Are you ready to go for your first mountain hike, or maybe a weekend backpacking trip? I've heard the concern when someone is planning to head out on their first hike, "How hard is it?", "Will I die?", "Do I need start doing cardio to train for this?". Hiking can be one of the most rewarding and freeing experiences, but if you aren't physically ready, it can also be miserable. Some training and physical preparation will help make your trip a lot easier, more enjoyable, and likely increase your confidence knowing that you have some level of fitness under belt.
Many of us aren't lucky enough to be able to go out and do 20km and 600m plus in elevation gain on a whim. There have been times when I've headed out for a hike pretty de-conditioned, and I could tell. My pace was pretty slow, I was stopping frequently for breaks, and I just felt a lot more strained than I knew I should. For me, there is nothing better than stepping foot on the trail surrounded by large trees knowing that in few hours I'll be standing at the summit looking down on them and the beautifully blue alpine lake. If we want to hit these summits effortlessly, we will probably need to do a little bit of training.
You don't have to to do a lot of cardio, probably less than you think, but more than you are doing.
Where Do I Start?
If you are new to endurance training for your hikes and aren't currently doing any form of cardio we want to first focus on building our aerobic base. This is the ability of our muscles to produce energy aerobically (requiring oxygen) and especially using fat as the primary fuel source.
Establish a Consistent Workout Routine
Our goal is to build our bas with gradual and progressive training. By staying consistent with our workout routine, we are more likely to see consistent improvement and long-lasting results. You should aim to be working out 3-4 times per week.
To achieve aerobic conditioning we want to have a continuous effort in our workout for at least 30 minutes. If you can't do 30 minutes at first, just go for as long as you can. You can build up to 5 minutes, then 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes until eventually you are able to go for the entire 30 minutes. Or break your 30 minutes up into 10 or 15 minute intervals with a small rest period in-between, decreasing the rest until you are working for the full 30 minutes.
Our aerobic base is build in intensity zones 1 and 2. For these early workouts you should try to keep your heart rate down, below your aerobic capacity. I will get more into heart rate training zones in a future post, but for now Your perceived effort should be easy to very easy. You should feel like you would be able to easily carry out a conversation during your workout.
What Type of Cardio Should I Do?
If our goal is to train for hiking, we ideally want to include weight bearing exercises (full weight is on your feet) in to our training. This will help prepare our body for the load we will place on it while hiking to help with injury prevention. Walking is a great choice for beginners, and as your fitness improves you can progress to jogging or stairs.
Some people however might need to start with non-weight bearing exercises. If you have knee or joint issues, or a carry a lot of extra weight, you might be more comfortable on a bike (real or stationary), elliptical, or swimming .
The most important thing is to find something that you enjoy doing.
This little bit of cardio might seem far off from a mountain summit but we all have to start somewhere, and hiking up a mountain is hard. If we aim to improve our ability to walk, run, and climb for an extended period of time and make ourselves more fatigue resistant, we will in turn be able to hike longer, faster, and without the pain of burning lungs.
PS. Remember to listen to your body. It knows best of when you can do it and push or when you need to step back and say that that was enough training for the day.
Share your current workout routine or your favorite training tips with me in the comments!