Trekking demands fitness of the body and the mind. For beginners, the idea of workout routines might seem overwhelming. But the wonderful thing about the human body is that it can acclimatize to anything, given adequate time and practice. Dive into this guide to know how to step up your fitness level for the ultimate trekking experience.
Pre-Trek Tips to Follow
Set Realistic Goals
Trekking is a serious pursuit. Most treks are categorized into easy, moderate, and difficult levels. Not every trek will demand the same level of exertion, so be realistic before choosing a trekking route. Ask yourself these basic questions to start with:
- What is the level of fitness needed for the trek?
- What will the duration, altitude, and terrain of the trek be?
- What is your current fitness level? Analyze your physical, emotional, and mental fitness.
- What is the time-frame required to build your strength and endurance level as per the trek’s requirement?
Make An Exercise Plan
Trekking is about endurance, strength, and agility. The more you train, the better your endurance levels will be. Start early. Your body will need time to adapt to the new fitness regimen, especially if you have never hit the gym before. Getting into a regular training regimen will help build your muscle memory over time. Remember these tips:
- Talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise plan. They can help you understand the general state of your health, and what limitations you should remember to protect yourself from illness and injury.
- Begin with day-hikes as a practice-test. Increase the distance and altitude of your training hikes as you progress.
- Mix up your workout routine with running, cycling, swimming, and cross-training to keep things interesting, and engage different groups of muscles.
- Always begin your workout with warmups, and end it with stretching exercises to reduce the chance of injury. Stay hydrated at all times, and remember to replenish the electrolytes you lose through sweat by supplementing your water intake with a sports drink.
Fitness Routines to Focus on:
Trekking demands proper cardiovascular fitness, along with muscle strength and core strength. Create your workout routine according to the difficulty level of the trek. You will need to train for at least a month for easy hikes, while extreme expeditions (for example a trek to Everest base camp) require at least a year of training.
Do not choose a difficult trek on your first attempt. Consider hiring a personal trainer if you are going for long treks. Focus on these three categories while creating an exercise plan:
- Cardiovascular Conditioning
- Aerobics – running, cycling, swimming, jogging
- Hill training/stairclimbing
- Weight training
- Interval training
- Strength and Endurance Training – Squats, Leg Presses, Hamstring Curls, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Shoulder Presses, Bicep Curls, Walking Lunges, Standing Lunges, Crunches, Dorsal Raises, Planks, Body Weight Squats, Sit-Ups
- Balance And Agility Training – Lateral Plyometric Jumps, High-knee Drills, Side-to-side Drills, Dot Drills, Jump-box Drills, Shuttle Runs, One-leg Punches, Jump Steps
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Train With a Backpack
Most treks will involve carrying a backpack, so it only makes sense to train with one on as well. It can help simulate the extra weight you’ll have to carry on your actual trek. Plus, it’s an ideal way to carry water, food, a first-aid kit, and camera equipment. If you’re hiking close to home and don’t need to carry many supplies, you can carry weights to simulate the feeling of a full pack.
Learn Breathing Exercises
Altitude sickness is quite common while trekking. You may experience symptoms like breathlessness, nosebleeds, headaches, coughing, congestion, or tightness in the chest. To avoid this, practice belly-breathing, pressure-breathing, and breath-holding exercises while running or training. You can also include pranayama and Qigong techniques in your workout schedule.
Good Footwear is a Must
Proper trekking footwear should provide excellent grip, and have a flexible sole that’s comfortable for all-day use. The right footwear for your trek will largely depend on the weather. For instance, light trekking shoes may be ideal for ascending a tropical volcano, but you may want insulated boots for an alpine excursion. Also, be sure to break in your footwear before the trek. You need to know that you can walk comfortably without getting blisters.
Work On Your Mental Endurance
Your physical fitness is not the only thing you should focus on. Weather and terrain can be extremely challenging at higher altitudes. Have you ever tried running or jogging at your nearby park in the middle of a heavy downpour? Try taking a long walk during a snowstorm. These are unappealing scenarios, even on relatively easy terrain. Climbing uphill during adverse weather conditions is going to be considerably tougher than this.
You will be covering strenuous terrain, possibly passing through narrow cliffs, boulders, glaciers, difficult ridges and mountain passes. Heavy snow, strong winds, blizzards, and hailstorms can be common at higher altitudes. To endure such adversity requires mental fortitude. Visualization and affirmation techniques help a lot in dealing with a stressful environment. Deep breathing exercises like pranayama can also help you deal with stress, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Staying Safe During Your Trek
Utilize a Local Guide
While a non-indigenous guide can have the necessary experience for the terrain, they may lack local knowledge in terms of food, culture, people, and language. When you are in a fix, you need all the help you can get. Ask your tour operator if they have a local guide for the trek, since they usually come with added benefits. For example, they may know local families along the way who can shelter you and get help in case of an injury.
Get to Know Your Guide
Even a short trek entails at least four to six hours of commitment, and longer ones can take place over weeks. You don’t want to be stuck with a guide you don’t like. You will be dependent on them for many things, so it is essential that you get to know them and build a good rapport before setting off.
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Communication Is Key
An experienced, well-trained guide will have a vast knowledge of the terrain, route, and weather. However, they are not mind-readers. If you have a preexisting medical condition that may affect the progress of the trek, it is up to you to tell them. This also goes for the pace of the trek. If you need the guide to slow down, it is essential that you tell them so.
A nine-year study of alpine hikers revealed that 75.3% of hikers who fell during a trek did so while descending. This study backs up what hikers and mountaineers have long known: The descent is the most dangerous part of a trek. There are several reasons for this. In many cases, once climbers have summited, they get in a hurry to get back to base camp or a lower elevation. Being in a hurry while tired from a climb can lead to potentially deadly mistakes.
To reduce your chances of an accident, take shorter, more controlled steps than you did going uphill, and avoid rushing. You can also use this technique while descending – neither lean forward nor backward. Rather, maintain your center of gravity low, over your legs. Also, don’t forget to trim those toenails. Repetitive hiking trauma can cause your toenails to lift (Onycholysis) or break, causing an injury.
Bring A Trekking Pole
They come in handy for extra support and balance, especially when you are going downhill. Choose the correct pole length according to your height. A shorter staff will push you to bend more, resulting in imbalance.
Preparing for the Worst
International treks are fraught with hazards and physical injury. A nine-year-long study conducted on the Austrian Alps’ trekking route found that out of all trekkers who suffered accidents, 80.9% had theirs on a marked hiking trail. Another study conducted on Mount Fuji hikers suggests that more than 60% of the falls occurring on that trekking route resulted from a slip. AMS, joint-sprains, blisters, twisted ankles, and broken bones are some of the other consequences of trekking accidents.
A travel medical insurance or travel insurance plan that provides coverage for trekking and mountaineering is essential. It can come in handy in case you need emergency hospitalization or emergency medical evacuation in a foreign land.
In addition, be sure to carry a first-aid kid to treat basic injuries and abrasions. It’s a good idea to take a first-aid class as well, so you have a better idea of how to administer treatment until professional help can arrive.
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