Is Hiking Good For Your Abs? (Or Is It Back To Crunches?)

Getting outside to hike and be active can be great for your overall health, but does hiking build abs? Let’s get to the bottom of this question in the article below.

Hiking will not give you a six-pack on its own because it does not target the abdominal muscles–however, hiking can tone your core and is a moderate aerobic exercise. Which, with proper dieting can help you achieve the right body fat percentage necessary to show a six-pack.

Just because hiking does not necessarily target your abs, it does not mean that hiking should be removed from your exercise routine. In fact, hiking has some health benefits that may help you reach your body goals even if it doesn’t directly give you a six-pack.

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Understanding how hiking can impact your body’s muscles begins with knowing how different types of workouts impact your body. It also involves knowing your own body.

To find out if hiking impacts your core muscles, we looked at some of the latest research regarding the impact that hiking has on the human body. We also analyzed some online pictures of before and after photos of hikers who did long thru-hikes. Let me tell ya, we did notice some changes in appearance!

Can I Get a Six Pack By Walking? How About Hiking?

Unfortunately, you cannot get 6-pack abs by simply walking or even by hiking. This is because the act of walking does not engage your abdominal muscles (source). However, your oblique muscles, the muscles on the side of your abdomen, do actually stay tense while you walk or hike. This is because these muscles will work to stabilize your pelvis as you walk.

However, walking and hiking do still have plenty of health benefits and can help you achieve a flatter stomach. This is because walking and hiking are both great ways to get out and get active so that you can lose body weight and body fat. Both of these exercises are examples of cardio and they can help you burn calories so that you can lose weight and excess fat at a faster pace.

As an example, a 190 lb person, carrying a 30 lb backpack, hiking 2 miles for an hour (2 MPH, a standard hiking speed), with standard up and down incline will burn around 514 calories.

This data comes from CaloriesBurnedHq

Even with no backpack, it’s estimated you’d burn 445 calories in an hour

Additionally, your walking form may impact the work that your abdominal muscles do. For example, walking in a slouched position without engaging your abs won’t do much for toning that part of your body. Instead, you should engage your obliques by walking tall and not slouching.

For better posture (Livestrong), you should focus on walking with the top of your head pointing towards the sky and your spine fully extended. You should attempt to consciously draw your shoulder blades together so that your torso is lifted up. Additionally, walking at a faster pace will burn more calories and will help you engage your muscles more.

So the quick answer here is that hiking does not directly impact your desired six-pack muscle-wise, but it’s an incredible way to burn calories.

Body Fat Percentage for Abs

If you want your abs to be visible, it may not matter how many crunches you do during your workout. Instead, for your six-pack abs to be visible to the world, it may all depend on the amount of body fat you have in your body. However, it’s not just the amount of fat, it’s the percentage of body fat that you have in your body compared to your overall body weight.

There are many types of fat found within the human body, and even between men and women the healthy body fat percentage is different. This is because women tend to need more fat to sustain a healthy body weight and overall health. Also, women tend to hold more fat in general because of their increased level of the hormone estrogen in their bodies.

Typically, the highest percentage of body fat that a male can have for visible abs is about 14% (Healthline). While some of the most competitive bodybuilders will have between 5 to 9% of fat, it is not necessary to be that low in body fat percentage to see defined abdomen muscles as a male.

Luckily for women, the highest percentage required to see abdomen definition is around 15 to 19% (source) total body fat. Towards the higher end of the percentage, the definition of lower abs starts to fade, but there will still likely be a distinct ab definition in the women’s obliques. For women, it is unhealthy to be below 10% body fat. So instead, women should aim to be between that 10% in 19% range for healthy abs.

Is Hiking Good for Your Core?

Hiking works your obliques but doesn’t target your abdominals. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best exercise to work on your core muscles.

However, having a strong core is important for avoiding injury while you’re hiking. Your core muscles will work with your legs, glutes, and the rest of your body to support your body weight and maintain good posture.

If you are carrying a backpack, having a strong abdomen and core can help with your posture so that you carry your backpack in a way that won’t hurt your back. It will also help improve your balance so that you can walk over the rough terrain. So, hiking isn’t necessarily a good exercise for your core, but exercising your core to improve your hike and overall posture is probably a good idea.

Can Hiking Burn Belly Fat?

Because hiking is a form of walking and physical exercise, it has the potential to help burn belly fat and other types of fat. As with adding any physical activity into your daily routine, consistent hiking and activity can help burn belly fat. According to a 12 week study (source) of the impact of walking exercises on abdominals fat in women, daily walking exercises can reduce the amount of body fat in the body.

Another study (source) found that those who spent 16 weeks doing outdoor wilderness exercises lost about four times as much weight as individuals who are assigned to indoor exercises. So, hiking outside may be a great way to help lose weight and even burn belly fat.

Even the type of hike that you do can impact how hard you work on the trail. For example, if you do a hike that has a lot more incline and involves stepping over more rough terrain, you’re likely going to get your heart rate beating faster. Thus, you are working your body harder.

