Get fit for trekking: Essential tips for hikers

Prepare for trekking: Get fit and stay active

Are you wanting to Get Fit for Trekking? If you are preparing for a trek, whether it is Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro, Kokoda or a multi-day adventure in your local national park, you need to seriously consider your fitness.

Fitness for trekking is important for a few reasons:

  • It will help you physically succeed in your chosen adventure (and not have to bear the shame of turning back halfway)
  • It will greatly reduce the chance of injury and pain both during and after your trek
  • It will put you in a position to actually enjoy this once in a lifetime experience (and not simply concentrating on getting through each step…)

However, the topic of fitness for trekking is a very confusing one. And a lot of the information out there, really isn’t up to scratch…

So, this article is to clear up any confusion and tell you EXACTLY what you need to be doing to get fit for a trek.

Training Trekkers Need to Concentrate On:

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic capacity training is simply designed to make the body more efficient at using oxygen as a fuel source. This is the single most important element of fitness you need to train, no matter which trek you may be doing.

Developing this is essential to:

  • Allow you hike for hours at a time
  • Help your body recover properly between days of trekking
  • Minimise any risk of exhaustion
  • Help aid your acclimatisation (if you are going to altitude)

The way you develop this is through long duration, low intensity exercise. While doing this type of exercise, the easiest way to ensure you are working in this energy system is to work at an intensity in which you can still carry a conversation (faster isn’t always better!)

Great examples here include things like walking, jogging and the step machine.

One extra thing to note on this is that if you have a history of lower limb injuries (i.e. feet, shins, knees) or haven’t done much physical activity for a while, it is a good idea to do a large portion of this as ‘off feet conditioning’. Which involves activities which develop your aerobic capacity but don’t put stress through your joints.

Great options here include cycling, pool running or the elliptical.

Strength Training

Strength training is probably the most misunderstood method of training for trekking. But if done right, it has an incredible amount of benefits. These include:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Improved movement efficiency (i.e. every step uses less energy)
  • Increased walking speed (for those worried about holding up the pack)
  • Improved confidence

But this type of training goes a long way beyond endless squats and lunges (as most trekking strength programs would have you do).

Instead, trekkers should be following a structured, periodised strength training program. Which focuses on large, compound movements and has a mixture of both low and high repetitions (which develops both muscular strength and endurance).

Great exercises to focus on include step downs, single leg deadlifts, goblet squats and hip thrusts.

To help give you an idea of structure, here is an example 12-week plan:

Week 1-4: Prep Phase

  • This phase is designed to learn the movements proficiently and get some initial gains in strength.
  • Complete 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise

Week 5-8: Strength Phase

  • Now that your body knows the exercises, it is time to load them up a bit heavier – so you can get your best gains in strength!
  • Complete 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions of each exercise

Week 9-12: Muscular Endurance Phase

  • Complete 4 sets of 20 repetitions of each exercise
  • This shouldn’t be considered a high intensity ‘cardio’ workout. Weights and tempo should be chosen here which elicits a ‘burn’ in the muscles but doesn’t get you too out of breath. A good judge of this, is that you can still carry a conversation.

With this plan you can keep the exercises the same throughout, just change the weights in each phase to be appropriate for the repetition ranges.

*If you are inexperienced when it comes to strength training, it is highly recommended you contact an exercise professional.

Core Development

Core development is very important for a trekker. This is essential to help protect your back, maintain stability on the trail as well as improve your movement efficiency. This is particularly important if you are carrying a heavy pack.

But if you are doing sit ups and crunches for this, please stop! These are an absolute waste of a trekkers time!

Instead trekkers should focus on movements which will have actually carry over into your performance on the trail.

Great examples here include dead bugs, side planks, Pallof presses and suitcase carries.

Trek Training

And while you can develop many aspects of fitness at home and in the gym, you would be crazy not to include specific trek training in your preparation.

This is for the simple fact that absolutely nothing can mimic the uneven, undulating and unpredictable nature of the trail, aside from getting out hiking!

But this goes a long way beyond just choosing random hikes on the weekend…

With this type of training, a little bit of structure and a little bit of planning goes a long way in regard to both improving your fitness and reducing any risk of pain or injury.

There are a few simple principles you need to follow:

  • You need to start off easy and progress over time (try not to increase the distance of each hike by more than 20% at a time)
  • You need to incorporate any specific challenges you will be expecting on your trek (i.e. rock scrambling, stairs, night hiking, river crossings)
  • You need to use these sessions to test anything you are planning on using in your trek (e.g. boots, clothes, nutrition, blister prevention products)

One Thing Trekkers Should Not Concentrate On:

HIIT training

HIIT (high intensity interval training) is very popular at the moment. And there is no denying it is beneficial for general fitness and weight loss. But it is not very relevant to trekking…

This type of training has two issues:

  • It is training the completely wrong energy systems for trekking
  • Most HIIT workouts carry an unnecessarily high risk of injury

(And no, unfortunately it does not help “lungs function at altitude.”)

This type of training should be used sparingly by trekkers, and instead, you should focus on longer duration, lower intensity training.

Follow this advice when you are training for you trek and you will put yourself in the best position of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure!  

Article courtesy of Rowan Smith – the founder of Summit Strength; a personal training service which specialisies in preparing amateur hikers, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures. 

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