Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle? – It Depends…
If you usually hike without a backpack, or you are new to hiking, and you start carrying a heavy backpack on hikes, then initially, carrying a heavy backpack will build muscle, mostly leg and butt muscles but build them it will. This is because you will be putting your body under more load than it is used to dealing with. Your body will respond by growing more muscle in the area that it is being demanded from.
There are several ways to build muscle. Most of them involve Progressive Resistance Training, and doing repetitions to failure. I’m not sure Hiking carrying a heavy backpack would even fit into the Top Ten most efficient ways to build muscle.
If you were carrying a heavy backpack while just doing static squats until failure, you would almost certainly build muscle, but not very efficiently (or enjoyably for that matter).
We really need to clarify the question. Why is it being asked? Is the asker wanting to know if carrying a heavy backpack a good way to get bigger leg muscles, or is the asker worried about getting chunky, muscly legs when he/she is carrying a heavy backpack. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle or does it Tone Muscle?
Here is an area where carrying a heavy backpack is a good idea, muscle toning. If you go hiking on rough terrain carrying a heavy backpack, you may or may not build muscle, depending on what your current level of fitness is. But, almost everyone who goes hiking carrying a heavy backpack will tone the muscles of their lower body to some extent.
Rucking around the countryside carrying a heavy backpack will give your whole body a thorough workout, and it will especially tone the muscles of your lower limbs. Carrying a weight of 30-40 kg for a couple of hours should be enough for anyone with a hiking background. With trial and error you should quite quickly be able to work out the ideal weight for you. Find a weight that is light enough to carry, and heavy enough to keep you looking toned and feeling fit. It’s a fine balance to find.
Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle or Burn off Calories?
Carrying a heavy backpack on a hike is a great way to burn a lot of calories fast. If you find that you have put on some extra weight with the recent Covid 19 lockdown, like I have, simply spending a couple of hours lugging a heavy backpack around the trails will have you back in shape in no time.
If you can find a comfortable weight that is still an effort to carry, then find a trail with a few challenging inclines, you will be burning calories by the boatload. By increasing your overall bodyweight by carrying a heavy backpack, you can double the number of calories burned/hour on a hike compared to hiking without a backpack.
It is estimated that normal hiking burns around 250 calories an hour, but hiking carrying a heavy backpack can get that up into the region of 500 calories an hour. It certainly seems worth the discomfort and extra effort for those kind of results.
Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle or Increase Strength?
There are no two ways about it. If you hike carrying a heavy backpack you are going to see noticeable increases in your body strength.
The military use long Load Carries with excessive weight as a tool to build impressive strength in young recruits and time served soldiers alike.
I’m sure you have heard the legend of Milo and the Bull. Milo the Croton, a famous Olympian and Wrestler often told the story of when he was a young man on the family farm, he used to pick up the calf on the farm and carry it up the hill. He carried on this challenge daily for around 4 years. In the end he was carrying a 4 year old fully grown bull rather than carrying a calf.
He put his famous victories down to his progressive resistance training, by carrying a slightly heavier calf up the hill every day. Putting a bit more weight in your backpack each time you hike, could and should have the same effect.
Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle or Increase Stamina?
What is stamina?
I found this eloquent statement on Healthline.com:
Stamina is the strength and energy that allow you to sustain physical or mental effort for long periods of time. Increasing your stamina helps you endure discomfort or stress when you’re doing an activity. It also reduces fatigue and exhaustion. Having high stamina allows you to perform your daily activities at a higher level while using less energy.https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/how-to-increase-stamina
If you hike carrying a heavy backpack regularly, you are going to experience big increases in your stamina. You will be able to hike farther and for longer periods without becoming fatigued.
This increase in stamina is a fantastic by product of the increase in strength and the toning of your muscles. As your body becomes accustomed to the extra weight, your lung capacity will also increase allowing you to go on longer and tougher hikes.
Your strength, muscle tone, stamina and lung capacity all improve in a cycle of increased health gains.
Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle? – Conclusion
So the answer to our question “Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Build Muscle?” appears to be, it can, but it’s not a very efficient way to do it.
However, Carrying a heavy backpack on hikes brings with it a whole host of other benefits that we should be eagerly seeking. That is, if we can stay fit and injury free.
Like any other form of exercise, Carrying a Heavy Backpack also involves some degree of risk. It’s you who can decide whether these risks are acceptable for you or not:
- Neck, shoulder, and back strain, which is more common if you use a loose-fitting backpack or if you go too far or too fast during your hike
- Knee or ankle pain due to heavy weight putting excessive stress on your joints
- Blisters due to loosely fitted shoes or socks
- Heatstroke if you carry very heavy weight in hot weather and do not hydrate yourself
- Hypothermia if you hike in the outdoors for too long without proper preparation and clothing
Most of these risks can be eliminated if you use well-fitted gear and common sense. However, you must not do a heavy workout if you have a medical condition or inflamed joints. Get in touch with your physician and confirm if carrying a heavy backpack is a suitable exercise for you.