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SOFA TO SUMMIT: Expert tips from Jon Barnett - Owner of Peaks & Trails and Jon Barnett Fitness

For most of us, hiking is the ideal escape with endless opportunities to combine beautiful landscapes with a chance to forget about the rat race.


Nature and the wilderness can have a real tangible effect on our health. It can declutter your mind and help get that all important mojo back whilst improving your overall health and fitness.



The UK really is a walker's paradise. It has spectacular coastlines, rugged and wild moorland, an abundance of tranquil woods and forests, glacial valleys, rolling hills and high exposed mountains ranges.


But what if you're not an experienced hiker? What if you aren’t particularly active or fit?

Can you still enjoy the wonders of hiking to some of the more challenging places?


Absolutely!


You just need to prepare properly.


PHYSICAL PREPARATION



Benefits of Physical Preparation for Hiking

Proper physical preparation is essential for hiking. Training for the trail can help you to tone up and lose weight in preparation for your trek, but it also has many other benefits:

1. Physical training opens up so many different adventures.

With proper preparation, you don’t have to look at a trail and think "Will I be able to survive that”? Instead, you will be able to embark on any hike you like, with an added boost of confidence.

2. Training significantly reduces the risk of pain or injury ruining your hike.

So many hikers (particularly when they are just coming off the couch) suffer from things like plantar fasciitis, shin splints, hikers knee and lower back pain. With the right training, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of these issues ruining your adventures (and your day to day life!).

3. Physical preparation allows you to fully enjoy your adventures.

Sure, many people can use ‘mental toughness’ to will themselves through a tough day of hiking… but do you really only want to survive? If you truly want to be able to enjoy the wonders of the trail, to take in the amazing scenery and really get the most out of the experience, you'll need to start preparing the body.

So what do you need to do to get fit for the trail?

The most common advice for beginner hikers is to get out onto the trail and start racking up the miles.

It’s certainly true that hiking is an excellent way to improve your trail fitness. However, there are some major drawbacks to doing all your training while hiking and walking.

These include:

  1. Hiking typically requires a big time commitment. In reality, very few of us have the luxury of heading out for long walks more than once a week (if that).

  2. If you are relatively inactive, suddenly starting an intense walking regime is a recipe for injury. Walking and hiking are not bad for you, but increasing your activity too quickly may result in injuries mentioned above.

  3. Hiking and walking can be great for trail fitness. However, this isn’t the most effective way to address specific issues such as getting huffed and puffed on ascents, getting jelly legs on descents, preventing injury and improving balance on unstable terrain.

So what is the solution? Well, it’s pretty simple. Follow a structured strength and conditioning program. This may sound a bit scary at first… but don’t worry!

It simply means a program which will apply training methods and practices which can get you fit, strong and resilient for hiking – without actually having to spend all your time hiking!


These programs should include three things:

  1. Hiking training

  2. Strength training

  3. Hiking-specific conditioning

HIKING TRAINING


In order to properly prepare for a challenging hike, you do need to be spending some time on the hills. Nothing else can replicate the uneven, undulating and unpredictable nature of hiking outdoors.



You then need to determine how many realistic opportunities you have to go out for a long hike.

For example, if your adventure is 12 weeks away, is it possible to go out hiking every week? Or every second week? Or even only every month? Identifying this early can make the preparation process much smoother.


The next step is to pencil in some hiking distances, ensuring there is a slow and gradual build-up in distance and difficulty each hike you complete.


Doing too much, too soon, is one of the biggest causes of overuse injuries! Start off with distances that you are sure you can comfortably complete, and build from there. Slow and steady always wins the race.


STRENGTH TRAINING


Usually completely overlooked and can have major benefits:

  1. It is the single best thing you can do to help prevent injury.

  2. It can be incredibly effective at preparing the body for elevation (both ascents and descents)

  3. It can significantly reduce the total exertion of your body during a full days hiking

If you are a beginner, there’s no need to make your strength training routine complicated. In fact, simple is usually better.


There are just a few rules you need to follow:

  1. You want to train the body in balance (i.e. for every exercise working the front of the body, you want to include an exercise working the back).

  2. You want to ensure you have a mix of both high repetition ‘endurance’ exercises and lower repetition ‘strength’ exercises (both types of strength training are incredibly beneficial for hikers).

  3. You need to ensure a gradual progression in your training over the weeks/months (i.e. constantly repeating the same workout for months on end will have limited benefits. The same goes for choosing a random workout every session).

By following these 3 simple rules, you will ensure that your strength training is effective, safe and balanced over the long term.


Creating your own strength training program requires a little thought, so for some specific advice, please get in touch.


Alternatively, join a strength and conditioning beginners class at your local gym or village hall.



HIKING SPECIFIC CARDIO TRAINING


As stated earlier, sometimes it simply isn’t practical to be hitting the trail multiple times a week. If this is the case, it is essential that you continue to work on your aerobic fitness during the week!


Aerobic fitness training can include things like swimming, cycling, or exercise classes. However, to get the best bang for your buck, you should focus on hiking-specific cardio.

This simply means focusing on types of cardiovascular exercise that:

  • Directly target certain aspects of trail fitness

  • Incorporate specific skills necessary while hiking

  • Are performed at a slightly higher intensity than normal hiking

Don't over complicate it, simply choose one of the types of training from the list below, complete it for 4 weeks and then choose another one.


Some good workout ideas:

  • Loaded pack walks (fill a backpack with a small amount of weight. Go for a walk around the streets. Each week, add a little extra weight).

  • Hill repeats/incline treadmill walking (find a relatively steep hill and climb to the top. Return to the bottom and repeat).

  • Stair sessions/step machine (climb a set of stairs and then return to the bottom. Repeat).

  • Sled pushing (put a small amount of weight on a sled in the gym and push it back and forth for a few minutes. Rest and repeat).

  • Higher intensity intervals on a bike, elliptical or in the pool (go moderately quick for 2+ minutes at a time, rest and repeat).

  • Walking (for those who are just off the couch, simply getting out and walking for 30-40 minutes can be pretty effective!).


PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER


So now you know the general outline of what a hiking training program should look like, how can you put it all together?


For someone who is coming off the couch and stepping up to a challenging day hike, they should aim for:

  • 1x longer walk a week (this can be hiking, walking around the neighbourhood or on the treadmill)

  • 1-2 strength training sessions per week (30-45 minutes)

  • 1-2 hiking specific conditioning sessions a week (30-60 minutes)

By fitting these into your week you can ensure you are ticking off all the necessary boxes for hiking preparation (without having to spend an outrageous number of hours each week walking).


GOOD LUCK!



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