Backpacker Magazine –
Master Class: The Gym Free Fitness Plan
Regular training hikes make your vacation even better. (Mario Barahona)
Ο Bite the Bullet
Gym workouts are always easier, especially when days are short and trails slick. But training on trails builds the best hiking fitness, so suck it up and get out there. Make these adjustments to enhance safety: Wear reflective or light-colored layers, train in traction devices or mini crampons if it’s icy, bring a whistle and/or a cell phone, pack a headlamp, and inform someone of your plans (use an auto-alert system like ineversolo.com) or train with a friend.
Ο Increase Baseline Conditioning
Starting from ground zero? Use the first month to build strength slowly and avoid injury.
>> Step-up cardio workouts.
Running—or any aerobic activity that boosts your heart rate (top right)— increases cardiovascular health and lung capacity, and will help you maintain trail-ready fitness. Walking and jogging are the best workouts for hikers, but mixing in other activities helps prevent burnout and reduces the risk of overuse injuries. Start a basic training plan with at least twice-weekly cardio workouts, and work up to a more structured plan that incorporates strength- and cross-training within two weeks (see below). If time is an issue, fit shorter efforts into your day: Speedwalk 10 minutes at a time before, during, and after work.
>> Build endurance.
Complete at least one long, low-intensity workout a week; aim for four to eight miles, or about four hours. “A longer hike encourages your body to begin using fat as an energy source, which is what we require for the slow burn of backpacking,” says John Colver, author of Fit By Nature.
Ο Adopt a Training Plan
The key to fitness: a regular routine. Use this schedule and adjust heart rate (HR) targets as you build endurance.
- Monday: Cardio endurance: 30 mins of fast walking or running (at 50% of max HR)
- Tuesday: Body-weight strength training: 30 mins (see chart, next page); light yoga
- Wednesday: Cross-train: 30 mins of cardio (at 65% of max HR); stretch for 10 mins
- Thursday: Rest day: Stay active (go on a leisurely walk), but don’t stress joints/muscles.
- Friday: Cardio endurance: 30 mins of fast walking or running (at 50% of max HR)
- Sat/Sun: Overall endurance: One day, do a long hike; rest on the other day.
Increase cardio workouts (M, F) by 15 minutes and up your tempo to 60-65 percent of max HR; add 30 minutes of strengthening (Th); increase endurance time or distance by 10 percent/week.
Increase cardio workouts (M, F) to 60 minutes and up your tempo to 70-75 percent of max HR; integrate two-minute (or longer) intervals into cross-training (W); replace a strength day (T/Th) with circuit intervals (page 32), and add 20 minutes of cardio intervals to the other; the long hike should exceed four hours.
Ο Rest Up
Recovery days and sufficient sleep are both essential for muscle repair and reducing your risk of repetitive-motion injuries. Alternate cardio workouts with strengthening, and schedule one rest- and one light-effort- day per week. Get eight hours of shuteye per night.
Mix up a running-dominated cardio routine (which can burn more than 600 calories per hour) with one of these alternative calorie-burners: stair-climbing (650 cal/hour), rowing (435 cal/hour), swimming (425 cal/hour), or cycling (300 cal/hour).
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