If you exercise regularly but never get in better shape, it's time to check your pulse. Training at an elevated heart rate can noticeably improve your cardiovascular fitness. "The simple act of changing your pace strengthens your heart," says personal trainer and professional adventure racer Michael Tobin. "And strengthening your heart develops stamina and endurance." Runners and cyclists have used heart-rate monitors (HRMs) for years to fine-tune their workouts. As a hiker, you can benefit from these tools as well, whether your goal is to cover more miles or tackle a multi-day trip with less fatigue.
Even the most basic HRMs, like the Timex Ironman Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor ($90, timex.com) include a chest strap to measure your heart rate and a watch to record and display the results. More advanced systems like the Polar RS800sd ($500, polarusa.com) record heart rate, speed, distance, and elevation data, which can then be downloaded to training software on your PC.
Find Your Limits
Record these heart rates to guide your training.
Hike at an easy, conversational pace for an hour to determine your "go-all-day" heart rate. Use this figure as a low-end measuring point.
Hike uphill at a rapid pace for at least 30 minutes to establish your high-intensity heart rate.
Why Build base endurance to hike at a consistent pace all day.
How Stay at your low-end heart rate while covering varied terrain. Start with one hour, and build up to three or four hours. Hike at a relaxed, conversational clip.
Why Improve aerobic capacity and reduce your recovery time.
How Warm up by walking for 15-20 minutes. Then hike for 6 minutes uphill at a strong pace just below your high-end heart rate. Recover by hiking 2 minutes at a slower pace (preferably downhill or on flats). Repeat 6 minutes "hard" and 2 minutes "easy" two more times; build up to four to six reps per session. Hike slowly for 10 minutes to cool down.
Why Gain confidence to hold a sustained, fast pace over longer distances.
How Warm up for 15-20 minutes, then climb a hill at a steady, hard pace for 25-45 minutes near your high-end heart rate. Monitor your breathing and hydration. Occasionally train on flat terrain to improve your stride rate. Cool down for 10 minutes.