How does bushwalking fitness differ from general fitness? Are there specific training methods that will help bushwalkers? How long in advance should I start training for a specific bushwalk?
You will enjoy your bushwalk much better if you are fit, so that you have time and energy to talk to your fellow bushwalkers, admire the environment and take photos. Getting fit requires a well balanced program to develop the strength to carry a backpack, leg strength (quadriceps and knees) for hill climbing/descent, aerobic fitness and stamina. The two key components are cardiovascular (heart) fitness and motor fitness (particularly strength, endurance and balance).
Getting fit can take many months, up to six for a strenuous multi-day expedition, so don’t leave it till the last moment! Intense training under expert guidance can shorten this to as little as 6 – 8 weeks, for an 80% gain of what you could have achieved in 6 months.
If you have access to a fitness consultant/personal trainer, perhaps at your local gym, seek advice before you start training. Have the trainer determine your current fitness level or perhaps measure it yourself. I have posted some ideas to help you do this previously. Using your Smartphone to Monitor Fitness Levels for Bushwalkers and Hikers
Check with your doctor, whether you have any underlying health problems that could preclude certain types of training. Decide, in consultation, whether you need upper body strengthening exercises, how many sessions you will require, their type and their duration per week.
Your aerobic conditioning program should keep your heart rate high (65-85% of maximum rate, adjusted for age) and last 30- 60 mins per day, leaving some rest days. Interval training over at least a three month period can further increase your cardiovascular fitness.
Stamina and strength training should replicate the terrain and weight carrying you will experience when bushwalking. There is little point in training on the flat, for short durations, at high speed with no pack, if your bushwalking is likely to be over hilly terrain, with a heavy pack and for 8-10 hours at a time. Gym fitness often doesn’t translate to fitness on a bushwalk.
Try stair climbing, if you have no hilly terrain near your home, or perhaps use a treadmill with an incline or a stepping machine. Start wearing your backpack as you get fitter.
In general, try to reproduce the terrain, weight carrying, duration and speed needed during your training. Be careful to build up slowly and not to overdo the frequency, intensity and duration of training too early. Don’t ignore the value of building up balance and movement skills, which will allow you to move faster over difficult terrain. Scrambling skills are very useful!
Training for long days of bushwalking requires long days of training. Concentrate on legs, back and lungs! The number of sessions will vary, but 2-3 sessions per week with a backpack, gradually increasing to the likely weight will be most effective.
Aerobic exercises could include:
- climbing AND descending hills or stairs
- running, cycling, skiing, snowboarding
Don’t forget to:
- warm up and warm down with a 10-15 minute aerobic warm up and 5 – 10 minute warm down
- Stretch for 15 minutes after warm up and immediately after your workout.
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