Fitness for Hiking - Pre-Hike Training
Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, BC
Getting in Shape for Hiking Season - Fitness for Hiking
Hiking is an enjoyable hobby because it's a sport that you can experience at our own pace. Getting in shape for hiking is necessary before hitting the trails. You don't have to be an elite athlete to enjoy the great outdoors but you do need a moderate fitness level for hiking.
Obviously, the terrain dictates the required fitness level. Hiking on flat ground on the prairies is different from hiking in the Canadian Rockies. Different postures and muscles are going to be used; different cardio and breathing are needed to keep a strong stamina.
If you know the type of terrain you're going to explore this summer, spend a month prior to heading out to condition your legs, back and cardio performance. It'll make your journeys more enjoyable and memorable.
Here are some tips from the guys at Scenic Travel Canada:
Hiking Legs - Get in Shape
To get the most pleasure from the adventure, you need to condition your legs for these extended journeys.
The key to training legs for hiking is to progress slowly and steady. You don't have to go to the gym nor do any squats or lunges. These are large muscle groups that only respond to hard work and lots repetition.
- Start every workout by stretching and warming up. Walk a short distance before each workout.
- Begin walking around your neighborhood to get used to travelling longer distances. Start on short walks and gradually increase the distance.
- A few days or weeks later, attempt a small hill to get the quads & hamstrings used to providing more uphill power. Stop when you need to catch your breath; take a break when your legs start to burn. Just as you would on a hiking trail, take breaks when needed.
- For more intensity, increase the length of your uphill climbs or challenge a steeper slope. This will not only strengthen your legs but also increase your cardiovascular performance as well. Take as many breaks as needed yet continue to challenge your physical limits.
- This exercise is only recommended for backpackers. If you're going to do an extended backpacking trip such as hiking the West Coast Trail in BC, then walk around with a weighted knap-sack and hit the hills. Use a pack that can be strapped around your chest & abdomen so the weight doesn't bounce off your spine. Don't attempt to run with the pack - you're not in an Army Basic Training camp. Walking with the extra weight is a fast way to bring the legs back into shape! Add more weight to increase the intensity.
By the way, you won't be building leg muscles with these exercise but rather you'll be increasing their strength & endurance. Walking backwards is not necessary to work the hamstrings.
Take a few Big Breaths...
You don't need the cardio performance of a runner to enjoy a full hiking season. If the terrain you're going to explore has a lot of elevation changes, you'll have to increase your aerobic workout to be able to handle the uphill intensity.
- Jogging & running will quickly build up your cardio as will hill training. Normal walking on flat ground doesn't lead to much improvement since your breathing rate doesn't increase as much.
- Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water keeps muscles strong and improves endurance.
- You don't need to run the equivalent distance of your hike. On your trek, you won't be running the entire length but taking frequent breaks to recharge.
- Interval training is an excellent way to improve breathing and performance (personally, I hate it). Sprint for 25 or 50 meters and then walk an equivalent distance. Repeat until you feel like puking.
- A change in altitude will affect your performance. If you live a sea-level, you need even better cardio to perform at a higher altitude. For those living in high-altitudes, you're going to benefit when you hike at sea-level (the effect only lasts about a few days until you're acclimated, so challenge your buddy as soon as you get there).
- At the start of the season, don't going hiking to improve your cardio, otherwise you may get exhausted and stranded far from the trailhead.
It's always important to challenge yourself but not to the point of injury. Hiking requires more coordination than walking since people have died on trails from mis-steps, slips and tripping.
I can't think of anyway to improve one's coordination since everyone has different skills & body types. However, balance & flexibility is the key to being coordinated. Consider taking a Pilates class or yoga class if you are severely unbalanced.
Preparing for a Backpacking Trip
Backpacking is different from hiking in that you'll be carrying enough supplies for you trip to make you self-sufficient. It's a great way to discover Canada and to prove your newly acquired fitness level.
As we mentioned above, the best way to prepare for a backpacking trip is to walk or hike with a weighted knap-sack on your back prior to your adventure. If you're just getting into hiking, a backpack trip may be a bit too strenuous at first.
Before I hiked the West Coast Trail in BC, I walked up and down neighborhood hills with 45 lbs on my back, the same weight as my backpack was for the trip. I got sweaty and panted like a dog at times, but it prepared me for the many ups on down on the real trek.
There's also the mental preparation that is require. You'll need the knowledge and confidence of being self-sufficient in the back-country. Knowing that there's little assistance in the back-country can be imposing for some people.
Stretching for Hikers
Injuries have prevented people from enjoying the great outdoors. People with bad ankles can still hike if they take precautions with the appropriate footwear (with ankle support), select a suitable terrain and hike at the appropriate pace.
People with knee & back injuries can also enjoy a scenic hike, but by only going at a comfortable pace and not jumping across obstacles. For some people, going downhill is tougher than going uphill since there's more pressure on the knees as they slow their decent.
Always stretch your muscles and warm up your joints prior to heading out. No matter what your fitness level for hiking, tight muscles & joints are prone to injury. It only takes a few minutes to become limber but could save hours of pain and agony later on. Oh yeah, always hike with Advil or some other ibuprofen anti-inflammatory medication.
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