Fitness Guide for Trekking

Trekking in the Himalayas is fun if you can walk and enjoy the beauty but not to mention it is physically challenging too. Just like any other sport activity, trekking also requires stamina and strength even though we walk everyday for our errands but still we need to prepare our body for trekking. The old saying ‘Health is Wealth’ is something we can’t argue about. Nevertheless trekking is not only about physical fitness but requires mental preparation as well. You will need to start your preparation atleast three months prior to your trek. However the first thing is mental toughness. The professional trekkers are not athletes but are average people like me and you with just some great determination and dedication. You will be walking 5 to 7 hours everyday and trust me even a person with good level of fitness can fail to complete the task, he or she also requires preparation and a positive attitude. 

Trekkers need a balanced approach while training, and complete body strengthening. Only then he or she will be successful and injury free during the trek. It is important to maintain a slow, steady and enjoyable regime. And remember along with all the training, a proper diet and rest is a must. Your stamina and strength will improve gradually, nothing will happen overnight. Just make your schedule and exercise daily and regularly. 

So Why do we need to be fit before a trek?

Well answer to this question is very simple, the more fit you are, the more you will enjoy your trek and it won’t turn into a nightmare. But the main reason is because of two simple reasons. First, as we go on higher altitude the air becomes thinner. So to cope up with the decreasing amount of oxygen, we need to build Aerobic Fitness. This decreasing level of oxygen leads to AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness which is extreme condition turns into HAPE OR HACE and causes death as well. Hence being fit becomes very important.

Secondly, walking for long durations on ascend and descent topography with backpack on, requires good level of Strength and Endurance training. Many people don’t actually realise that walking downhill is more destructive to the body because there is more force on the body with the weight on back when on descend. So we require the strength and endurance to climb uphill or downhill without any injury.

However these are the following points to concentrate on while building endurance, stamina and strength.

Aerobic Fitness 

What exactly is Aerobic fitness/exercise? Well it is nothing but what we call commonly as cardio or cardiovascular, any physical exercise of high or low intensity. As discussed above, aerobic fitness helps you to fight against AMS and decreasing level of oxygen at high altitudes. But how you can actually increase your fitness level is simple and can be completed in two phases. Yes, it won’t come overnight and you will be required to have discipline and dedication to finish your training.

Phase I

You can start with the basics, Walking. Trekking is nothing but walking on the terrains in different topography. So no need to rush into the training from the first day unless you are someone who is already working out. Your body needs time to adjust with the exertion. If you straight away walk for 5kms on the first day, trust me you will be in bed for the next 2-3 days and will completely ruin the purpose. Hence, take it slow for the initial few days or a week, walk 4-5kms everyday and maintain a steady pace. Give a day rest before you move on to the second phase. Follow the phase I for atleast 2-3 weeks depending upon how much time you have before your trek. 

While you are completing your daily target, at the end make sure you do some stretching. It will help you to recover your muscle soreness. Free hand stretching of arms, legs, shoulder, neck and waist will also save you from injuries.

Phase II

Once your 3 weeks of walking and stretching is done and you have gained some fitness, it’s time to move on to the next phase, Jogging or Running. You can do any of these or mix them up on alternate days. These exercises can be performed inside a park or on a treadmill. Make sure you are wearing proper cushioned shoes. One thing which you can do here is to use your trekking shoes, you will get used to them and feel more confident on trekking. If you have made a new purchase of trekking shoes then you should definitely use them. Start with 3kms and gradually move to 5kms within 30 minutes. And don’t forget to do stretching at the end.

Also you can do cycling as an alternative with jogging or running. It is a very effective way to increase your aerobic fitness and helps to lose weight. You can use the cycling machine in the gym as it offers different resistance modes which are a little more efficient as compared to cycling outdoors. However both are equally efficient. Start with 5kms and move to 8-9kms within the same amount of time say 25 mins. Again stretching will help your muscles to recover quickly. 

Follow these exercises for the next 3 weeks and make sure you push yourself everyday because that will be the only way to increase your capacity. The time or distance mentioned is minimal, if you have achieved this before time, go for another km or two before you stop. 

