So you have the trip of your lifetime coming up. You have scrimped and saved and you are super excited to be going off on your dream adventure. As the time draws nearer to departure you start panicking. Will I be fit enough? What if I can’t keep up with the other members of the trip? What if I hold them up? Should I be doing this?
RELAX!!! You are not alone! The majority of the people I lead on expeditions to environments all over the globe have exactly the same concerns and it totally eats away at them. I’ve even had people wanting to pull out just before departure because they are concerned about holding others up.
So what is the best way to train for an expedition? In the words of ex Military mountain warfare specialist and PTI Stani Groeneweg; ‘Train as you fight’. Have a look at your itinerary. Every company I have ever worked for clearly states somewhere in their paperwork what is expected of you fitness wise. For example, ‘must be able to walk over uneven terrain for five hours a day with a day sack’.
Once the panic sets in about getting fit, people tend to start setting themselves unrealistic goals. They take up running or join a gym. Unless this is already part of your routine it is very hard to add this into your daily life and many just can’t keep it up and end up feeling guilty and not actually achieving anything. At the end of the day telling people you are a member of a gym does not actually equate to fitness gain unless you’re actually using it.
I have some easy solutions for you. Are you going to be running on your expedition/trek? Of course there are running trips, but if you’ve signed up for a trek it is what it says on the tin a TREK. Why then beat yourself up for not being able to maintain your new running routine? My solution; build up slowly, take the stairs rather than the elevator on the underground and at work or college. Organise your self the evening before to give yourself time in the morning to walk or cycle to work if you live close enough instead of driving or using public transport. At least three months out from your trip start taking weekend hikes with the pack and boots you will be taking on expedition with you. This will ensure your kit is worn in and you can iron out any painful spots before finding out that your boots don’t fit whilst on your trip. I also find inviting a friend along makes it a whole lot more fun and you end up putting the world to rights whilst enjoying nature and covering more ground while you natter away. If you have a dog, they will love you even more for their weekend adventures and he/she will give you company so you don’t feel as alone if you are solo hiking.
Carrying a rucksack for days on end comes as a shock to people who have done little or no hiking with a pack before and can be a source of misery. Firstly, make sure you have a well fitted rucksack for your trip with a comfortable waist strap you can pull tight over your hips to support the weight. For comfort whilst carrying your pack it helps to have a strong core and some shoulder strength. I don’t mean you need a rippling six pack and Arnie shoulders but you do need core stability. Try and build in some strength training into your daily routine, again this does not necessarily mean an expensive gym membership. Other than getting out with your rucksack packed with everything you need for your weekend hike try leaving weighted bags or rocks around your house. For example in the kitchen, while you are cooking do several lifts of your bag or some sit-ups or pushups. Please be very careful ensuring you start with low weights and build up and bend your knees when you pick up your bag to protect your back. If you have any concerns or niggling pains please speak to your Dr before undertaking any increase of fitness.
The process of building up your fitness should be fun and realistic, it shouldn’t be stressful. Yes of course it will involve changing things around a bit and will involve dedication and a positive attitude from you but why not enjoy the process? Look at your weekly schedule and pinpoint times during the week where you will be able to walk rather than drive and improvise and have fun with it all. Set yourself fun challenges; squats or calf raises on the subway station while you wait for your train, dips on your office chair, timing yourself up that flight of steps, racing your kettle to boil with sitps. One of my clients who came on a Kilimanjaro trip with me recently trained by heading to his local gym with his boots and pack and hiking on the treadmill, his fitness had dramatically increased by the time we headed to climb Kilimanjaro even if he did get a few odd looks at the gym (his words).
Above all on expedition, your mental attitude is what keeps you going on your arduous trek, the will to reach your goal, the spectacular scenery that stuns you, the fascinating information your leader or guide can tell you. Throw yourself fully into expedition life so you have little time to think about your aching body parts. But for your own enjoyment and to get the most out of your trek do get out and move!