I’ve heard that training for a week-long backpacking trek is similar to training for a marathon (not that I’ve ever run a marathon). You want to give yourself plenty of time and create a realistic schedule that builds over time. As an avid non-runner, I’m sharing my training regimen to hopefully spark some ideas on how you can training for backpacking while leveraging exercises that you enjoy doing and that work for your body and schedule. So here is what I do as a backpacking guide to prepare for a TSX Challenge.
To start, I HATE running, I would rather swim a mile than run a mile. So, going on long runs is not for me. However, I do live in San Francisco so I am able to leverage the hills and stairs to improve my cardio without having to run a long distance. I can get a short intense workout that blasts my legs and lungs by doing 8-12 laps up a set of stairs that is as effective as running 3-5 miles.
Additionally, it is important to have some longer cardio sessions to get used to those long hours on trail. For this I like to do 60+ minute spin classes on a stationary bike, going on long 1-2 hour hikes with a weighted pack on the weekend or just cruising around the city on my street bike for an hour or two with my dog. Adding a pack with extra weight is always helpful no matter what activity!
Second to cardio but also extremely important is core strength. In addition to hiking long distances, you are going to have to do so with a 30+lb pack and be able to put it on and take off several times a day without hurting yourself. I do some pretty traditional weight training in addition to the above cardio. I have one dedicated “leg day” where I don’t do any cardio and focus on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges etc. Then 2-3 other days in the week I will focus on specific muscle groups with classic back/bicep, chest/triceps, shoulders/core weightlifting. Using barbells and dumbbells isn’t required, you can get by with bodyweight movements like push-ups, pull ups, sit ups, planks etc.…make sure you work up to pack on push-ups! (JK, don’t hurt yourself!)
Finally, there is balance and flexibility which I am hyper aware because I know my body. Improving balance and flexibility is more about injury prevention rather than being physically able to complete a hike. I dedicate 30 minutes each morning to stretching and balance exercises. For me, adding some good full body stretches in your repertoire will be a godsend both during training and out in the back country. Being able to keep your balance and having strong ankles could prevent a nasty sprain if you trip on a tree root or help you keep your balance if you slip. I work on my balance simply by doing some single leg balance, bosu ball balancing or just find something to walk and balance on like a curb or this crazy ¼ mile long log in a nearby park…
So if you running isn’t your thing, I hope this can help put our backpacking training recommendations into context and spark some new ideas. Again, give yourself time and start a few months out from your trip. Create a plan that you can build on and that mixes cardio, strength and balance. Have fun, be safe and don’t forget to take rest days!