Getting Fit for Multi-day Hikes and Treks

Getting Fit for Multi-day Hikes and Treks

How to get fit for Multi-day Hikes and Treks

A 16-20 week training program to get you out on the trail and loving it

By Helen Cooper, Director of Primal Adventures

Doing a multi-day hike is a dream for many. To be in the wilderness and away from the pressures and time constraints of the everyday is a privilege. To be able to complete a multi-day hike in a remote location takes courage and determination, and it also takes training. A trek is a journey; it’s not just about getting to the end. If your body has not received sufficient training, no amount of mental strength will get you to the end without significant discomfort or injury!

We’ve designed a program so you can get fit, live a ‘normal’ life, and avoid injury

This program is designed for 16-20 weeks of training prior to a multi-day hike or trek with daily distances up to 25kms carrying a daypack. If you will be carrying a full hiking pack, you will need to increase the weight from 10kg up to your full pack weight during the ‘endurance’ and ‘hills’ sessions. You will also need to wear hiking boots if carrying a full pack to prevent ankle injury.

Begin in the General Conditioning phase (i.e. skip the first 4 weeks of the program) If you can easily walk 8-10 kms at a moderate pace with a day pack. If this is out of your reach right now, begin with the Preparatory Phase.

Please see your GP prior to commencing this training program if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are over 55 years. If you have any pre-existing soft tissue injuries, please see your physio.

Look after yourself and listen to your body – get regular massages and physio to keep you on track, and rest when you need it.

Your endurance training should gradually increase throughout your program to ensure that you continue to improve your fitness with minimal risk of injury. This process is called periodisation, where training is broken down into blocks of time known as ‘phases’. Over each phase, increase the total time of your exercise. ln the final week of the phase, you significantly decrease the total time. Training with these ‘unloading’ segments allows your body to recover from the previous weeks of exercise, reducing the chance of injury and fatigue while giving excellent results.

Suggested Training Program

What it means

A little bit about Metabolism & MHR….

We need to get a bit technical here…. The anaerobic threshold (AT) is the exertion level between aerobic and anaerobic training. 

  • During aerobic metabolism, your body creates energy by burning carbohydrates and fats in the presence of oxygen, producing carbon dioxide and water as by-products through breathing and sweating.
  • Anaerobic metabolism kicks in when exercise intensity is increased, and the aerobic system can no longer keep up with the body’s energy demand. This is the point at which we cross the AT. During anaerobic metabolism, the body burns stored sugars to supply the additional energy needed, and lactic acid is produced faster than it can be metabolized. Muscle pain, burning and fatigue make anaerobic energy expenditure difficult to sustain for longer than a few minutes, and you conk out.

The fitter you are, the longer you can fuel your body with the aerobic system before the anaerobic system needs to take over. You can improve your aerobic efficiency—and thus raise your AT—by doing high-intensity aerobic work at a level just below your current AT. Interval training is excellent for this. Calculating and monitoring your heart rate will help you determine what your current AT is.

If you want to be a bit more basic, you can do the ‘talk test’

Exercise type % of Maximum HR How to estimate Metabolic state
Moderate 65-75% You can have a full conversation Aerobic
Endurance 75-85% You can still speak sentences  
Intervals 85-88% You can speak single words Anaerobic
Long Steep Hill 88-90% You can’t speak comfortably  

Remember the essentials

Each workout should be bookended by a warm-up and cool-down/stretch to prevent muscle soreness. This can look something like this.

  Exercises Timing Purpose
Dynamic warm up skipping, lateral shuffles, high knees, butt flicks etc. 5 mins before interval session Warm up muscles through a range of movements
Cool Down Slower walk 3-5 mins at end of intervals and hills/endurance Slowly allow muscles to cool to avoid lactic acid build-up
Static stretches Concentrate on biggest and least flexible muscles e.g. quads, hamstrings, glutes 5-10 mins after all exercise sessions Improve flexibility, decrease recovery time

Final bits and bobs

  • Keep your workouts interesting – exercise with a friend or in a group
  • Train on a trail as much as you can – the best way to prepare for a long hikes in the mountains is to go on long hikes in the mountains!
  • stretch or roller tight muscles every day
  • consult a personal trainer or exercise physiologist for further advice


See you out on the trail soon 🙂