There are two contrasting misunderstandings when it comes to multi-day hiking, which are:
- Such an endeavor is highly rigorous and only for the super fit and,
- It’s just ‘walking’ and any old punter can stroll into the hills.
Multi-day hiking can be a low-intensity, hugely enjoyable and achievable activity for anyone, assuming they achieve a suitable level of physical conditioning. And while any old punter may be able to walk to the local shops, walking on rough trails, up and over big mountains, in remote locations, over numerous days, requires concerted physical preparation.
But where to start when it comes to preparing physically for multi-day hiking?
There are three major fitness qualities your general training should focus on:
- Aerobic Endurance – because you will need to maintain physical activity over a long period of time, day after day.
- Lower Body Strength – you’re walking while supporting a (usually) heavy pack on your back, most of your strength and conditioning is needed in your legs.
- Flexibility – aids in endurance, injury prevention and, importantly, recovery.
The lower leg conditioning should concentrate on muscles of the hips, such as the glutes, abductors and adductors; large muscles around the knees including hamstrings and quadriceps, and smaller muscles in the feet, ankles and calves.
Added to the list above is upper body conditioning. This should not be neglected and should focus on:
The lower back, where load from your pack will concentrate
- Your shoulders, which will bear load from pack straps and,
- Your core, which stabilises everything.
What is your base?
Firstly, you need to assess how conditioned you are – broadly fit or closer to unfit? Even if you consider yourself fit, you need to know in what way you are fit.
- Are you strong but aerobically an underperformer? If so you may get up that first incline with ease but want to sit out every one following.
- Alternatively, can you ‘go all day’ aerobically, but are weak in terms of muscle power? This may mean you can walk all day, but a little climbing or constant rough terrain will tire big muscles and expose you to the risk of injury.
Simple tests measuring strength and endurance can be used to identify what specifics you’ll need to improve upon to help you cope with heavy-load hiking (a given if the trip is multi-day). Your local gym instructor can advise on these tests and help assess where your body is at.
If you’re quite strong, you may need to look at concentrating on balancing that strength with endurance-based training in order to improve extended period, hiking performance.
Conversely, if your aerobic endurance is excellent but strength could be improved, you’ll need to incorporate a higher degree of resistance training.
includes high-repetition, low-force exercises using all major muscle groups. In the gym, this may centre on circuits training, including squat thrusts, dips, step-ups, sit-ups and the like. Exercises should be 30 seconds’ duration, followed by 10 seconds of rest to switch to the next exercise. 2-3 aerobic workouts a week including a minimum of 30-45 minutes of vigorous walking, hill or stair climbing, or other suitable aerobic exercise that works the muscles in the legs will help establish a baseline. It’s advisable that your sessions increase in duration according to what you will experience on the trail, and that at least one session per week matches at least half or preferably more the kind of distances you will need to walk daily on your hike in order to condition your body for being on your feet for that length of time.
Focuses more on higher resistance, lower repetition, and fewer times a week. Start with relatively low volume to get used to the exercises, then increase to 3-4 sets of 6 repetitions for each exercise with a minute of rest between sets. The exercises include variations on squats, pull-ups, bench press, seated row, dead lift, leg press and upright rows. 2-3 strength-training sessions per week should help you see noticeable improvements.
Training individual components of muscular fitness in readiness for a multi-day hike is only part of the jigsaw. More important is replicating in training the activity you will be undertaking on your journey. Ergo, the best training is to get out there with a laden pack, on trails, for amounts of time approaching that which you will spend on trail. Further, we’re talking about multi-day hiking, so ensure you structure your training week to include back-to-back training days. This will replicate and prepare you for the multi-day nature of your undertaking.
Simply put, find a way to walk up hills with a pack. Start out slowly and with less weight than you expect to carry. Gradually build up both distance and weight in your pack.
On each outing increase pack weight by no more than 10-15% per week until you are at your target pack weight.
If there are few hills where you live, find sets of stairs to go up and down, short hills for repeats or even head indoors and train on an inclined treadmill.
This above mentioned replica training cannot be matched by any other sort for sheer results.
Whilst training it can also be beneficial to use equipment such as walking poles to aid in your training.
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