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How To Prepare Your Body for a Long-Distance Hike

There is something so appealing to many outdoor enthusiasts about long-distance hiking or thru-hiking. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a seasoned pro, long-distance hikers require a higher level of fitness to sustain them through the long consecutive days on the trail. While every thru-hiker will agonize over getting the perfect-fitting hiking boot, knowing the value of true comfort when your feet are going to take a pounding, a lot of long-distance hikers will neglect their physical and mental preparation.

There is always going to be a challenging element to long-distance hiking, but with the right preparation, you can guarantee a higher level of enjoyment and a greater chance of success. 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, anyone can be ready to take on a long-distance hike within a few months of starting to train.

A man hiking on a rocky mountain peak.

Build a Better Cardio Base

Aerobic exercise helps your body get used to performing an exercise for a sustained period of time while your heart rate is up and is pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles. Spending a manageable amount of time doing cardio — 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 time to strengthen your cardio base. You can even carry your pack to get used to the added weight if you plan to improve your cardio through walks or practice hikes. Whatever type of cardio you choose, try to get at least two to three sessions 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. A good aerobic base must be developed first to get the full benefits of anaerobic 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.

Weight Train To Prevent Injury

A weight room at a gym.

Weight training 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. Of course, the legs are the primary focus for hiking, but it’s important not to neglect your core and other stabilizing muscles. Aim for a balanced approach to weight training as this will reduce the risk of injury on the trail. Sure, your legs are key, but all those smaller muscle groups and core exercises will stop you from rolling an ankle or twisting a knee so easily.

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. Training for those movements builds up the connective tissues, ligaments, and more that will be used frequently while hiking.

Increase Endurance Ability

A man backpacking in lush mountains.

While incorporating the right kinds of cardio and strength training into your fitness routine is a great place to start, hiking practice is essential. 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.

There are going to be tough times on the trail, no matter how physically prepared you feel. Spend some time on your practice hikes entering your very own “pain cave” — the point during exercise where you’re ready to throw in the towel — and find your way back out of it. Trust us, you’re going to need this practice on the trail. Whether you sing to yourself when things get tough, smile your way through the hard times, pound the sugary snacks, or practice positive self-talk, endurance training is as much mental as it is physical. Train your mental fortitude, and you will dig yourself out of a difficult place before you get too deep.

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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