Long distance hiking is not meant to be a leisurely stroll. It is a strenuous physical activity requiring a high level of fitness. There is a direct connection between your level of physical fitness and your enjoyment of the hike. Get in shape before you hit the trail.
You are ready for your first hiking trip of the year. You have organized well and done your research. You know daily distances and elevation gains. You purchased a good pair of boots and know what you are going to put in your pack. But are you really ready? Backcountry hiking is not a walk in the park. Is your body trained for the rigors of a rugged trail? Without adequate physical training and preparation, your hiking excursion can turn into a torturous and exhausting grind.
The Importance of Fitness for Hiking
Why fitness so important? There is a direct relationship between your level of physical fitness and your enjoyment of the hiking experience. It does not matter what distance you are planning to hike, if you are not fit, you are going to hurt. When you hurt, you can’t have fun. It’s as simple as that.
The Focus of Hiking Training
“Long distance” hiking means different things to different people, but training principles will be consistent regardless of the length of the hike.
The most effective training focuses on attaining peak fitness for a specific event or activity. The long distance hiker must focus on four important fitness areas.
1. Lower Body Strength (Legs and Glutes)
2. Core Muscle Strength
4. Getting Comfortable with Your Gear
Training Program for Hikers
Most hikers try to keep a reasonably high level of fitness all-year, and kick it up in the weeks before a big backpacking or hiking trip. For example, if you have planned a trip to the Smoky Mountains that will include three day-hikes of 10 to 12 miles you should step up or begin a training about 10 weeks prior to the trip.
The primary objective of my training is to get my body in shape to handle long climbs on steep mountain trails. The ideal training regimen will simulate the conditions I will encounter during my hike. If there are no hills nearby, you may have to improvise.
Walking: Start Slowly and Build Up
Your training schedule and walking routine should start slowly with low mileage walks. Gradually increase the walking mileage as the weeks go by.
During the first two weeks of training, walk three days each week (you should also exercise two additional days per week. More on that later). The first two walking days are 2 to 3 mile jaunts at a moderate pace. Increase the mileage to 4 to 5 miles on the third day.
The third and fourth weeks of training continues with two 3 mile walks. But the long walk day is increased to 6-7 miles. By week eight you will still walking three days each week with a long walk of 8 to 10 miles once a week.
To further condition your legs, add a few exercises such as lunges, burpees, body weight squats and pushups at various points during the walk.
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