Hiking is one of the most enjoyable activities you can take part in outdoors. It enables you to take in the beauty of your natural surroundings, embrace nature, and keep fit while you’re at it. Before you jump headfirst into a long hike, however, it is essential that you train and prepare your body for the physical exertion you will face.
Why Beginners Need to Train Before Hiking?
Going on a hike is not something you decide overnight. You cannot just plan your hike today, and set out on adventure the next day. Even if you think that you are in great physical shape, hiking without proper training and conditioning will surely take its toll on your body.
Proper training before you big hike is important because it will make the following things possible:
Prevent Initial Overuse Injuries
A hike is no simple thing to do. It is completely different from your 30 minute jog around your neighborhood, or the daily stroll you have at the park. If you are suffering from any pain such as on your knee for example, training and conditioning it before it gives you a serious problem during your hike. To avoid it from happening, try to push yourself in your hometown gym, and look for ways on how you can respond to your pains and aches. Building strength during training can take off the pressure on your joints, which can make you leave the trail earlier than expected when an injury occurs.
Mimic Physiological Body Changes like Those You Experience During a Hike
Through consistent endurance training before your hike, your respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular systems will be able to adapt. For respiratory, there will be decreased pulmonary ventilation and submax respiratory rate. In musculoskeletal, there will be increased mitochondrial density and size, capillarization, and myoglobin. For cardiovascular, there will be decreased submax heart rate, and increased cardiac output.
What these means is that through training, your body will be able to adapt to the additional load experienced by these body systems which can make aerobic activities more efficient. This way, your body is not going to be shocked by those intense respiratory, muscular, and cardiovascular demands associated with hiking. You might still find it difficult to transition to the hiking lifestyle yet your body will surely be grateful for the prior training.
Understand Your Body Better
With the help of a training program, you will be able to determine your personal limits. For how long will you be able to walk without suffering from crippling pain the following day? What physical limits do you have? Training will let you be in touch with your own body, and this in turn will give you a reference once a physical problem arises. You will also have better judgment when deciding whether to push forward, rest, or see a doctor.
Increase Your Chances of Finding Potential Hot Spots for Clothing Faults and Blisters
This is pretty much self-explanatory, and is highly advised by professional hikers. You will never know how you will feel in those shoes and clothes during your hike unless you wear and sweat in them during your training.
If you’re just starting out as a hiker, or you’ve got a big walk planned and don’t know how to prepare, here are some tips on how to train and condition yourself for the experience.
How to Train For Hiking
To succeed at hiking, you need the stamina to be able to cover long distances of land, uphill and downhill, without having to stop to catch your breath every five minutes. Cardio training, such as running, biking and swimming, is therefore essential.
By engaging your body in regular cardio activity, not only are you going to get physically fitter, but your lung capacity will increase, your heart will grow stronger, and your blood pressure will lower. This means your body is essentially preparing itself to be able to thrive in difficult conditions such as an arduous uphill trek.
Building Lower Body Strength
The very nature of hiking is that you will very rarely be walking on a flat, even surface- because where’s the fun in that? Instead, you’ll most likely be scaling a lot of hills to get a glimpse of those breathtaking views. That means your glutes and calf muscles are going to be working in overdrive to get you to where you need to be.
If you don’t suitably prepare these muscles before your hike by squatting, dead-lifting and even walking uphill on a treadmill, you might find that while you can still make it up every hill, it’s going to hurt the next day a lot. If you’re hiking over a number of days that may be an issue, as your muscles won’t be given time to repair and rejuvenate before you’re onto the next hurdle.
“Diet?” you might say. “How does diet have anything to do with training for hiking?”
The reality is, food is fuel, and whatever you do or don’t eat has the power to help or hinder you massively in your hiking.
If you can get into good eating habits while you’re training, you’re much likely to see faster and better results in your exercise from doing so. Providing your body with whole-wheat carbohydrates, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables will help you to stay energy-filled for longer. This is especially important on the days leading up to your hike, and the actual hike itself, when having a good supply of energy is essential.
Building Core Strength
You’d be surprised at just how much we use our core strength on a daily basis. Getting up out of bed, walking to the shops, and even sitting upright in a seat takes a certain amount of inner strength.
When it comes to hiking, your core strength will be tested more than usual because of the uneven surfaces you will likely encounter. Don’t think for one second that only sit-ups and crunches can help build your abs- hiking can work those muscles in very unexpected ways. Make sure you take some time to focus on improving core strength in the run-up to your hike, so that you can avoid feeling sore during the experience.
Preparing your mind is as equally important as preparing your body. Even if you are in great shape, you will never be able to physically prepare for any adversity. Surprising downpours, cold weather, blisters, and broken gear are only a few of the challenges you will encounter during your hike. You will only be able to get through these with mental strength.
Recommended Training Plan
Training for a hike isn’t exactly like training for a marathon. Yes, less effort is required but that’s not to say that you should skip out on preparation altogether. If you’re training for a one or two-day hike, follow this simple weekly training program from around two months before you’re due to set off:
- Walk for 30 minutes, 4 days a week
- Focus on core and lower body strength for 30 minutes, 2 times a week
- Carry out a cardio-focused activity (such as running or biking) for 30 minutes, 2 times a week
- Incorporate more complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and fruits and vegetables into your diet
Go for Practice Hikes
The most ideal way for training yourself for your hiking trip is through mimicking them as much as you can. If you are not used to the activity, you can start practicing by going on long walks around the park or other natural areas close to your house. Even though the gym is the best place for working on your specific muscle groups and doing some target exercises, it will never be able to compare to a good walk outdoors.
Once your legs and feet have become used to walking for several hours on end, you can then do hikes while carrying a small backpack. Increase the elevation gain and length of your hikes little by little. Soon, you must go on hikes with your pack and all of your hiking gears. By doing so, you give your body the chance to get used to the weight it will be carrying during the actual hiking adventure.
A Note About Change in Altitude
If you are hiking up a mountain, you may want to consider preparing yourself for the change in altitude on a gradual hike-by-hike basis. For example, if you’re planning to hike to an elevation of 8,000 feet, your practice hikes should focus on gradually increasing your elevation from around 2,000 feet.
Anyone hiking at an elevation of above 6,000 to 8,000 feet is at risk of altitude sickness, even with training beforehand. In this case, you need to prepare as practically as possible in the days before your hike, to ensure that if you are affected by the altitude, is doesn’t knock you down fully. Make sure you pack plenty of nutritious food and water, and painkillers for emergencies. Take your time- the faster you move, the less time your body has to adjust to the elevation. Spread your hike out over a number of days if you can.
Familiarising Yourself with Your Hiking Gears
No matter what equipment you’re planning on using for your big hike, it’s best that you get used to it before the actual hike itself. The last thing you want to find, when you’re out in the hills, is that your poles are too heavy, your shoes don’t fit and your rucksack isn’t practical.
Always wear your feet into your hiking boots before your hike, because there truly is no more a horrible pain than blistered feet when you’re spending hours on end on foot. With your rucksack, try to take it out with you as much as possible on your practice hikes, loading it with weighty items, so you can get a good feel for it beforehand. The same with your hiking sticks- they’re not for everyone, and your practice hikes are a good time to consider how much you put them to use when you’re walking.