How To Prepare For a Long-Distance Hike

A man hiking on a rocky mountain peak.

There is something so appealing to many outdoor enthusiasts about long-distance hiking or thru-hiking. Whether they be novice hikers or seasoned pros, long-distance hikers require a higher level of fitness to sustain them through endurance-heavy activity as well as some challenging mental hurdles to overcome as well. However, proper training for a long-distance trek can help hikers build up their mental stamina along with making them physically prepared. Using these types of exercises to train, anyone can be ready to take on a long-distance hike within a few months of starting to train.

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Build a Better Cardio Base

Two men trail running.

Cardio is one of the two most important types of exercise long-distance hikers need to focus on to build up their fitness. Aerobic exercise helps your body get used to performing an exercise for a sustained period of time while your heart rate is up and oxygenated blood is pumping to your muscles. Spending a manageable amount of time doing cardio like walking, running, or cycling will start to build your aerobic base. Once you can sustain these exercises for at least 30 minutes, you can start adding on time to strengthen your cardio base. You can even carry your pack to get used to the added weight if you plan to get cardio through walks or practice hikes. Whatever type of cardio you choose, try to get at least two to three days of it in each week.

Pushing yourself into the top 90% of your heart rate, or the anaerobic state, will also help your body — and mind — get used to pushing past and working through fatigue. However, a good aerobic cardio base must be developed first to get the full benefits of this exercise. Without an aerobic base, hikers will not have the endurance needed to sustain them on long hikes. But together, an anaerobic regimen in addition to good aerobic cardio exercise will thoroughly prepare anyone for long days of steep climbs.

Read more: Best Full-Body Exercises

Weight Train to Prevent Injury

A weight room at a gym.

Weight training is the other vital type of exercise to successfully train for long-distance hiking. Resistance training with weights is important for long-distance hiking because it helps reduce the strain and stress on the body by building up the big muscle groups and preparing the body for the repetitive motions and strains of hiking. That means it can reduce the risk of injury. Of course, the legs are the primary focus for hiking, but strengthening the core is also good because all motion originates from the core.

Start by adding squats, lunges, push-ups, and planks to strengthen the major muscles used for hiking. Training with fewer reps using heavier weights is great for building strength, but it is also important to practice using lighter weights with a higher number of reps. This will help build your endurance and minimize the risk of overuse-related injuries on the trail. Using lighter weight, such as the weight of your pack, while performing more reps of squats and lunges will simulate the longer steps up and crouching down that are often required on the trail. So, training for those movements builds up the connective tissues, ligaments, and more that will be used frequently while hiking.

However, training with heavier weights to increase your strength is also good because it will reduce the strain of carrying a pack. Try to incorporate at least two to three days of weight training into your week.

Increase Endurance Ability

A man backpacking in lush mountains.

Finally, increasing your endurance is another key component to training for long-distance hiking. While incorporating the right kinds of cardio and strength training into your fitness routine is a great place to start, practicing is also good for the body. Whether you take practice hikes on a similar landscape, climb the stairs of a parking garage, or hop on a stair machine at the gym, practicing walking up flights of stairs or uphill for a sustained period of time is a great way to prepare your body. As you build up endurance and become accustomed to these exercises, you can add time, weight, or elevation to continue to build up endurance. This should make up at least one day of your week’s fitness routine.

With these exercises, anyone can train and be prepared for a long-distance hike within a matter of months. Remember that it is just as important to take at least one full day of rest and recovery during the week. As important as it is to push your limits within the boundaries your body allows as you grow, it is also important to give your body time to recover to prevent injury.

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