Training For A Long-Distance Hike: Do’s & Don’ts
Training for a long-distance hike is much like training for a marathon. It requires a good cardio base and strength to blow past obstacles in your path. It’s hard work, but nothing quite beats the scenery and sense of satisfaction climbing a mountain.
Much like a marathon, a long-distance trek requires physical and mental preparation of the hiker. If you don’t have a good base before you load up your backpack, a scenic long-distance hike will leave you too exhausted to take in the view.
So, where do you even start to prepare for a long hike?
Below, I have detailed the three main categories of preparation.
1. Build A Cardio Base
As you hike, your heart needs to pump harder to send blood to those hard-working muscles. Building a good cardio base helps strengthen your heart and lungs, so they don’t need to work quite as hard as you trek through the mountains.
A good cardio exercise involves anything that gets your heart pumping. Running is a great place to start, but you can also jump on a rowing machine, go biking, take a spinning class, or pop in an old workout DVD!
Set a goal of 30 minutes of cardio activity three times a week. Once you hit the 30-minute mark at 90 percent of your top heart rate with ease, step up and push the time to 35 minutes, then to 40, and so on.
Run on a treadmill for 30 minutes 3 days a week.
2. Incorporate Strength Training
There’s no telling the obstacles that you will encounter on your long-distance hiking trip, so it’s crucial to build up those muscles! Resistance training will help make the trek more manageable, but it also helps prevent injury.
It’s essential to focus on your lower body, but building muscles in your core and upper back will take some strain off of your body when carrying a heavy backpack.
Squats, lunges, and pushups are the three go-to movements for hiking. These exercises help build up a strong core while also building muscles in your legs. You can start by just using bodyweight and slowly incorporate weight training with dumbbells.
Build a hiking-inspired circuit with eight sets that look something like this:
- 8-10 reps of squats (either bodyweight or use dumbbells)
- 8-10 reps of lunges
- 8-10 reps of pushups
Be sure to switch things up when your workout starts to get stale. Instead of doing squats, dry dumbbell deadlifts.
If pushups are getting easy, it’s time to bust out the burpees!
3. Build Endurance
As you work on your strength and cardio, it’s essential to put that foundation to the test. Before I start training for a big hike or backpacking trip, I like to test my performance. Before I even pick up a dumbbell, I head to one of the more challenging trails around town to see how I fare.
After a few weeks of following a diligent training plan, try out that practice hike again. Was it a little bit easier, harder, or the same? Testing yourself will give you a good idea if your training is paying off.
If you don’t have a local trail to try, no worries! An excellent way to test your endurance is to hop on a stair climber or a treadmill set to an incline. Or, try hiking up and down a set of stairs to test your overall fitness level.
A good endurance level means that you should be able to hold a conversation while walking up those stairs. If you are winded after the first few flights, you need to prepare more!
Hit up a local trail at least once a week to check your progress. If you find that the course is getting a little easier, your hard work is paying off!
Our Do’s & Don’ts
Do: Take your time.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a long-distance hiking body requires time cooking! Give yourself at least six months to get your mind and body in shape to tackle your next outdoor adventure.
Don’t: Neglect your upper body.
Remember that your upper body is working hard, too, so it’s essential not to neglect those muscles. While you may think that it’s your lower body doing all of the work, your upper body is what holds up your backpack.
Exercises like rows or basic pushups will also give that upper body some love.
Do: Fit in exercise whenever you can.
Training for longer hikes/multi-day hikes doesn’t have to end at the gym. Try and park in the very last spot when you head to the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of elevators, and capitalize on every opportunity to keep moving!
Don’t: Hike with sore muscles.
Your training will inevitably leave your muscles sore, but make sure that you give your body time to rest before you head out on your adventure.
Stop your training a few days before your hike, get plenty of sleep, and be sure to stay hydrated, so your body is rested and ready for the challenge!
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