Multi-day hikes take a lot more out of your body than day hikes or even if you’re a regular at the gym, so it’s important to be well aware of your own physical limitations when it comes to training for a longer trek.
Before you read any further, we recommend that you take these six things into account before you start:
- Your current fitness level – be honest with yourself about this because it’s possible to injure yourself just with the training itself!
- Injuries – in this case we’re talking about ongoing inflammation or pain specifically in your knees, feet or back. Consider using tools to help relieve the load on these parts of your body, like hiking poles, while you’re training.
- Check with your doctor – when in doubt about your physical fitness or health you should always check with your GP, especially if you have any heart or blood pressure issues.
- Make the exercises fit your body, not the other way around.
- If something hurts, modify the exercise or skip it.
- No matter how fit you are, rest days are essential for your body to recover. Smashing out training every day will only lead to inflammation, a lack of energy and injuries.
The key is to start small and slow, then increase your activity gradually in a way that suits you. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to endurance training.
If you have your eye on one of our Cape to Cape or Bibbulmun hikes, start your training 6-12 weeks out, depending on your current fitness level.
A quick, general overview of how to train for long hikes
Increase strength in the major muscles that hiking relies on. These include legs, core and ankle strength to help you hike harder and longer with a pack on.
Building endurance in these muscles, as well as your shoulders and lower back (to take the weight of your pack) and your lung capacity will help condition your body for long treks.
Improve your balance so you have a more stable base that will allow you to navigate uneven terrain reducing the chance of injuries.
Include cardio to help build on your lung capacity and the repetitiveness of hours and hours of walking.
Always move at your own pace, going slowly at first. As you increase repetitions or add more weight, listen to your body’s limits and work within them. As your training progresses, you’ll notice that your limits will increase, which is exactly what you should be aiming for.
Never Underestimate the Benefits of Warming Up!
Warming up brings some heat and blood into your muscles and the synovial fluid that keeps your joints mobile and some flexibility into your body.
Starting any kind of exercise without some warm up movement first can lead to injuries before you even hit the trail!
Warm up by doing a brisk 5-10 minute walk followed by some simple stretches.
Now let’s get to some training!
Choose your training
Breaking your endurance training down into the categories below, you’ll find many different ideas and levels of intensity.
As we mentioned before, no training program is one size fits all and you should be taking into consideration your own fitness level and limitations.
So we suggest placing a checkmark next to the training options below that you think you can manage now and turn them into a personal exercise routine.
As these become easier, choose others from the list below and replace the exercises you’re currently finding too easy.
NB Use good posture and mindful movements!
Strengthen your core by walking or hiking with a pack on your back. Gradually build up the weight in your pack until the pack load is 75% (or more) of the anticipated pack weight for your trip.
Use stairs instead of the elevator wherever you go to build up strength in your legs and your lung capacity.
Find outdoor stairs in local parks. Depending on how many steps there are, climb them until your legs and lungs start to feel it. Count how many times you can get up and down and build on it week by week.
Use steps for single leg step ups. Start by alternating which foot steps up first and aim for 10-20 each side. Building on this, do 20 each side without alternating. Then work up to doing the same thing on something a bit higher like a deeper step or a park bench.
Use steps for side step ups and step downs. Going up sideways builds on your outer and inner thigh muscles. Your starting position will be standing sideways on one step. Step up sideways using one foot, bring it back down, then step down sideways with the other foot. Start off by alternating feet, then work up to 20 continuously on each foot.
Bike riding is great for building the quad muscles in your thighs and for some gentle cardio.
Squat baby squat! Building up to squats can start with you seated in a chair. Check out Getting Hike Fit to see how to build these up to a squat hold or pulse.
Walking on soft beach sand not only strengthens leg muscles but also feet and ankle muscles for balance and your lung capacity. Do this barefoot to really engage all the muscles in your feet.
Standing calf raises will build strength in your calves, ankles and feet as well as helping to build your balance.
