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April 2001

Survival Of The Fittest

Wish you could leap tall mountains in a single bound? Here's an exercise program designed for backpackers.

Aerobic Conditioning

Backpacking is all about breathing deeply and moving those legs. So make similar aerobic activities, such as walking, running, step aerobics, swimming, or cycling, the foundation of your training program. Keep your workouts to a low to moderate intensity, since hiking is about maintaining a steady pace, not sprinting. That means training at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (see last page for “In A Heartbeat”). Start and end each workout with a 5-minute warm-up and cooldown.

This basic aerobic conditioning regimen focuses on walking, since that’s what you’ll be doing on the trail, and includes:

  • a 40-minute brisk walk twice a week

  • a 30-minute brisk walk twice a week

Six weeks before your first trip, add one long, low-intensity hike on walking trails or in hilly areas (to reach 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate). Walk no more than half the distance and gain no more than half the elevation that you expect to hike on each day of your trip. For instance, if you plan to hike 10 miles a day on steep terrain, your walk should be no longer than 5 miles on moderate hills. This conservative approach builds strength with little risk of injury.

Rest on 3 nonconsecutive days each week until you add the long hike. Then rest on 2.

For the Less Fit

Begin walking for 15 or 20 minutes three times a week, adding a minute to each walk or cross-training activity until you reach 30 minutes. Give yourself 4 to 6 weeks to reach 30 minutes, then use the basic program.

For the Superfit

Up the 40-minute walk or other activity to 50 minutes. You can also add interval training once or twice a week. For instance, during your walk, insert four to six

30-second bursts of speedier walking or running. Slow down until your heart rate drops and your breathing slows to near normal. Repeat. You might also add an easy cross-training activity on a rest day.

For an added challenge, use one of your rest days for an additional 30-minute fast walk. Add more aggressive intervals of five to seven speedy bursts of 60 to 90 seconds each. Also, make your long hike longer each week and incorporate up to 75 percent of the elevation gain you’ll face on any given day of your trip. Carry trekking poles and a light pack to build endurance and upper-body strength.

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