done usually with a heart rate below 135 beats per minute, but preferably above 110 bpm. This puts the activity into light and moderate zones, making it a great way to lose weight and improve your overall health in the longer run. You can also push it harder, go uphill, and even carry some weight with you in order to make it into a more intense routine, although that practice is not as common.
Meanwhile, cycling is a bit more flexible in that sense, and you can do any of the cycling disciplines that we mentioned for different results. If we’re talking about long-distance cycling, it can be beneficial to your overall fitness and can even help you in improving your long-distance hiking results.
Firstly, road cycling is another form of steady-state cardio, just like hiking. You can do it in the same zone, although it’s usually more common to go just slightly higher and into the moderate heart rates.
Another great thing about cycling is that it’s not only a cardio exercise but utilizes your muscles in a different way. In short, it lets you do cardio, all while keeping your knees and joints safer. Therefore, cycling can not only help with hiking but is also recommended as a potential additional activity. After all, breaking the common patterns and doing something aside from just hiking is always helpful.
Uphill Cycling and Intervals
Another great way for you to improve your hiking is to implement uphill cycling routines, preferably by doing intervals. There are two important reasons why you should consider it. First, it strengthens your leg and lower body muscles. Secondly, doing intervals can ultimately help you push your steady-state cardio results. That means that you’ll be able to walk faster, carry more weight with you, and still keep your heart rate in the same zones that you did before.
You can find a road that goes uphill for a few miles and then do three to five sets at a moderate to hard intensity. In between, you can slowly go downhill and rest for a few minutes at your starting point before going up again. These can be done once in a while and can help you lose excess fat and improve your overall fitness levels.
Can Hiking Help You Get Better at Other Sports?
Likewise, hiking can also be a great additional exercise for pretty much any other sport. However, depending on what you’re aiming for, you’ll need to take care of when and how much you’re planning to hike.
For strength athletes, like powerlifters, the best idea is to do strength and hiking on separate days, and preferably a day or two after your important strength session. You’ll have your much-needed steady-state cardio, all while not wasting too much energy on hiking. You should also consider doing relatively shorter hiking routes, just enough to get your heart pumping, but also not to overdo it and not be able to do maximum repetitions for a given weight.
On the other hand, endurance athletes of any kind can greatly benefit from hiking. In some cases, it’s recommended that you do longer steady sessions at least once per week, and hiking at a heart rate of 120 to 135 bpm can be a great way to do so.
What Else Can You Do Except Cycling?
So we’ve already concluded, that if you’re into hiking, you should do other forms of cardio as well. But long-distance cycling is just one of them.
For instance, long-distance running can also be beneficial, as well as intervals at a faster pace. The same could be said about swimming, which can be extremely useful for your cardiovascular system, all while not putting any significant stress on your joints and tendons.
Other great ways can also include indoor rowing and indoor cycling. Rowing machines can especially be useful as they engage a huge portion of your muscle mass and spend more calories per hour compared to cycling or running, all while keeping your joints safe.
Don’t Forget to Do Strength Training As Well
If you’re into hiking or long-distance running, it’s absolutely important that you implement at least a few strength training sessions per month. There are a few important reasons why:
- Strengthening joints and tendons, thus reducing the risk of long-term injuries
- They can help you increase speed and the VO2 max capacity
- It improves your hiking (or running) economy
- It can help you lose excess fat
Of course, you probably wouldn’t want to do any super-difficult powerlifting or bodybuilding regimens. For this purpose, you can use lower weights and sets with more repetitions, about 12 to 15. Additionally, calisthenics can be very useful as they’ll put much less strain on your joints.
Although your main focus is on lower-body and core muscles, you’ll also want to do upper-body strength exercises. Aside from the obvious benefit of achieving a more aesthetically pleasing figure (something that’s also important), you’ll also have a much more balanced physique and overall better health. And that’s something that can, ultimately, help you reach your main goals.