How To Hiking Guide - Getting Physically and Mentally Fit
Posted at 11:00 - 28th August - Sarah Booth
If you set yourself a goal of running a 10K, doing a triathlon or obstacle race, you will inevitably download the relevant training programme and follow it for some weeks to get yourself race fit. It should be exactly the same with hiking, yet many people embark on long hikes without realising the stress it can place on their bodies.
This month’s edition of our How To Hiking Guide focuses on ways that you can physically and mentally prepare for your hikes so that you are ready to tackle the longer miles, steeper terrain and more remote destinations.
Depending on your current levels of fitness, it could take anywhere between three weeks to three months to condition your body. Whilst the best way to get hiking fit is to get out there and hike, life has a habit of throwing down obstacles that require you to find more time efficient ways to train.
Focus on improving your cardiovascular fitness first, which can be achieved by doing alternative exercises such as jogging, cycling, or swimming. If you prefer to go to the gym, make sure you are spending time on stepper machines, cross trainers and treadmills, slowly increasing the incline as you build up your fitness.
Doing a HIIT version of cardiovascular training is also a great way to prepare your body for the bursts of strength required when you are hiking. HIIT can be as simple as doing 1 minute all out exertion followed by 1 minute slow pace followed by 1 minute of exertion for 5 minutes out of your 40 minute jog, cycle or swim. It’s a simple adaption that pays great dividends.
Once you see your cardiovascular fitness start to improve you can add in body weight exercises that will help to strengthen your legs, back and core. Step-ups, push-ups and planks are a great place to start and you can also adapt these by doing them with a rucksack on your back increasing the weight as you build your strength.
For further exercise ideas and tips on technique check out the following YouTube Video – Top 10 Strength Exercises for Hiking.
Whilst the above exercises will drastically help you improve your fitness, there is no substitution for doing the do. Try to get out hiking as much as you can, increasing your mileage and the weight of your rucksack as you go. Make sure you also get used to hiking on rough, uneven terrain, wearing your hiking boots so that you can break your feet in at the same time!
"A positive attitude, sense of humour and being committed to your goal is what's going to push you through when the trails get tough."
Physical preparation will help strengthen your body’s readiness for hiking, but a positive attitude, sense of humour and being committed to your goal is what’s going to push you through when the trails get tough.
The biggest barrier to success is fear of the unknown, and the best way to overcome that fear is to be prepared in your mind as well as your body.
A great way of getting mentally prepared is to think of all the things that could go wrong. This may sound pessimistic, but it’s a great way of making sure you are ready for the challenges that lie ahead. If you have a plan for what you will do when your gear gets wet, you run out of food, get lost, or develop a blister, you will be less fearful of these things if they happen in real life.
Another great way to prepare yourself mentally is to make sure you set realistic goals of what you can achieve based on the environment you are hiking in. If you are climbing steep terrain, your walking pace will be much slower, if you are hiking in the heat you may have to factor in more breaks to cool down and rehydrate. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination and if you get there earlier than planned, it’s a bonus.
Hiking is a balance between visualising the end goal and immersing yourself in the present. Whilst it’s important to visualise yourself crossing the ‘finishing line’ it’s also important not to rush there. One of the joys of hiking is slowing down and learning to live in the moment. Focus on what’s around you - the views, nature, wildlife and great conversations with your hiking buddies if you have them. Rushing your way through a hike means you lose the rewards of being out in nature, and could potentially set you up for failure as you push yourself too hard too soon.
Finally, before you set off, make sure you have a clear vision of your why. What are your reasons for doing this hike, climbing this mountain, completing the challenge you have set for yourself? It may be that you are doing it for charity, or it may be a personal challenge to prove that you can! Being super clear about why you are doing something is what keeps you going when you are struggling to summit, when your knees and screaming or you are duelling with the midges in your tent!
For further inspiration on resilience and endurance check out climber Tommy Caldwell’s TED Talk.
You don’t have to be at peak fitness to embark on a hiking challenge but a little bit of mental and physical preparation can go a long way in ensuring you achieve your goals and come back feeling accomplished, proud and ready to do it all again!