The Power of 8's : An Excercise Circuit to Turn You Into a Backpacking Badass

I have backpacked long distance trails all over the world. When I was younger my thought process always ran along these lines.

“I’ll just take it slow on the trail to begin with and after a couple of weeks my body will be fit enough to eat up mileage.” Little did I know that this was a recipe for failure on the trail. I never gave up on my long distance hikes, but I would have been a lot better off and have been able to bound over the mountains had I prepared physically first. The Boyscout adage, “ Always Be Prepared” comes to mind.

In my years as a backpacking guide I have taken thousands of people into the backcountry. More often than not, there is at least one member of each group that is unprepared physically and mentally for the rigors of the trail. The workout plan that I outline for backcountry fitness is called. “The Power of 8’s”. I consulted my good friend Hunter Johnston, a physical trainer, golden gloves boxer, and former Army Ranger when creating this workout plan.

Backpacking in the Smokies will eat your lunch if you are underprepared but if you follow this workout plan you will be bounding over mountaintops and ridgelines in no time.

“The Power of 8’s” consists of 11 different exercises that are meant to be done in order.

The program consists of two circuits running back to back. Basically, you repeat the exercises for 2 rounds.


“The Power Of 8’s”


1: Burpees: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of, and just inside, your feet. Shift your weight onto them. Jump your feet back to softly land on the balls of your feet in a plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Be careful not to let your back sag or you butt stick up in the air, as both can keep you from effectively working your core. Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands. Reach your arms overhead and explosively jump up into the air. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.

16 x Burpees and on to the second exercise.


2: Goblet Squats: For these you will need a single kettlebell ranging from 25 to 45 pounds. I recommend starting with lighter vs. heavier.

You begin by starting in a stand-up position holding the kettlebell close to your chest at sternum level. You want your forearms to be slightly above parallel while holding the kettlebell. With your feet shoulder width apart squat down to where your hips are parallel with your knees. Make sure to not rock forward. At the bottom of the squat extend the kettlebell away from your chest and retract it back to your chest. Exit the squat by standing up and in one motion extend the kettlebell overhead with your arms fully extended. Make sure to look at the kettlebell as you raise it overhead. Return the kettlebell to chest level and repeat the motion for a total of 16 reps.

3: Dumbbell Step Ups: You will need two dumbbells and a step up platform that is 18” to 24 “ in height. It is best to start with lighter dumbbells and work your way up to heavier weight over time. Start in front of the platform, arms extended down to your sides with the dumbells resting aside your hips. Step up with one foot onto platform and raise the rest of your weight with the leg atop the platform. As you step up perform hammer curls with dumbells in one motion. Raise your knee up and extend out at a 90-degree angle on top of the platform. As you retract your leg to step down lower dumbells and resume the starting position. Do this exercise 8 times for each leg.


4: 1000 Meter Row or 880 Yard Run: This is simple. Your use a rowing machine to row 1000 meters in under 4 minutes or you can run 880 yards in under 4 minutes. For those of you who have never used a rowing machine before I have included instructions on how to use one from start to finish.

Arms are straight; the head is neutral; shoulders are level and not hunched. Upper body is leaning forward from the hips with the shoulders

in front of the hips. Shins are vertical, or as close to vertical as is comfortable for you. Shins should not move beyond perpendicular. Heels may lift as needed. Start the drive by pressing with your legs, and then swing the back through the vertical position before finally adding the arm pull. Hands move in a straight line to and from the flywheel. Shoulders remain low and relaxed. Upper body is leaning back slightly, using good support from the core muscles. Legs are extended and handle is held lightly below your ribs. Shoulders should be low with wrists and grip relaxed. Wrists should be flat. Extend your arms until they straighten before leaning from the hips towards the flywheel. Once your hands have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward on the monorail. For your next stroke, return to the catch position with shoulders relaxed and shins vertical.

5:Deadlifts: 16 reps using a Hex bar. 110 pounds to 160 pounds. The Hex bar allows you to perform the movement with minimal back strain. As you lift ensure to keep your back straight Keep your knees over your feet, feet shoulder-width apart. Begin by flexing your lats and core as you lift with your legs at the bottom of the movement. As you push from the ground with your feet lift until you are standing straight up and holding the hex bar. This is meant to be done as a singular fluid movement. If your back buckles under the strain of the lift you should stop doing the exercise. That means your posterior chain is too weak to handle the weight loaded onto the bar. Proper form is essential.

