Training for Half Dome and Half Dome Cables

Two women wearing backpacks and standing in front of the Half Dome cables
Explorer Chicks at the cables of Half Dome.
This post has been reviewed by certified TRX and Kettlebell coach, Ulrike Rosser, supplementing our retired Explorer Chick Fit program.

Every year hopeful Half Dome hikers enter the Yosemite National Park lottery system, eager for their chance at a wilderness permit for this wildly popular hike.

Those who have hiked Half Dome already know the absolute magic of the entire journey: wildflowers on the John Muir Trail, the expansive views of Curry Village and Yosemite Valley, and of course, the victorious feeling of accomplishment as you finish up that last bit of the cables section. Common routes to the summit have incredible water features, like Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

The iconic trek up the famous cables of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is a major bucket list item for adventure lovers, but this strenuous day hike takes some preparation and training!

Is summiting Half Dome on your hiking bucket list? Join our Explorer Chick Half Dome Backpacking Trip and let us provide the laughs (along with gear and coveted Half Dome permits for your group)!

Do You Need to Train for Half Dome?

Women standing and posing with arms up during a hike in front of Half Dome as the sun is setting

Starting in Little Yosemite Valley at 6,100 feet above sea level and reaching approximately 8,842 feet, the popularity of this hike can display a false sense of “anybody can do it!” O.K. both 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds have managed the trek, but it’s not a walk in the park.

A Half Dome permit is required for all the trails leading to this summit for a reason, and it’s a long hike no matter which route you choose.

Being physically prepared before an attempt to summit Half Dome is essential to your success. You’ve heard of couch to 5K? Couch to Half Dome hike is a whole lot more challenging, friends.

Can a Beginner Climb Half Dome?

backpacking in yosemite half dome

Climbing Half Dome isn’t an adventure recommended for complete beginner hikers (though it is a great motivation goal to get you hiking more). The cable route is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in a U.S. national park.

All this being said, this is a totally safe hike as long as you’re properly trained!

This adventure is for experienced hikers, but Explorer Chick also has plenty of backpacking trips for beginners to choose from. And hey, you can always work your way up — we all started somewhere!

How Fit Do You Have to Be to Hike Half Dome?

While it isn’t the longest hike on record, training is required to really be ready for hiking Half Dome. This adventure demands a lot more than most day hikes, and your fitness level is important to ensure you reach Half Dome’s summit with as little suffering as possible.

The Half Dome day hike starts at the valley floor and reaches 8,842 feet above sea level at the highest point. The shortest of your route options, the Mist Trail, is still more than 14 miles round trip with 4,800+ feet of elevation gain on steep, challenging trails. All of that to reach the sub dome before you tackle the famous but grueling steel cables section!

How to Train for Half Dome

The Half Dome Trail is not the place you want to begin your training! In the weeks leading up to your Yosemite adventure, be sure you’re adding to your fitness routine and experiencing the full range of life outdoors.

Don’t want to train alone? Join an Explorer Chick workshop and get all the ins and outs of training for hikes or backpacking trips

Get Hiking! (With Weight)

Two women wearing backpacks and hiking on the Panorama Trail surrounded by pine trees and mountains with Half Dome in the distance

Saddle up and start hiking! Backpackers, slowly work up to carrying up to 30-35 lbs on your back. Day hikers should still plan for the weight of water bottles (at least 3 liters) and other hiking essentials

Challenge yourself as much as possible and make sure your routes include rugged terrain and notable elevation gain at least a few days out of each week. Get used to an early start and train in different weather conditions—yup, that includes rain.

Pro Tip: Good shoes! Find the perfect hiking boot for you and BREAK THEM IN! Tennis shoes aren’t going to cut it for this trip, and you definitely don’t want to be showing up for a Half Dome hike with brand new boots.

Stairs, Hills, or the Trusty StairMaster

If you don’t have easy access to rugged mountain trails, use what you’ve got! If you have steep hills in your area, load up your pack and make the trek repeatedly! This’ll build those calf muscles and get you comfortable with rapid elevation gain.

Finding yourself in a flat city? The StairMaster can be your best friend! Opt to take the stairs at every opportunity. Park in the furthest parking lot to add some extra steps to your commute.

Explorer Chick Fit Trainer Expert Tip

If you can, prioritize hill repeats over stairs! Hill repeats typically simulate trail hiking better than stairs. As you climb up, concentrate on keeping your core and chest stable. On the way down, focus on activating your glutes.

Explorer Chick Fit trainer Ulrike Rosser

Lunges (Weighted, Jump, or Classic)

Training your leg muscles to work in different ways will make your Half Dome hike much easier (and more enjoyable!)! Showing off your calf muscles in your summit pic is just a bonus.

To utilize lunges, start with your feet hip-width apart. For weighted lunges, hold a weight in each hand as you begin. Step forward with one foot and bend your knee until it’s at a 90-degree angle, alternating your legs.

Adding diagonal and reverse lunges is even better for hikers. If you want to try jump lunges, drop the weights and follow the same process, but jump into the front leg position instead of slowly lowering. When you come up, jump and switch immediately.

lunge for hiking backpacking training for half dome
Your future Explorer Chick Fit trainer, Ulrike Rosser.

Rowing Exercises

Rowing exercises are perfect for upper body strength training and trust us—you’re gonna need it once you reach the Half Dome cables!

Pull-ups are a great way to work those muscles and help you develop a good grip with your hands, but if the idea of doing a pull-up on your own sounds way out of the realm of possibilities, don’t sweat. You don’t need full pull-up strength for this one.

If pull-ups aren’t your cup of tea, try some of these exercises instead:

  • Rowing machine.
  • Seated rows with a weight.
  • Bent-over single arm rows with one hand on a counter or bench.
  • Weight assisted pull-ups.

Any of these moves will help get those muscles ready to support you on the cables.

Explorer Chick Fit Trainer Expert Tip

Pull-ups are not an exercise for everyone and that’s okay! For doing the alternative exercises, aim for form rather than using a heavier weight.

Explorer Chick Fit trainer Ulrike Rosser

Pro tip: To help with your grip and keep your hands safe, you’ll probably want a good pair of gloves for the cables.


Hiking Half Dome takes a ton of lower body strength and calls on every muscle in your legs from the glutes to your calves to support and stabilize you. Goblet squats are perfect for hikers since they target lots of these different leg muscles!

To train using goblet squats, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest while you spread your feet about shoulder-length apart, bend your knees and lower your core until your elbows just about touch them.

squat in hiking backpacking training for half dome
Your future Explorer Chick Fit trainer, Ulrike Rosser.

Meet the Writer

April Brightman

April is an adventure lover and freelance writer based in New England, with a passion for public lands, wild places, and all things outdoors. She loves camping in any form and spends as many weekends as she can hiking New Hampshire’s highest peaks, or road-tripping with her sweet dog Marley. If not in the mountains, you can find her planning her next expedition or caring for one of her far-too-many-houseplants.

Favorite outdoor adventure: National Parks Hiking and Road Trips!

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