Are you planning a hiking trip but not sure if you’re fit enough to take on the challenge? Do you want a body that can cope with long miles, heavy backpacks and steep climbs? If you’ve answered yes to one or both of these questions, you’ve come to the right place. This article will show you how to train for hiking.
Preparation is essential to increase the potential for success of any trip. This includes making sure you’re in good physical shape before you take off. The one and only way to do that is to train properly and regularly. We’ll teach you how below.
MAKE A TRAINING SCHEDULE
First of all, it’s important to consider which type of hike you want to do. Will it be a strenuous day hike to a mountain summit? Or rather an overnight hike in the wilderness? Maybe even a challenging long-distance hike?
For all these types of hikes, you’ll want to be in decent physical shape. There is, however, a difference between training for day hikes and long-distance backpacking trips.
Most people with an average fitness level should be able to complete a day hike. That’s not to say that it won’t be a challenge, though. People living active lives will be more comfortable with several hours of physical exercise.
If you don’t walk a lot, start with making it a habit. Giving your legs some daily exercise for a few weeks should set you up for a successful day hike.
Long-distance hikes, and even overnight hikes when carrying camping gear, are different. Training for these kinds of hikes involves much more than simple basic physical exercise. This requires a workout routine. We will focus on training for long-distance hikes in the rest of this article. Of course, these tips will also be useful to day hikers who want to get into shape.
If you plan to hike in high altitude, there are additional steps you’ll need to make to safely complete your trip. Take a look at our article on how to train for hiking in high altitude.
THE 3 FUNDAMENTALS
Hiking is the most natural form of exercise for us humans. We literally evolved into two-legged walkers. Walking is what we do to get around, whether it’s inside your house or in the park. It’s the easiest activity there is.
That said, while everyone can walk, with all the conveniences of modern society, not all of us are used to it anymore. Especially not for prolonged periods of time and over long distances. Most people will need to train before embarking on a long hike. This is how you do it.
TIP #1. GO TO THE GYM
If you don’t have one already, sign up for a membership at your local gym. The gym, as REI says, is a great place to condition your body and improve both strength and stamina. We’ll talk about resistance training in more detail in just a moment.
TIP #2. START HIKING
Second and arguably most obvious, you need to start hiking. The best way to train for hiking trips is mimicking them as well as you possibly can. If you’re not used to hiking, you should start by going for long walks in the park or another natural area near your house. While the gym is fantastic to work on specific muscle groups and do targeted exercises, nothing compares to a walk outdoors.
After your feet and legs have gotten used to walking for a few hours on end, continue by doing hikes with a small backpack. Gradually increase the length and elevation gain of your hikes.
Eventually, you should do hikes with your backpack and all your hiking gear. Doing so, you allow your body to get accustomed to the weight it will have to carry during your actual hiking trip.
TIP #3. CHANGE YOUR HABITS
Tweaking your habits might seem less important than the previous two tips, but this can and will result in major changes in your physical appearance and fitness.
You can turn incorporate extra exercise into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevators. Ride your bike to work. Walk to the store instead of driving. If walking isn’t possible, park in the spot furthest from the store entrance. You can also carry a small backpack to enhance the benefits of a (slightly) new lifestyle.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/lzf
3 DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRAINING
When learning how to train for hiking, it’s important to distinguish between different types of training. As with any sport, there are three different aspects you can work on.
1. CARDIOVASCULAR TRAINING
Cardio training is the most important part of your hiking training. According to Backpacking.com, you should do two days of cardio for every day of strength training. Three to four days a week is recommended. Also, equally as important is to allow for at least one day of rest per week. Allowing for both physical and mental recovery, rest is a critical part of any training schedule.
The ultimate goal of cardio is to optimize your body’s recuperation power. Cardio helps improve endurance. It also increases your body’s capacity of repairing itself after prolonged intense exercise.
Cardio training includes everything from walking and jogging to swimming, cycling and group fitness classes at the gym.
The key is to push your body to the point of fatigue but never to exhaustion. Start light exercise while still increasing your heart rate. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your cardio workout. Eventually, it is recommended to add weight to your exercises.
2. RESISTANCE TRAINING
Resistance targets specific body parts and muscle groups. This is important because it teaches your body how to manage prolonged physical stress. Aim to include two days of resistance training in your weekly schedule.
This includes exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, step-ups, sit-ups and push-ups. REI.com has a great overview of what a hiker’s resistance training workout could look like.
3. MENTAL TRAINING
Mental preparation is as important as physical training. No matter how great of shape you are in, you cannot physically prepare for adversity. Cold weather, surprising downpours, broken gear and blisters are just some of the challenges you can face on the trail. Mental strength is the only thing that will get you through them.
Jennifer Pharr Davis, Appalachian Trail speed record holder, tells us that many people are mentally unprepared for a long hike. She advises you to read books and watch hiking or adventure documentaries. Information is preparation. It’s important to put your expectations into a realistic framework before setting off on a hike.