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On a 5-plus-day trek, the difference between a pleasant escape and a torture-fest boils down to physical preparation. Endurance is the ticket, but you need endurance that goes beyond daylong stamina. You need “toughness”–that gritty resilience that’ll have you bounding out of the tent come morning to do it all over again. Use these guidelines to get there. Allow 6 to 10 weeks to train.
Gradually improve your staying power by increasing the length of your cardiovascular workouts. Start with 30 to 50 minutes; build to 75. Shoot for three or four sessions a week at a high intensity (a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10).
Once a week, put yourself through a marathon session. Like the distance runner who depends on long runs for endurance, prepare for a multiday trip with a moderately intense (5 to 6) power hike of 4 to 5 hours. (New hikers, start with 90 minutes, build to multiple hours by adding 15 to 30 minutes each week.) Hike at an aggressive pace with poles and a light (10-pound) pack, preferably on hilly terrain. Take breaks and don’t forget fuel–a sandwich, or sports drinks and energy bars.
After 3 to 4 weeks of conditioning, string together the above workouts with no rest day in between to mimic the demands of a weeklong outing. Start with 3 days in a row (including the weekend workout); build to 6. Follow these guidelines to avoid injury.
» Increase the length of your workouts gradually (use guidelines above)
» Rest 1 day every week
» Mix up your workouts. Variety not only helps you avoid a repetitive stress injury, it also strengthens stabilizing muscles (those little ones we seldom think of until they’re screaming on day 3). Power hike, run trails, climb hills, take a spin class, or do a circuit workout using a treadmill and elliptical trainer, varying the level and incline on both machines.