To really enjoy the experience of a multi-day trek, you are going to want to be reasonably fit. Unfortunately, the daily demands of modern life does not prepare hikers as much as they would like! Lacking adequate time, or professional advice (or in many cases, both!), many people will go for a few ad-hoc walks, or attend a mix of classes at the gym. But doing unplanned workouts that aren’t tailored towards the trekking environment simply won’t give you the results you’re after.
A truly successful trek preparation program involves a combination of the following three key principles:
1. Make your training specific
Changes that happen to your body during exercise are specific to the exercise program you’re using. Swimming in a pool, or punching a boxing- bag, for example, won’t necessarily help you walk up a hill.
The most effective way to train for a walk is to simulate the environment you’ll be trekking through as closely as possible. If your trek will involve 4-6 hours moderate trekking per day over varied, hilly terrain, then your training program should include lots of walking, some hill work, and longer weekend sessions on walking paths. Make sure to break in new boots early if you need to. Get used to carrying a pack, too. Start with a light daypack of 3-4kg, building up to the size of pack that you will use on your trip.
lf you’re really limited by time, or don’t have access to an ideal outdoor walking environment, consider (in order of effectiveness):
- Treadmill walking (changing the inclination to simulate hills)
- A step machine
- An elliptical or cross trainer
2. Harness the power of interval training
A leisurely 30-minute walk on flat ground is great for your health, but it isn’t going to lead to big improvements in your endurance levels. By the same token, pushing yourself impatiently at a constant high intensity can lead to poor results, or – worse – exhaustion or even injury.
Select a level of exercise that benefits your body and doesn’t cause damage. Exercise is a form of physical stress, and if, like many people, you are already under stress from your lifestyle, are lacking in energy, or not feeling well, then putting more stress on your system will just break you down further. Research has shown that interval training is an effective way to train and involves much less wear and tear on the body.
lnterval training involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with easy recovery periods. By breaking an exercise session into multiple short, intense efforts, more total work can be achieved than in one longer intense effort.
Studies have shown that compared 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training (a 3O-second sprint followed by a four-minute rest, repeated) with 90- 120 minutes of training in the Target Heart Rate Zone showed that subjects gained the same improvement in oxygen utilisation from both programs. What is amazing is that the 2O-minute program only required about two minutes and 30 seconds of actual work!
There’s no single accepted formula for the ratio of intense exercise to recovery, but the high-intensity phase should be long and strenuous enough that you’re out of breath. Typically, this means 30 seconds to 3 minutes of exercise at high intensity, and 30 seconds to 5 minutes of rest. Recovery periods should not last long enough for your heart rate to return to its resting rate.
3. Follow a schedule
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’.
One popular method of periodisation is to train in 4-week blocks. Over the first 3 weeks, increase the total time spent exercising. Then in the 4th week, significantly decrease the total time. Training with these ‘unloading’ segments allows your body to recover from the first three weeks of exercise. This enables your body absorb the training, reducing the chances of fatigue, and giving excellent results.
On a different scale, you could divide a traditional 16-week preparation program into 4 phases:
- General Conditioning Phase (weeks 1-6) is an important time to lay down aerobic foundations, The emphasis is on endurance training and training volume progressively increases with ‘unloading’ segments,
- Specific Conditioning Phase (weeks 7-12) progresses your fitness level from aerobic work to faster forms of training. Training should now include more hills for increasing your strength and stamina. It’s important not to overdo it at this point. lf you’re tired, perform plenty of active (swims, stretching, yoga) and passive recovery (rest).
- Peak Phase (weeks 13-14) is the time to reach your maximum distances
- Taper Phase (weeks 15-16) is designed to help you mentally and physically prepare for the trek. Too much work in this period can adversely affect your performance during the trek.
Somewhere in your schedule, include a long walk each week, gradually increasing the duration until it matches the actual time that you will be walking each day on your trek.
|1-2||General Conditioning||Aerobic foundations – Endurance Training, Increasing training volume|
|9-10||Specific Conditioning||Increasing Aerobic Capacity – increasing strength & stamina, active & passive recovery|
|13-14||Peak||Reach maximum distances|
|15-16||Taper||Prepare for trek|
lf you can’t stick to a schedule, or struggle to make time for a structured workout, look for opportunities to integrate activity and movement into your daily life. Leave the car at home and walk to the shops. Climb the stairs at work rather than using the lift. Carry those extra bags of shopping, and chase your children around the park.
A final piece of advice is to keep your workouts interesting! The most effective training program is the one that you will actually do. Exercise with a friend, for example, or train in a new area. Remember to stretch tight muscles every day, and consult an exercise expert for a functional strength program to improve both your posture and performance.