After you successfully complete one rep lower the bar all the way down to the ground in a controlled fashion and repeat the movement.


6: Bar Dips: 16 Dips. With bar dips you hold yourself in a fully extended position upward, hands parallel to each other on the bars you are lifting from. You lower your body down to the point where your chest is even with the parallel bars. After you hit this point explode upward, pressing your body fully up to the starting position. Keep your elbows in at your sides throughout the movement. Engage your shoulders forward throughout the entire movement and lean slightly forward at a 45-degree angle. Maintain control of your body the entire time, no swinging or compromising form as you lower straight down and raise straight up.



7: Lunge Plate Extension: 8 on each side. Begin by gathering a 20 to 45-pound plate and holding it directly overhead with both hands. With legs shoulder-width apart lunge forward while keeping your front knee directly above your ankle. Your front quad should become perpendicular in relation to your calf. To complete the lunge step forward and stand back up into a fully upright position. Keep the weight overhead for the entire set. Repeat 8 times on each side or for 16 lunges forward.


8: Flys Modified Punch: 16 reps. Squat position with wider stance for stability. Not all the way down in full parallel position and back straight. 15 to 25 lb dumbbells. Hold them at sides palms up. One arm at a time punch and rotate weight so at full extension palm is down. As you start to retract that hand back to the same hip to a palm up position you extend the other arm and so forth creating a rhythm of boxing. 16 total punches.. Both hands count as 1.


9: Kettlebell Swing Drop Squat: 16 reps. 35-60 pound kettlebell This is a combination kettlebell exercise. It incorporates Kettlebell drop squats with kettlebell swings. The purpose is to use initial explosive power in the swing to build muscle rather than moving the bell with momentum. While doing the exercise you want to ensure you maintain proper technique with the use of hip flexors and glutes. Arms should remain extended as well. You begin by placing the kettlebell at your feet while your feet are shoulder width apart. Start by squatting down and picking up the kettlebell with both hands while keeping your back straight. Come up to a standing position and perform a full kettlebell swing bringing the kettlebell directly overhead. You want to use the explosive force of the hip flexors and glutes to propel the kettlebell upward. Overuse of the shoulders in the movement negates its purpose. Return to the starting position and begin the squat all over again.


10: Rock Hard Abs Flutter: This exercise was developed by my friend Hunter. It is a variation on an ab exercise he did in his early 20s while he was boxing. The main difference is that you won't have people punching you in the gut while you perform it! Or if you feel so inclined, try out the socked in the stomach version… When I consulted Hunter about putting together a physical training plan for potential guests on our trips he was visibly excited about this exercise. It’ll strengthen your core and get you in fighting shape to take on any mountain!


16 reps. 2x dumbbells from 20-40 pounds. You begin by laying on your back with legs in full extension while holding the dumbbells parallel to your body. To start press lower back to the ground while raising your feet and legs together 8-12 inches off of the ground. While holding your legs in this position, raise the dumbbells directly up over your chest and touch them together in a full arm extension. Slowly lower weights overhead until they are 2-6 inches above the floor. Do not touch the floor. Hold this position for 8 seconds. Raise the weights back up to over your chest while lifting your legs to be perpendicular. Pull the weights down to the starting position and lower legs to 8-12 inches off of the ground once more. Repeat the entire process 16 times.


11: Russian Twist: Start seated with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, holding a medicine ball with both hands in front of chest. Keeping the spine long and the abdominals tight, lean back slightly and lift the feet a few inches off the floor. Slowly twist the torso to the left and bring the dumbbell beside the left hip. Return to center, and then slowly twist to the right and bring the weight beside the right hip to complete one rotation. Repeat 16x.


After two repetitions of this circuit you will more than likely feel winded, perhaps worse for wear but it is worth it. Believe me. There is nothing worse than being under prepared for the potential rigors of the trail. Backpacking in the Smokies is rewarding if you enter with respect. Some of the most challenging backpacking trips I have ever been on have been in the Smokies. This fitness routine will prepare you to tackle anything a multi-day backpacking trip will throw at you. Whether you are coming on a backpacking trip with American Wild Trekking or simply using this routine to prepare for your own backpacking expedition, I hope the information is beneficial. Happy Trails!