I can tell you from personal experience that my heart has raced like crazy during steep hiking climbs–some of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done have been hiking.

You have likely heard of heart rate zones and a target heart rate. Most of the time, target heart rate zones are calculated based on you are resting heart rate and percentages. To get the most out of a workout, most adults should get their heart rate to between 50% and 80% (source) of their maximum heart rate. If you get your heart rate into this range, you are getting the most out of your workout.

Even so, the more fit you are the more difficult it is to get to your target heart rate zone. So if you have never hiked before and decide to go on an eight-mile intense hiking trip, odds are your heart rate will be at a higher percentage than someone who hikes on a weekly basis.

When your heart rate is in about 50% to 80% range, you can experience the benefits of exercising (source) which include weight loss, better heart health, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, and even improve mental health. When you lose body weight, you are getting closer to the body weight percentage that allows visible ab muscles.

Analyzing Thru Hiker Body Before and After Pics

There are LOTS of examples of thru-hike before and after pics people take of themselves. Needless to say, these hikes are intense and have the capacity to greatly alter someone’s body.

If you want to check it out yourself, you can simply Google before and after pictures of thru-hikers. But as I was looking through the Google images of people who posted their photos, I did notice some patterns between the before and after pictures.

Besides the unanimous growth of wild and untamed beards, nearly everyone who posted these pictures seemed to talk about and show off a loss of overall body fat. Even though everyone has different bodies and carries their weight differently, pretty much every person seemed to have slimmed down all around, including in the core region.

Even if people were in peak physical condition when they started off on these hikes and did not lose any weight, many still reported increased amounts of leg muscles and glute muscles.

However, what I did not notice was the appearance of a spontaneous 6-pack. So even though many people claimed to have lost weight, they did not magically get a 6 pack of abs even though they hiked as many as 2000 miles.

The only way this could happen is if you were fit enough for a six-pack to be hiding underneath some belly fat. Once the fat is gone, there’s no hiding your ab strength and definition!

Does Hiking Tone Your Body?

Hiking has many health benefits (source) and can do a lot to tone your body and improve your physical fitness. However, hiking does target certain muscles in your body and may work to tone those muscles at a faster rate than others.

For example, one study (source) that evaluated how backpack loads affect leg muscles found that hip extensor muscles tend to activate more when you are walking on slopes and your knee extensor muscles will be the most impacted when you wear heavier packs.

Furthermore, those who hike extensively and those who do thru-hiking do notice that their legs and glute muscles tend to increase and become stronger when they hike. This also includes your calf muscles and hamstrings.

If you do not hike with a backpack, you will likely not engage your upper body as much. However, you can engage your upper body in arms if you use hiking poles or trekking poles. In 2013 (source), a group of researchers looked at how Nordic walking using poles impacted the body composition and muscle strength in elderly women. They found that the women who used these poles saw increased upper body strength.

Hiking with poles has the added benefit of making hiking easier on your knees and back (something I very much appreciate)–as well as helps you hike farther because your whole body is involved rather than some muscles freeloading while the rest of your body is exhausted.

Yet, how much hiking tones your body likely depends on how often you hike and workout. For example, if you only go out for one or two hikes a month, you probably won’t see as fast results as someone who hikes or works out for two six days a week. If you do work out more and briskly walk for 30 minutes four to six times a week, you are more likely to see the benefits of toned thighs, a firmer booty, and weight loss.

Exercises to Tone Your Abs for Hiking

Because having toned abs and core will help with your posture and hiking stride, it may be worth it to do some ab exercises to help prepare you for the hiking season. You can likely sneak in these ab workouts in addition to your daily workout at least three times a week if not more. Some examples of good exercises to tone your abs for hiking include:

  • Dead bug
  • Planks
  • Crunches
  • Angle taps
  • Bicycles
  • Mountain climbers
  • Leg lifts
  • Side planks
  • Flutter kicks
  • Setups
  • Angle taps

Of course, good old crunches will likely get you started, but if you want to have a 6 pack you will need to work out all of your abdominal muscles. Crunches are good for some of your muscles, but if you want to hit all of your abdominal muscles for a more toned look, you might want to consider mixing it up and trying some of the above options.

Is Hiking Good Exercise?

Hiking is fantastic exercise. Hiking can burn from 300 calories to 800 calories per hour depending on your speed, weight, and how much you’re carrying. Hiking targets your obliques as well as your lower body heavily.

Hiking alone does not build ab muscles. However, because hiking is a physical activity that will get your heart rate into the target zone for exercise, it can help you lose weight. When you lose weight, you might be able to get into that body fat percentage range where muscles can be visible. Yet, you will likely still have to do crunches if you want incredibly defined 6 pack abs.

If you have any crazy before and after pictures of your body transformation of doing a thru-hike, feel free to send us an email and show off your pictures. We’d love to see some of this proof in action!


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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