View Full Version : How to train - high intensity or endurance?

10-22-2014, 00:08
Hiking is an endurance activity for sure, but I've been reading that high-intensity training is better overall, even for endurance sports. What physical conditioning have you found that actually has helped you the most to stay strong on the trail?

10-22-2014, 00:18

10-22-2014, 00:27

The Cleaner
10-22-2014, 00:27
More hiking.....

10-22-2014, 00:47
I still consider myself an athlete but, as I near 50, I find that High-Intensity = Higher risk that something somewhere will pop, sprain or otherwise fail. I don't recover from injury as well either. It seems that what should be a minor strain is a 6 weeks long convalesence. I must constantly dial it back, lift less, run slower, rest more.

As they say, "Aging sucks but, it certainly beats the alternative."

10-22-2014, 04:36
I'm a runner, and for a marathon I think you need to do long runs to build endurance. I would think you'd need the same for thru-hiking - long walks to build endurance.

10-22-2014, 07:27
By far the best training for hiking is........ Hiking. And it's pretty fun! I think a lot has to do with what your hiking goals are. Training to make 12 mile days easier and more enjoyable is far different than training to do a 30mpd thru hike. One thing that I wouldn't do is use weight for accelerated training. For example load 30 extra lbs in a pack and go hiking. That is an injury waiting to happen. For most people overall fitness is the most important.

10-22-2014, 08:48
Bicycling and hiking is what I did. But I'm just a section hiker (a LASHer at heart.) A few of my section hikes were self-shuttled from end to end via bicycle... so the very last bike training run was just before the hike, usually.

10-22-2014, 09:33
By far the best training for hiking is........ Hiking. And it's pretty fun! This. I might add some mild weight and core-training is important as well. I also like to mix it up with other forms of exercise, namely biking, climbing and kayaking. But really, it's all about just walking! My wife and I walk nearly every evening; for trips to nearby restaurants, shopping and most importantly REI (2 miles away), we nearly always walk.

10-22-2014, 09:33
Honestly, I didn't do any specific training for my thru-hike. I was in good overall physical shape and exercised normally in the weeks preceding the thru-hike. This included: running, biking, normal weight resistance training although focused especially on the core and legs, and hiking when I could.

The biggest thing that will keep you on the trail long is a slow but steady ramp up in daily miles. Your body will hurt for at least a week or two when you start your thru-hike and there is very little you can do about that other than constantly hiking. Take it slow and work your way up. I didn't do over 10 miles in a day until my 6th day and my first 20 wasn't until after my first month. It's all about working your way up to the higher miles. By the end I could do back to back 20s no problem.

10-22-2014, 09:49
If I was training for a thru hike, I would just work on basic ankle, knee, leg and back strengthening exercise. I seen way too many thru hikes end because of bad ankle, or knee. I would do some basic cardio regularly, and walk...a lot. I don't think you need to go crazy.

Here is some simple medically approved strengthening exercises. Do these and 30 minutes of whatever cardio you want and/or walk 3 miles a day and you will be fine.




Pedaling Fool
10-22-2014, 09:54
It’s all about what your goals are. Those that say the best thing to improve your hiking is hiking are basically correct. Look at professional cyclists or runners and the way they improve is by putting in miles and miles of their chosen sport. They do cross train, but their bread and butter are more miles, more miles, more miles…

However, for the rest of us that may not be an option or even desirable. Personally, I try not to get too distracted by becoming really good at a given activity. Although, I’m very good at cycling, but that only proves the point of those that say if you want to be a better hiker you must hike more – I have thousands and thousands of miles on the bike. I have never “practiced” or trained at cycling; I just cycle. However, all those thousands of miles on a bike don’t transfer too well to things like hiking.

I don’t believe high-intensity training is “better” than endurance training. They are both needed to build overall fitness; you can’t have one without the other. High-intensity training, on its own, will not give you the endurance needed to complete a marathon; however, endurance training, on its own, will give you the ability to finish a marathon, but only thru high-intensity training can you increase your pace and to give you the final “kick” at the end to finish strong. So, when all is said and done, you need both; there is no simply route to overall fitness.

So it comes back to goals. What do you want? There are a lot of things that can improve your hiking, at least in the short term. However, it kind of depends on what weakness(es) you’re experiencing. If it is knee pain that plagues you, then squats are probably one of the things that you must do to go to the next level in your hiking ability.

Personally, I am a big advocate of weight training, because it keeps the musculoskeletal system strong and healthy; it’s my base workout as I age, because I’ve seen so many otherwise older fit people who are in great cardio fitness, but their skeletal system shows their weak link in overall fitness. Seems like everyone is too focused (i.e., distracted) by cardio fitness. Weight training gets everything that all other activities miss.

10-22-2014, 10:20
There is definitely a high-intensity fad going on right now. (see the popularity of Crossfit, Insanity, P90X, etc) Trendy workouts come and go, so just have fun and do whatever activity you like best to keep yourself fit.

I agree with others that of course hiking is the best preparation. But if you don't have the time or easy access to a trail don't worry. If you're not trying to break any records you will be fine with just general physical fitness. So any type of exercise that you enjoy and stick to is fine! Whether that is running, or basketball, or a group exercise class, or whatever!

Lone Wolf
10-22-2014, 11:06
Hiking is an endurance activity for sure, but I've been reading that high-intensity training is better overall, even for endurance sports. What physical conditioning have you found that actually has helped you the most to stay strong on the trail?

no need to "train" for walkin' on the AT unless you can't walk. it helps if one is not way overweight

10-22-2014, 11:26
Agree with post directly above. I've tried all different kinds of training for backpacking and the one thing that makes the most difference for me is being as close as possible to my ideal weight when setting off. After a month on the trail I guess folks are all much closer to their ideal weight, but at the beginning not being too heavy makes a big, big difference.


10-22-2014, 12:04
Never did any training of any sort for any of my hikes.

10-22-2014, 12:42
no need to "train" for walkin' on the AT unless you can't walk. it helps if one is not way overweight

So says the man who's fond of pointing out his Marine service. ;) But end of discussion, the sage has spoken!

10-22-2014, 12:53
Long distance hiking is an endurance sport. You need to be able to keep a fairly steady pace for hours on end, every day for months. All the while going up and down hills with a heavy pack on.

10-22-2014, 13:05
I don't really train for my section hikes either, but I do take 5-mile walks every other day with my husky, and most winters I also swim and do the weight machines at the Y, not at all in a high-intensity way. I start my sections slowly and gradually the daily mileage increases, unless I opt to take my time.

10-22-2014, 13:07
hike hills for increased intensity with reduced risk of injury.
Find the biggest hill, go up and down up and down. On a weekend find a mountain near you and go up and down...repeat

Sandy of PA
10-22-2014, 14:09
About 2 months before heading out on a LASHer hike I add my backpack to my daily walks around the neighborhood. Last month at full resupply/water load, ready to go. Most of my hikes are 6 weeks or more.