Side to side lunges strengthen your butt, outer hip muscles, quad and inner thigh muscles. Stand with your feet wide apart so that you make a big triangle with your legs. Keeping your back straight, bend your left knee while your right leg stays straight. Then swap to the other side. Alternate legs until you’ve done 8 each side slowly building up to 15 each side. Build up further by doing 8 consecutively on each leg and slowly increasing up to 15.
A super effective exercise to build core strength is to hold a plank position for an increasing amount of time. You can start on your knees, then build up to a full body plank.
A table plank targets both your core and your legs. Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hip bones. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground by only a cm and hover there for 30 seconds. Build up to longer each week.
Bridges work your core, legs and back. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet close to your butt. Lift your hips up off the ground as far as you can. Hold for one second and release, do 8 to start off with and build up to 15. When this gets too easy start holding the bridge without dropping down, for 10 seconds and then build up to 30 seconds.
Kneeling extensions are great for both core and balance! Start on all fours and stretch one arm out in front of you level with your back, so you’re balancing on one hand and two knees. Then switch arms until you’ve done around 8 each side. Then do the same with your legs. Keep both hands on the ground and extend one leg out straight behind you, level with your back, then switch. Again work up to 8 each side. Building on this even further, try holding out one arm and the opposite leg at the same time, so you only have two points of contact on the floor. Instead of constantly swapping sides this time, hold for time. Start out with 5-10 seconds and build up to 30 seconds each side.
Walk, walk, walk! This is what you’ll be doing on the trail so walk as much as you can on lots of different surfaces like trails, grass, sand and footpaths.
Find a hilly section of your neighbourhood – it doesn’t have to be steep – and walk up and down. Build your endurance by either increasing how quickly you walk or how long you walk – and then do both!
Pick up your pace on your day hikes. Walk quickly (but carefully!) to build up leg speed and feet-on-the ground conditioning. Choose one trail, get out there regularly and try to beat your personal best time.
Walk on a treadmill at the gym. Treadmills offer different speeds and inclinations so you can build up distance and speed as well as practicing “hills”.
The stairmaster at the gym will definitely give your legs and lungs a run for their money! Set a pace you can manage for at least 10 minutes. You can build up your training by either increasing the speed or adding weight to your body. Yes you can take a weighted backpack to the gym. Many people who train for the Kokoda Trail do this!
A simple way to improve balance is to stand on one foot on various surfaces – carpet, concrete, grass, dirt, gravel, rocks. Also do this on a hill – facing uphill and downhill. Aim for 30 seconds per leg to start, and work up to 60 seconds. Notice which foot or side feels more stable. Then put on your pack and do it.
Yoga and Pilates help with both flexibility and balance, plus many of the basic moves strengthen and tone muscles. Find a studio with qualified instructors like Maria from Parnita’s in Rockingham.
Swimming is a great all round exercise. It works all the major muscle groups in your body as well as your endurance and lung capacity.
Grab your skipping rope and skip for time. Skip then rest in 30 second intervals for 5 minutes. You can build on this by increasing your skipping time and decreasing your rest time, increasing both skipping and resting time and increasing overall time. If you have dodgy knees, lose the rope and “pretend skip” without actually getting off the ground, so it’s more like a toe bounce. This should be easier on your knees because there’s no landing impact.
Plan Your Training Program
Pick 2-3 of the exercises above from each of the different training styles – endurance, cardio, strength and balance.
Set aside time at least 4 days a week to train – but no more than 6 days because you need that rest day!
When you plan out your exercises, separate endurance and cardio days with strength or rest days. It’s all about balance. Other than that, do what works for you.
Try to increase the intensity of your exercises every week but remember – if something hurts, modify the exercise, skip it or change it for something else.
And remember to take it one step at a time – literally and figuratively.
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Off The Beaten Track WA has a great range of overnight and multi-day hikes, including local, southwest and interstate hikes. These tours not only provide you with an amazing experience but you also get to practice your long hike skills.
There’s more to getting fit for hiking than just exercise. You should be treating your body as an important piece of hiking equipment – one that needs regular maintenance. In our article Getting Hike Fit we also talk about other aspects of “training” such as rest, nutrition and sleep.
For any hikers booked in on one of our multi-day hikes, we offer 50% off our endurance hikes. Email us to grab your discount code.