The amount of conditioning you need depends on your current fitness level and the kinds of trips you have planned.
If you exercise regularly, you may be ready for short trips and easy terrain right now. But if you don't get as much exercise as you'd like, set up a basic training regimen prior to your first trip to wake up sleeping muscles and get your lungs working more efficiently.
The best way to train for backpacking is to mimic the activity as closely as possible.
Nothing gets muscles ready for the trail better than the trail itself. Start with shorter hikes and minimal elevation gain carrying a light daypack.
As you begin to strengthen your lower body and improve your endurance, switch to longer, more challenging hikes. Loading your backpack with the gear and weight you are most likely to carry will help you become familiar with conditions you will face deep in the backcountry.
If you don't have a chance to hike the great outdoors as much as you'd like, find the next-best option.
These machines provide a great cardiovascular and strength training work out. They isolate your lower-body muscle groups and help build endurance.
Check out your local gym to see if they offer step aerobics. Or, do step aerobics at home with a bench and instructional video.
A backpacker does not particularly want to transport a huge upper-body mass on the trail. Still, a consistent, diversified weight-resistance program helps prepare muscle groups all over your body for the sudden jolt of full-time, all-day physical activity. Trained muscles are less susceptible to injury and strains.
A great aerobic workout, swimming is easy on the joints and good for the lungs and heart.
Take the stairs whenever possible. Walking or running up and down them on a regular basis is terrific pre-trail training. You can even mimic step aerobics by just running up 1 step and then back down, repeating the motion.
If you can perform certain routine chores by leaving your car keys in your pocket, do it. Walk to the library, the park or the store. Toss a weighted daypack on your back for a little extra benefit.
Cycling is an excellent way to condition your legs and increase endurance.NOTE: Jogging is a popular training option for people trying to get in shape for backpacking. But use caution if you're not already a runner, since jogging can also lead to muscle strains that backpacking may aggravate.
How long will it take to get into condition for backpacking? That depends on you. The better shape you're in now, the quicker you can cultivate the conditioning needed for a long-haul trip. The more diligence you show in your conditioning efforts, and the more lead time you allow yourself, the happier you'll be on the trail.
Be patient and listen to your body. Try to do some form of exercise at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes and get out on the trails for shorter hikes as soon as possible with your backpack.
Before starting any exercise program, always consult a physician.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 08/15/2012
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