After enduring a long winter of indoor workouts, it’s time to finally have some fun in the sun. And one of the best ways to enjoy the springtime scenery is by hitting the hiking trails for some al fresco fitness. Whether you’re a nature lover, someone who craves an ever-changing cardio program, or an avid walker wanting a more challenging experience, hiking will quickly become your new favorite fit pick.

Like other cardio competitors, hiking improves cardiovascular health, which is essential for lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, and elevated blood pressure. But what makes this activity unique to others is the way it promotes a better mind/body connection by strengthening a little something called proprioception.

Proprioception, which is your awareness of the positioning and movement of your body, is instrumental in planning, coordinating, and performing movements with balance and control.

It’s sometimes referred to as your “sixth sense.” Unlike a walk around the block, where the mechanics are so predictable you’re practically on autopilot, hiking, with its fluctuating terrain, requires concentration and strong communication between the mind and muscles.

The components of hiking include balance-improving single-leg movements, needing to calculate each step as you move along uneven turf, and having good reaction time when encountering unexpected objects or debris in your path, all of which help boost your proprioception skills. This sort of fitness session is especially useful for older adults for fall prevention, as the body’s proprioception tends to decline with age.

If you want to take your workout to new heights and pump up your proprioception, try these top three exercises every hiker should have in their skill set. If you have balance restrictions, or are new to working out, consult a physician before hiking, as lower-body endurance and sure-footedness are needed to trek bumpy ground.

For these exercises, I am using a solid chair as my workout equipment. If you use a chair, push it against a wall for stability. For a lower step option, perform from a platform such as the steps in your home, a bench at your gym, or on a step platform.

Bulgarian split squat

Experienced exercisers should use weights to increase the resistance. For beginners or those new to this exercise, perform without weights, then graduate when ready.

Stand with your back toward the chair or platform. With your left foot on the floor and right on the bench, laces down, bend your knees to lower down into a split squat so the left knee is at about a 90-degree angle, with the thigh parallel to the floor and back knee hovering above the ground. The front knee should not extend beyond the toes. If you can’t do this, hop your front foot forward more.

Drive through your left heel to stand. Aim to perform anywhere between three to eight reps, then switch sides.

Step-ups

Plant your right foot firmly on the center of the chair. Using strictly your lower body for momentum, push through your heel to stand. For more of a challenge, slowly elevate the left leg slightly from its surface once balanced.

Hold for two counts, then lower the left leg back down, keeping the right foot in place. Repeat 10 times, then repeat on the opposite leg.

Stationary lunge

Begin by standing near a sturdy wall for support. With your gaze forward, core muscles engaged, and shoulders aligned above the hips, take a step back with your right leg and lower into a lunge. All your weight is planted in your front heel. Keep the front knee over the ankle and the back under the hip.

Hold for two counts, then push through the right heel to stand. Continue this sequence for 10 total repetitions before switching sides.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. Learn more about her virtual training program at ashleyblakefitness.com.