Many people ask us about our physical training as part of Deux Pas Vers l’Autre. That's the reason why we decided to talk about it in an article.
Before going into the thick of things, when it comes to hiking very long distance, there are usually two schools.
The first, which I would call the school of unconscious purists, assumes that facing obstacles, human nature adapts and that it is not necessary to train specifically. The latter often consider suffering as a full component of the first weeks of hiking.
And the second, which we certainly belong to. A more reasonable school that will certainly avoid many worries and sufferings by preparing as much as possible to the requirements of the life of the thru-hiker, both physically and technically.
Here are 5 points to follow if you want to prepare your body for the physical challenge that awaits you.
1. Train your cardio
Training your cardio is overall the best thing that can be done prior your thru-hike if you want to avoid serious problems but additionally to limit the suffering. Feeling dizzy on the trail has never been something pleasant to experience and that is something that you can prevent with a decent training.
The frequency of your training is among the fundamentals for building an awesome cardio.
Select a minimum number of days weekly you will plan for your thru-hiking goal and stick to it. Consider starting with 3 to 4 days of aerobic training per week and, if you have success over the first couple of weeks, consider adding another day or two of training every week further down the line. In the end you should be able to pack about 6 hours of cardio a week.
A minimum of one full day of rest once a week is required to allow for mental and physical recovery.
There might be chances that you want to start easy, but don't forget it is facing an unusual amount of efforts that your body will receive the orders to adapt.
It’s important to begin with volumes of time or distance within your cardiovascular training that are sufficient to fatigue your body. Don't be too cruel with your body neither. The number one goal is to prevent injuries, not to injure yourself now, that would be the worst.
By gradually increasing your training volume, you will lower your probability of overuse injuries.
At the start of your training, you may only hike on flat terrain with no additional weight. Progress gradually to steeper terrain so when your fitness level develops, begin wearing an empty pack, next partially weighted pack and eventually the equivalent weight of what you plan to carry on the adventure. The idea is to be able to walk soon comfortably 2.5 miles per hour with your pack loaded on a 12 degree hill.
2. Start practicing yoga
Most of the time when we think preparation we think of endurance, strength and resistance. But one of the most forgotten things is to train flexibility.
Some repeat the key to not getting injured is building flexibility. We think they are right!
Yoga has countless benefits that can help in preparing for thru-hike. Above all, yoga helps build important core muscles for backpacking. Yoga helps you figure out how to control and improve your breathing which can be important. There is often great changes in elevation on great distance trails. Improving your balance, an important component of yoga, will also help prepare you for difficult stream or crest crossings.
Yoga is also something that will provide benefits during the whole hike and certainly something that you can take pleasure making evolve along the path.
Ok, imagine if you aren’t into yoga? There are other ways to develop a strong core and increase flexibility. You can also look at the pilates that offers a more down to earth approach to postural work and flexibility.
3. Develop your strengh
The muscles that are required to carrying a pack are upper arm, upper back muscles. Target these muscle groups when choosing exercises. Mostly if you wish t carry a loaded pack. This could otherwise lead to injuries like contractures or tendonitis...
Bear in mind you are going to be carrying a lot more weight than your body is used to, and this will also affect your joints. It’s important to ease your system into carrying all of the weight you may carry on the trail. Start small through the use of wrist/ankle weights during training walks or fill your pack with 5-10 pounds for day hikes. It could also be done on a treadmill!
In case you already have weak joints to begin with, swimming is another great option to develop strength. You can even find weights you can use in the pool to gradually add weight training to your routine!
Climbing is also great for building upper body and leg strength, so go to your gym or local crag. For Marie and I, climbing is our favorite sport and definitely the most effective way we train strength and core muscles.
Concerning strength towards a hike preparation the best is to consider the whole body . Forget about your usual pectoral workout. Think situational, crossfit is for example a better approach of what your body will endure during hiking.
Be creative, there are tons of ways to exercise strength while having fun.
If you have no equipment nearby (which in my opinion is no worse). Look for suitable programs by looking at sites like Dare Bee.
They offer simple, clear and fun programs that do not require any material!
4. Carry weight
One of the most simple things you can do to help achieving a steady training for your back and core should be to carry weight as often as you can. Everywhere, carry more, carry everything, your friends might have fun seeing you in town with a bag of 40 pounds but who cares?
On the trail, this pack, won’t leave your back, and if it is already hard to carry it for a full day in the city, be sure that it will be a total different thing to carry it on uncertain terrains, and even risky passages. Get use to it, it has to become part of yourself.
While hiking and climbing or rocks with a 60 degree slope, you don’t want to ask yourself if you can carry this pack or not.
People has been crossing over alps with bags of 60 pounds back in the fifties. suicidal but doable. everything is about being prepared for it.
5. Do preparation hikes
If you want to be successful in a thru-hike, the best is to train yourself in the exact same conditions. This will not make you an expert or a hero, so in both case remember, that you always need to be modest and keep in mind everything can happen on the trail.
By training in real conditions you will get to know your gear, the shortcuts, the habits, all those little things that will make you save precious energy.
We are talking right here about your thru-hiking skills no more no less. All those things you will need to learn if you want to eat well, sleep well, pack well, resupply well, navigate well… and most of all, survive!
If you're a beginner and are intending to embark on a thru-hike, I would highly recommend that you get out there prior to starting. You'll have an opportunity to develop some back-country skills:
- Stay warm by all weather
- Pitch your shelter in the worst conditions
- Determine the amount of food you'll need between two resupply points
- Use your GPS
- Know your gear, but also your communication tools, your camera...
- Learn how to walk on every kind of terrains. Walking on a slippery crest in the winter time is not something you want to learn when comes the troubles
- Find your own pace
You can save a lot of energy from trials and preparation trips.
Get familiar items that will be a central component of your daily life for the following months. You have to think of everything, because it will never be enough anyway.
Veteran hikers can benefit from pre-hikes as well. All hikes are different and might require different skills, different gear.
You are never too clever and yes, you'd better read some survival manuals!
Read our other articles in Preparing the Ground