How to train for a thru-hike?

Once you have decided which trail you want to hike, you need to start thinking about your training schedule. You will be on the trail for several weeks or months and will cover many kilometers per day. But how do you prepare your body for this task? Below you can find five practical tips to make sure your body is fit enough at the start of your hike. The fitter you are, the smaller the risk for injuries.

1. Start covering kilometers
2. Train your core muscles
3. Become stronger mentally
4. Work on your weaknesses
5. Do not forget nutrition and rest

Warning: Training schedules and exercises always need to be adjusted to your personal fitness level and require correct execution. Make sure you adjust any training schedule to your own fitness and perform exercises correctly. Listen to your body and stop when you experience pain. When you have any pains or run into problems, contact your physical therapist.

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We might be stating the obvious here, but the best way to prepare yourself for a long-distance hike is to start walking as many kilometres as possible. In general, it is recommended to start training at least 4 months prior your starting date. When you are starting from zero, there are some extra things to consider. Let’s start at the beginning:

Build-up slowly

The best way to get stronger and to improve your stamina is to build up gradually. This will prevent unwanted injuries and pain. It is advisable to start with a comfortable distance dependent on your own fitness level. Start walking and see how far you can go without any issues. An example would be to start walking 7.5 km three times per week and increase the distance by 10% every week. Take a rest-week every three weeks. During this week you can still walk, but not as far to give your body some recovery time. After your resting week, you can start increasing the walking distances again.

Schedule example: 7.5 km 3x per week
Week 1: Total 22.5 km
Week 2: Total 25.0 km
Week 3: Total 27.5 km
Week 4: Relative rest
Week 5: Total 27.5km
Week 6: Total 30.0 km
Week 7: Total 33.0 km
Week 8: Relative rest
Etcetera

Train with your backpack

On a thru-hike you cover large distances whilst carrying your backpack. The weight of your backpack will vary; it will be heavier when you carry a lot of food and gear or will be lighter when you sleep in mountain huts. Carrying a backpack causes extra strain on your shoulders, back, core and legs. Thus, making it even more important to prepare your body properly. This can be done by walking longer distances with your backpack, whilst slowly increasing the weight of your backpack over time.

Here is a schedule example of a 12kg backpack with a preparation time of 4 months:
Month 1: 3kg backpack
Month 2: 6kg backpack
Month 3: 9kg backpack
Month 4: 12kg backpack

Training at altitude

On most trails you cross several mountains. On the Pieterpad this might not be the case, but most trails in the Alps cover a lot of altitudes. It therefore is a good idea to train for altitudes whenever possible: walk on a viaduct, choose a challenging path with altimeters, or hike a mountain trail to prepare yourself. Another option is to add staircase training to your training schedule, increase the slope of the treadmill or use a stair climber. Let’s get those leg muscles burning!

Choose the right shoes for the terrain

On the hike you and your shoes need to be best friends. Shoes support and protect your feet and so need to have the right size, shape and support. When choosing a shoe, it is important to consider the terrain, season and trail length. Are you going to hike on a relatively flat trail with no or little snow? Trail runners might be your best friend. Are you hiking a higher alpine trail with difficult crossings? Then it might be better to choose a more solid and waterproof shoe. Whatever shoe you end up choosing, make sure that they there are broken in before you start the trail! If you do not do this, you drastically increase the risk for blisters. Break them in by using them on several terrains ranging from road to forests. At the same time this will train your ankles to become stronger and will get your body used to the strains.

Abs

Train your core

Walking a long-distance trail is not only hard on your feet, but will also require some serious core muscles. Strong abdominal muscles will help you to cover distances more easily, increase your stability and reduce the risk of injuries. Sometimes back and hip injuries are even caused by a weak core. Time to work on this!

Balance

Strong core muscles increase your balance and sure-footedness on the trail. Especially when walking over small trails or more difficult terrain you will experience the benefits of strong core muscles. You will be able to maneuver more easily and will use less energy doing so. Both are good things when you need to cover a lot of ground in a day.

Scheme

This training scheme will help you train your core muscles. Make sure to increase the intensity when needed and perform the routine at least twice per week. Perform every exercise for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest and repeat the exercises for 2-4 times per training session.

Dead bug | Plank | Side plank | Russian twist | Bridge | Shoulder taps

Core training

Mindset

Become mentally strong

Sure, physical training is important but being mentally strong is something that should not be underestimated either. Days of walking, often alone and maybe in bad weather, can seriously affect your mental health. There will be moments where you are struggling: all your muscles are hurting, you are missing your friends & family and then the weather takes a turn as well! It is those moments where quitting is the easiest option, but don’t! Chances are you will regret this later.

Here are some tips to prepare yourself mentally:
– Make sure you know why you want to complete this trail and write it down. This ensures you have a goal and makes it easier to keep going.
– Walk several days in the rain and experience how you react to this. The lessons you will learn from this will be useful on the trail.
– Gather a team of people at home who you can call or talk to when things get rough. Choose some friends or family members who can cheer you up when you need it.

Tackle

Work on your weaknesses

It might not be the nicest thing to do, but working on your weaknesses will always be helpful. Most people know which muscles or areas of their body are the most prone to injuries. Maybe your knees, ankles, or your back? With this in mind you can use the time before your hike to make these muscles stronger and more mobile. Remember to also focus on the muscles around your problem area. Back problems might be caused by weaker glutes or hip muscles and knee issues can be caused by shortened quadriceps. It is always good to discuss these issues with your (personal) trainer or physical therapist.

Strength training

Strength training is an essential part of getting fit for your thru-hike. When using strength training for your thru-hike preparation, it is mostly focused on correct execution and increasing the number of repetitions, rather than increasing the weights for less repetitions. You want to mimic the situation on the trail as much as possible. For example: train your quadriceps with squats. Do this with 60kg for 30 repetitions instead of 70kg for 10 repetitions. Try and increase the number of repetitions over time and only increase the weight when you feel like it becomes too easy.

Strenght

Not to be underestimated

Nutrition and rest

The last thing you want is to get injured during your preparations. This can result in unpreparedness at the start or even the need to completely postpone your thru-hike. As said before, it is crucial to slowly increase the intensity and duration of your training sessions. This reduces the risks of any injuries. Next to this, sleep and nutrition are aspects that should not be forgotten.

Sleep

In cycling there is the saying “you win the tour in your bed” and we think this also relates to the trail and its preparation. Your body needs sleep to recover properly. It is therefore of utmost importance to create a situation where you can get enough sleep. Here are some tips!
– Keep a rhythm
– If there is a lot of noise: use earplugs
– Do not eat too much before sleeping
– Preferably try to avoid alcohol

Nutrition

Just like sleep, nutrition plays a crucial role in your training and recovery. Proper nutrition is important during your adventure: from the preparation stages to actually being on the trail. For now, we focus on nutrition during the preparation stage. On long training days, you need to watch your food and fluid intake. Make sure you drink enough and maintain sufficient energy and protein intake. Here are some tips:
– Eat natural products
– Avoid fast sugars
– Make sure your protein intake is sufficient on training days.

Good luck with your preparations!

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