Some other exercises which you can perform:

  • Stair Climbing
  • Incline Treadmill Walking
  • Brisk Walking
  • Rowing (if machine available in your gym)
  • Swimming (in case you have access to a swimming pool)

Benefits of Aerobic Fitness:

  1. Increases the efficiency of respiration
  2. Strengthens your heart and reduces the risk of strokes or heart attacks.
  3. Improves blood volume, distribution and delivery to muscles.
  4. Strengthens bones and muscles.
  5. Helps body to acclimatise at high altitudes
  6. Strengthen the immune system and regulates weight

And there are many more….

Strength and Endurance training

Your strength training will start from the second phase of aerobic training, wherein you will focus on the whole body. It is equally important to build endurance because you don’t want to give up just before the summit. Your endurance training will help you to go on without giving up. And for that you need to prepare your whole body, legs, arms, back, shoulders and abdominal muscles. One hour of exercise is more than enough which you can divide between cardio and strength. You really need that stamina to finish your trek. 

Although you are already preparing your legs by the aerobic training, understand you are only using your bodyweight. You will be walking 5-7 hours daily with your backpack on, so just running will cover your entire exertion of legs on the trek. NO, you will need to build your leg strength and increase your endurance by using extra weights while you are performing any leg exercises. 

I know repeating the same exercises everyday can get boring and your body will definitely get used to that. Try and alternate your exercises, suppose you are doing squats on barbell today so change to squats on leg press machine for the next week. Likewise there are many alternatives for all other exercises which will make your workout session interesting. 

Also never underlook stretching. You need only 5 mins post and pre workout session. Stretching not only helps in avoiding injuries but also recover your muscles quickly and reduces soreness.

Some exercises which you can perform for strength training.

  • Squats 
  • Leg Press
  • Calves 
  • Hamstring Curls
  • Pull-ups 
  • Push-ups
  • Shoulder Press
  • Bicep Curls
  • Tricep Pushdown
  • Walking Lunges or Standing Lunges
  • Crunches, Leg Raise
  • Dorsal Raises or Hyperextension 

There are varieties of exercises to perform when it comes to strength. Not necessary you need to lift heavy because you are not competing in any body building competition. Just some extra weight with 3 seats will be more than enough to gain some muscle mass. In case you find the weight light then yes definitely you can pick little heavy or increase your repetitions. Make sure you are taking proper rest in between your sets and train for 5 days, it’s more than enough. Do maintain a proper diet even on rest days.

Stay Hydrated

It is very important to keep yourself hydrated during your workouts and during your trek. Your body needs fluid to perform a high intensity activity. Low fluid level will decrease your endurance and results in fatigue, and during trek it can lead to altitude sickness. We have explained how you can stay hydrated during the trek in our article, you can go through that. Never wait for your body to give signals rather make it a habit to sip some amount of water after every 15-20 mins while on trek. During your workout, you can sip water after every exercise and in between the sets. If you don’t maintain the fluid level, it can cause injuries and you might even faint while you are lifting heavy weight. It even slows down the process of building muscle mass. A lot of studies even claim that water helps in reducing body weight as well. 

Take a proper amount of fluid whenever you are working out, this will eventually develop your habit of drinking water regularly even while you are on a trek or in office. We need to drink 4-5 litres of water everyday, which will increase during workout sessions or during summers. Focus on staying well hydrated during your training. 

Rest Is Important Too

Yes, rest is very important, rest in between and after the workout plays an important role in building stamina and strength. And remember to focus on optimizing the sleep, 7-8 hours of sleep is important. People often have problems sleeping at high altitudes and if you don’t sleep properly at night then you won’t be able to focus on the next day. Learn how to have a sound sleep during trek on our article.

Preparing for trek is no different than preparing for a long distance run, the only difference is there is no competition on a trek. You can walk at your own pace and enjoy the beauty of nature. As a caution, never go overboard with the training. Trekking is all about walking and maintaining a slow and steady regime. Don’t push your body during the initial days of training to an exertion level where you are not able to proceed with the routine further. Crazy workout can lead to many minor and severe injuries, you might get cramps or maybe muscle tear. Prepare an exercise chart, and during the initial few days make the workout little ease and increase the intensity as you move ahead. Also keep in mind about your capacities. Each and every time you go to the mountains, you should have the fitness level to deal with. Even the experienced trekker needs to maintain his or her fitness level. So maintain a positive attitude and eat well and drink plenty of water to prepare for your trek. Exercise regularly and include your rest days as well.


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