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Training for a long-distance hike ahead of time is necessary. Do you want to be the person gasping for breath a few feet from the trailhead, or do you want to be the mountain-summiting, side-trail taking, endurance freak? I mean, technically that’s a decision, but is it, is it really?

Photo by: Flickr user diloz

Okay, I’m glad we’re all agreed, the endurance freak wins out. But not everyone has a 10-mile, mountainous climb leading right from their door, so how do you train? This is where cross-training really comes in handy.

Cross-training basically means that you’re training for one activity by doing other activities. Cross-training is good for getting your whole body in shape, and it’s especially helpful when you can’t always do your main activity, like hiking.

When you officially decide to do that amazing long-distance hike that you’ve been dreaming about, make sure you set aside time to train. Ideally, you want to stay active all the time, but generally it’s best to have about 6-8 weeks of intentional training beforehand.

When training, focus on three things: aerobic conditioning, muscle strengthening, and flexibility.

Aerobic Conditioning

Aerobic conditioning focuses on aerobic activities such as walking, biking, running, and machines like the elliptical. This should serve as the foundation of your training program, because it helps your endurance. When exercising, remember that this training shouldn’t be used to boost your speed. While that generally is a natural perk that results from aerobic conditioning, as a hiker you want to focus more on maintaining a steady pace than cutting seconds off of your time.

Whatever you choose for your aerobic exercise, be it running, mountain biking, or the elliptical, make sure that you are getting a good 40 minutes in 4-5 times a week. You want to rest on 2-3 non consecutive days.

If you want to pump up the exercise a little, try interval training. For example, when you’re running, do 30 second sprinting intervals to increase your heart rate and get you ready for those quick scrambles up the mountain.

exercises: walking, running, biking (mountain or road), elliptical

Muscle Strengthening

Although aerobic conditioning will take up the majority of your training, you want to make room for muscle strengthening. This will help to build your muscles for those long days on the trail. For hiking, you mainly use buttocks-supporting muscles–the hips, thighs, calves, hamstrings, and abdominals. You will also want to focus on your shoulder and chest muscles, as they are also very important for the day-to-day strain of backpacking.

Photo by: Flickr user CarolLunetta

Focus on muscle strengthening three times per week, with 2-3 sets each time. Your first set should start out with the heaviest weights and the most reps, with each set decreasing in weights and reps. Lunges with bicep curls, squats, wall sits, and step-ups are all great exercises to practice. Pilates is also a great exercise for strengthening muscles, especially the core.

Don’t have weights at home? No worries, just look around your house and you’ll be sure to find a great substitute. Wrenches, hammers, cans of food, bottles filled with either water or sand, and other objects can all be used as weight replacements. If you do decide to use some of these items, make sure you know their weight.

exercises: pilates, weights

Flexibility

Photo by: Flickr user lululemon athletica

Whether it’s reaching up to grab a hand-hold, or just stretching into your closet to find your camping gear, flexibility plays a huge role in hiking. Hikers, and really anyone who exercises, should be stretching at least three times a week after workouts. However, once you’re on the trail, hikers should be stretching every day! It’s really important for the health and continued use of your muscles.

Stretching all your major muscles is important–focus on the achilles tendons and the calves, the back, the hamstrings, and the quadriceps. Hold a stretch for a least 30 seconds, and repeat 2-3 times. Yoga is also a great way to keep your body healthy and flexible.

exercises: yoga, general stretching

So get out there and get healthy–it will end up making your hike way more enjoyable!

Your Turn: How do you train for your big hikes?

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