View Full Version : Physical Conditioning

01-28-2003, 13:22
I suddenly find myself in position to take the time to hike a substantial portion of the AT, if not all of it. Unfortunately I had not been planning to make the hike this year, and have not done any extensive (more than a weekend) hiking since a two week jaunt through the Grand Canyon a few years ago.

My question is this: I can start my conditioning program today, but am only in modest shape right now and will only have two months (roughly) of preparation. Is it unrealistic to start preparing for a thru hike of the AT with such a short conditioning program? Likewise, is it feasible to plan on working my way into shape on the trail, accelerating the daily mileage as I go?

Thanks for any insights.

01-28-2003, 13:44
I hiked 700 miles of the trail last year. To get into shape I started jogging, got to the point where I could run over a mile( that was a big deal for me) but all that served for was to strengthen my heart. Walking up hills with a backpack is the best way to prepare to walk up hills with a backpack, but any exercise you do will be beneficial. Super in shape people and not so in shape people all seemed to wind up at the same places along the trail, so I'd say yes you can work your way into it, I certainly had to.

01-28-2003, 14:01
Two months is enough time to make a big difference in how you perceive the trail in the beginning. I think running, particularly with some sort of hills, is very good prep. work for hiking. I live in Indiana where things are very flat. There are a few small hills, but nothing that you would notice walking. Running, I notice them quite a bit. With hills, running strengthens the heart as well as the legs and toughens the feet, joints (if they are healthy to begin with), and the body in general. If you have problems with your knees or other joints already, running probably isn't for you. Try running for 20 minutes. Once you can do this without stopping or becoming extremely tire, increase to 25, then to 30. Combined with a better diet, running has proved the single best thing I've done for my hiking. By being in better shape, I find I enjoy my hiking more by being able to focus more on what is around me rather than how tired I am. I cannot recommend it more.

Blue Jay
01-28-2003, 14:04
I did not train at all for my thruhike. I was going to leave in April, but I hated my job so much I quit and left in February. I know of several people who did no training. In fact, other than a fully loaded pack on a stair climber, I don't think you can really train. Don't worry just go slow and be good to yourself for the first few weeks, you'll be fine. Let a hundred people pass you, who cares. The only reason to train for anything is if you are competeing, with yourself or with someone else. Just don't leave too early like I did, sitting around in the dark sucks when it's too cold to turn the pages of your book so you burn it.

01-28-2003, 15:56
Thanks for the replies. I probably will not do a lot of running, since it tends to be a bit of a bother on my surgically repaired knee. I plan on taking a pack up and down the seating rows at a local high school football stadium, walking and biking. Weights three days a week in the AM. My work schedule winds down at the end of Feb so I'll take a couple of weekend excursions to practice. I'm also sleeping in a tent in the back yard a day or two during the week. Two years chained to a desk has not been kind to me, so I am trying to mitigate culture shock.

There is a challenge of timing. I'm assuming the first week that I'll average between 5 and 7 miles per day, and gradually work my way up. Ten miles the second and third weeks, twelve miles the fourth and fifth week, and then maybe take it up to 15-18 as an average from there. I'm also building in a number of recuperation days. Hopefully I can establish some kind of routine that will both lead to quasi-predictable mail runs and get me to Maine before Christmas.

01-28-2003, 16:42
One thing that you may find helpful (I have) is to start doing some really basic stretching. Particularly the achilles. The basic stretches for the achilles are also the stretches that are supposed to help prevent shin splints. You can find these on the internet pretty easily. Stretching out the hip muscles is also beneficial. Finding 5 or 10 minutes for this during a day might prevent disaster during the summer. An injured achilles is the end of hiking for a long time. Shin splints are not pleasant either.

01-28-2003, 18:27
As posted, the amount of conditioning before starting a hike varies. Some are well conditioned, and some just got up off the couch.

Probably the only trueism is that the better physical shape you are in at the start of your thru-hike, the more enjoyable will be the first few weeks. Who wants to be hobbeled by blisters and strained muscles?

01-28-2003, 20:46
Not based on experience here, just letting you know what I'm doing to prep for March...

ALOT of stretching, I'm more limber now than I can remember being ever before, even playing soccer as a child.

A good bit of walking, few miles about every other day as I can do it.

As many prep/conditioning/training or whatever you want to call them hikes as I can squeeze in, at least weekly, more if possible. I'm even day hiking with everything I'm taking on the AT, figure if I wear myself out my day hike will just turn in to an overnight.

Thats really it, of it I consider the stretching by far the most important, limber bodies hurt less and are less likely to get hurt. Just going to start with low milage days and go longer or faster as I feel up to it.

01-29-2003, 17:58
Unless you can start hiking 4 or 5 times a week physical conditioning might not be as effective as you might hope for. Before my hike in 01 i was hiking 7 mile sections 4 times a week for 5 weeks and it did make a small difference, but I still had my usual bouts with my knees and shin splints. One things for sure...it can't hurt. Good luck.

The Weasel
01-29-2003, 20:00
The trail, and your body (if you listen to it) condition you. In 2000, 4 months of conditioning went to hell in a handbasket when, 2 weeks before I planned to leave, I had to have a double hernia repair. No lifting or strenuous exercise for 3 weeks, whereupon I just left for Springer. I listened to my body, walked as much as I could - at first, only around 8-9 miles a day - and within a month I was in excellent trail condition. Do what you can, and be patient as you walk; ignore the braggarts who say, "yeah, tomorrow is a 20 day". Remember the tortoise and the hare?

The Weasel

01-30-2003, 13:52
If you are a little out of shape, realize that the first 2-3 days on the trail you will likely be so pumped up and excited, you won't be able to listen to your body or make a reasonable judgment about when to stop. So take it easy, even if you have to force yourself.