People always keep telling me how lucky I am to be in the mountains all the time. Pointing to visible signs of their own body fat, they go on with tales of mild self-pity and how they wish they could complete a trek.
A basic level of fitness is required for all those heading outdoors. But for all those yet to begin their adventures, it’s not the climb-up-and-down-a- mountain-in-a-few-hours fitness that is required to complete your first trek.
Running is a test of fitness. Trekking is not. Everyone can trek.
Many will warn you that you shouldn’t be in the outdoors if you can’t move your own weight around and haul your belongings up the hill. Screw them. You can still trek. Take 8 hours to reach the campsite when others take 6. Carry only a pair of extra clothes for the entire trek to reduce the weight on your shoulders. Or simply hire a porter or put your backpack on a mule.
Point here is, be in the outdoors if you simply want to be in the outdoors. Make a start, however difficult it may seem at first. Don’t let your own perceived lack of fitness stop you. The only thing that can be a problem is your willpower. Your heart will pound heavily and seem to thump straight out of your chest at times. You will get there in the end though, if your heart truly desires the experience and your willpower is sky high.
No, we don’t mean don’t train hard or improve your fitness. The fitter you are the more enjoyable the trek will be. You won’t have to count every step that you’re taking and pause ever so often. Long slow walks are good for introspection and the oft repeated - ‘I am just a speck of dust inside a giant sky’ kind of feeling.
But fitness apart, you will still enjoy your campsite at the edge of the lake. You will cherish and remember the early morning views out of your tent long after the trek is over. But you will be less inclined to climb that stub of a hill to see the mist rising from the ridge beyond, to click those picture-perfect photographs the other trekkers seem to have, to push yourself just that little bit harder to get some more of what the mountains have to offer.
Everything said and done, and as you knew it, a fitness plan was surely coming your way. Read through till the end so you can start working your way towards getting more out of your treks and avoid that ‘Why the hell did I sign up for this?’ feeling.
Check with your doctor first before starting a new fitness training program. Ensure that there are no injuries or seemingly harmless niggles that might get aggravated and worsen with exercise.
We will concentrate on these broad categories to improve fitness for the mountains and high altitude trekking in particular.
Fitness plans are based on your specific trekking goals. The training activities remain the same, training duration and difficulty level increases as you train towards preparing for a hard trek.
Fitness Plan and Goals for an easy trek
Trekking for 4-5 hours over easy to gradual inclines with a 8-10 kg backpack.
Trekking involves walking at a pace that is not taxing to you. Aerobic exercises like walking with a heavy backpack, jogging on a an incline, climbing staircases are all good full body exercises that build aerobic endurance as well as leg and upper body strength. Cycling a few kilometres everyday is another way of building stellar aerobic endurance and leg muscles to die for.
Halfway through your jog or cycling activity, stop and stretch your muscles. A good way usually is the bottom to top or top to bottom approach. Start from your toes and work up to your head or vice-versa, for the stretching exercise. Stretch a little more with each passing day, with due precautions though.
Work steadily to achieve these goals and give your body enough time to get there. If you feel your body is responding well, extend the time or repetitions for some of the activities you are most comfortable with.
In addition to the above, do the following for strength training
Fitness Plan and Goals for a moderate trek
Trekking for 5-6 hours or more every day over moderate gradients with a 8-10 kg backpack.
At least two of the exercises below to be practiced regularly with either the cycling or jogging part done on an incline.
Fitness Plan and Goals for a difficult trek
Trekking for 6-7 hours or more every day over moderate and steep gradients with a 10-12 kg backpack.
You should be able to do all of the below in a single session with appropriate breaks.
As you have read through above, for each higher fitness goal, the duration of the activity of number of repetitions increases. To train harder, perform repetitions slowly, pausing or holding a position of strain slightly longer to make the exercise more effective.
Listen to your body
Start slowly and build gradually. Do not attempt to do many things too soon. Push yourself but not so hard that may cause an injury. Most importantly – enjoy your time out training. It should be fun and not something you dread each day.
Now go climb that stub of a hill near your campsite! :)