A good adventure should wear your body out but energise your mind. It should be a moment to connect with yourself during a challenging experience — this is why so many athletes ponder being ‘addicted to their sport’. But getting some good outdoor training in to the lead up to the trip will help you enjoy the outcome that much better.
When heading deep into the backcountry of New Zealand, for example, you’ll be presented with plenty of exhausting hurdles. River crossings, endless climbs, hot weather or arctic weather. It’s what makes getting to the huts or the ice-cold lakes so pleasant.
To be able to truly enjoy those moments, you should prepare. After nearly two decades of hiking, here is my routine.
Outdoor training benchmarks
Don’t let online ratings or other people’s fitness levels be the measure of your own abilities. I have been passed by enough fifteen-year-old, lightning-fast kids to appreciate this.
When a route says it takes three hours and you take five, that is fine. It’s there for safety purposes. But if your goal is to make that particular route in three, then train for that, not ascending Everest.
If you know your limits and you’re at peace with your own abilities or goals, you will have a more enjoyable trip.
Fasting can help you store energy
This type of diet is being adopted around the world by millions of people. Many praise it for its ability to clear the mind, improve sleep, muscle recovery and of course, weight loss.
Before my big Japan and Europe adventure, I fasted for five weeks over the summer period in central Australia. This was a strict workout routine within 40-degree heat. I worked out in the gym for 4–5 days for 1.5 hours a go, two long-distance runs and at least 5 days a week of 4 am walking over 5 to 8km.
It was extreme even to my standards.
In seven days, I lost 4.8kgs! I moved down to one medium-sized meal a day and some nuts and fruits…I just wasn’t that hungry.
I found that it’s not an ongoing process (usually a month at a time), but it’s an effective way to clear out your body. For a big Adventure, it can be the perfect exercise.
By fasting three weeks to the lead-up of your tour, you can:
- Prepare your body for less food (meaning you can afford to carry less)
- Store energy more effectively
- Get better nights sleep
- Recovery your muscles better from tough climbs
Stretching and/or Yoga
Whether you’re new to this or, like me, often ignore its benefits after a big training session, any form of stretching can drastically improve your experience over long distances.
We see this as being so important, we’re even now looking to offer tours where people can go out into nature to complete intense yoga sessions.
The concept of stretching or yoga in the lead up to a tour allows for better movement and flexibility, it also becomes a good habit. It means that your muscles and joints are aware and awake to the stress you’re going to put them through.
If you walk a 25km route tomorrow, you will be sore the following day. But if you walk 5km each day over five days, you’ll be unlikely to feel anything. By stretching and loosening up now, you’re effectively teaching your body to prepare today, for tomorrow’s tour.
This isn’t going into the iron paradise and squatting 200kgs. It’s not curling some dumbells and stacking on 5kgs of muscle.
It’s becoming strong at your core.
With big packs and tough climbs, we tend to lean forward and drag our weight up hill. This is a waste of energy and completely ineffective while putting extreme strain on our backs.
The gym can help strengthen you to the core before you put on your 30kg pack. Here is an exercise routine that works like a charm for me:
Rowing machine, stairs, cycle
Whatever you have access to, these are great for warmups and motion. Complete at least 14 to 20 minutes of warm-up and follow these cycles:
- 6-minute warm-up a 40% intensity
- 2 minute at 80% intensity
- 2 minute at 20% intensity (repeat up to 4x)
- 5 minute at 30%
- 2 minute at 5/10%
Always ensure you have a professional walk you through these if you’re new to them.
Start light. In fact, don’t even put weights on the bar, just get the movements happening. The best warm-up for a deadlift is a deadlift.
- 15 reps with no weight
- 10 reps with 30% intensity (1-minute break)
- 4 reps with 70–80% intensity (2-minute break)
- 10 reps with 30% intensity (1-minute break)
- 4 reps with 70–80% intensity (1-minute break)
- 80–90% intensity until failure*
*Failure isn’t when you’re out of energy, it’s when you begin to lose form.
Deadlifts are good motion and core exercises and although many argue their benefits for core, it will undoubtedly build your overall strength.
Your core is key for effective mountain climbing and reactional activity. It keeps everything in check and must be looked after in the lead up to a big tour. Keep this simple and allow for 20-minutes of exercise.
- Dumbbell crunch x15: Lie on your back, holding a dumbbell or weight plate across your chest in both hands. Raise your torso, then lower it, maintaining tension in your uppers abs throughout.
- Leg raises x10: Start in a dead hang with your legs straight and your knees and ankles touching. Keep them together as you use your lower abs to raise them, then lower back to the start under control. Ensure you move slowly and don’t swing.
- Knee raises x10: Start in a dead hang and raise your knees powerfully to activate more of the muscle fibres in the lower abs. Lower back to the start under control to prevent swinging.
- Russian twist x8: Sit on the floor (or an angled bench) with your knees bent and heels on the ground. Your torso should be at the top of the crunch position, forming a 45° angle to the ground. Twist your torso from side to side, moving in a smooth and controlled manner. If you feel strong, use some weight in your hands like a plate or light(ish) dumbbell.
- Plank: Body straight, using your elbows and feet to hold you up off the ground. Engage your hips, glutes and shoulders to maintain a straight posture. Breath slow and stay here as long as you can.
Cardio work for outdoor training
You need to up your blood’s oxygen levels, improve your overall energy and improve your stamina. But cardio doesn’t start with long runs and triathlons.
It starts with water.
If you aren’t hydrating to at least 3.7l (for men) or 2.7l (for women) of water a day it doesn’t matter how many kilometres you’re clocking up, you’re just hurting your body.
But don’t confuse drinking to hydration. My own Dad (who is an ultra-marathon athlete) consumed an unhealthy level of hydration drinks during his training. It resulted in excruciating pain from passing a kidney stone. Although your body needs those salts, sugars and carbs, it needs good ol’ h2o more so.
OK, good. You’ve got a new water bottle and drink plenty. So what training should you do?
As someone who has walked the length of the Nile (4,000 miles), Himalayas and Russia, British explorer, Levison Wood is often featured as someone with a vast knowledge of health & fitness for such long distances. But he doesn’t necessarily credit himself this way, in fact, he keeps things simple
People can really underrate the value of walking. In a week I’ll walk whenever I can. If I can avoid getting on the tube, I will! I’ll walk between meetings, and I’ll probably cover on average two or three miles just as part of my daily routine. On top of that, if I get the time to either go for a 40 minute jog or spend half an hour at the swimming pool then I will. That’s really all I get in! It’s not always that much, but I think even half an hour every few days keeps you ticking.Levison Wood. One of the most travelled humans on the planet.
Levison also boasts that he’s not the most healthy person in the world despite his ridiculous distances. But, he knows how and when to train.
He mentions a fast walk, light job routine over long distances. The premise of it is:
- Walk 20 to 30km in a day on flat ground with good weight on your back.
- During the walk, do 20 minutes of well-paced steps.
- Then do 10 minutes of almost jogging (or you can just get into a job if you’re short like me).
Some consider this exercise alone more beneficial than a 15km run.
Whatever works for you, preparing now will help you have an enjoyable trip, no matter what you get up to. You will learn to love those mountains and perhaps be one of a few that view them from the tops.