View Full Version : Getting in Shape

09-05-2002, 14:35
The best way to get in shape is to just get out and hike! Start light and add weight.

Health club alternatives include the infamous stair stepper and the treadmill (angled at 10-15 degrees and with a pack on your back is sure to get everyone looking at you strangely). Actually, any of the aerobic machines will help, but concentrate on strengthening those quads (the fronts of your thighs). You can strengthen with various types of squats and leg extensions. I suggest that you vary the weight and repititions. If you lack strength, consider the "Body for Life" regimen: 12 reps at a very easy weight, 60 seconds of rest, 10 reps at a weight that let's you know you're lifting, rest for 1 minute, 8 reps at a weight where you could do 3-4 reps if you had to, rest for 1 minute, 6 reps at a heavy weight where you can only punch out one more rep (using good form, of course), rest a minute, 12 reps as heavy as you can, then, without resting 12 reps of an exercise that works the same muscle group as heavy as you can. You can use this for any muscle group. Give your muscles 2-3 days to rest before repeating.

Mike Drinkuth
09-11-2002, 14:11
Me, my pack(filled with water bottles and laundry), and the local high school stadium. The stairs there are perfect cause there's tall stairs with half stairs between them so I can vary it up. I sometimes have to sneak in but it's free!
Ugh...i'm still in pain from doin that last night!

04-06-2003, 19:47
I've been hiking for awhile, and I just started to add a pack of any significant weight.

My question is, what kind of shape should you be in to start a thruhike? How far should you be able to go with a full pack?

Are there any recommendations or suggestions that anyone has?


that little guy doesn't have anything to do with what I'm asking about. I just think he's too cute.

04-07-2003, 06:36
the better shape you are when you start a thru hike the easier it will be for the first few weeks, after that everyones in good shape :D

04-07-2003, 09:47
My biggest concern is downhills. With uphill it is easy to rest, go slow, etc. until you are "in shape". But downhill kills y knees if I go slow, go fast or take a break every 5 minutes. It just doesn't mater.

So, how do I build up "downhill" strength in my knees?

04-07-2003, 11:06
This is lengthy, but I do not mean it as some sort of dogma for people to follow. It is what has worked for me and others in the past.

Injury is one reason that alot of people give for leaving their hike early. Their body is not used to any physical exertion, let alone hiking with a pack in Georgia. If you are physcially active, then you should be able to avoid injury if you don't doing anything daft. Something daft would be to try to do 20 mile days starting at Springer with a 50lb pack. If you are physically active already, start with 10-12 mile days. You'll probably still be tired and curse the uphill sections, but you won't hurt yourself.

If you spend sometime getting in shape before hand, you'll enjoy the walking part of the trip more. I run several times a week and try to go on long day hikes (20+ miles) on weekends when I am stuck in Indiana.

I did not find the walking part of my section hike to be difficult at all. Outside of Hot Springs, I did develop shin splints, which were painful. They were not painful enough to decrease mileage, but it just took me an hour or two longer each day to get 20-22 miles downtrail. I enjoyed cruising through the hills in the south. From the middle of the Smokys to Damascus I put in 20+ miles just about every day.

If you want to spend a lot of time sitting
around being tired or staying in the same place most of the day, then do the "get in shape on the trail" approach. I knew lots of people who just hiked from one shelter to the next. 3,4,5 mile days were not uncommon with them. I wanted to enjoy what time I had on the trail and did not want to be beaten down all the time. So, I got in shape. Best thing I ever did for my hiking. For evidence that what I say is true, take a look at www.trailjournals.com and read what people have to say about the first few weeks of their trip.

04-07-2003, 11:11
Is there a trick to casually reading Trail Journals? Seems to be a lot of hit and miss.

04-07-2003, 11:18
Lots of hit and miss. A lot of wankers out there are putting their thoughts on the web these days. You just have to pick through them. It usually takes a couple of entries to tell if further reading will be fruitful.

One thing you can do is to go to previous years journals and look for people with lots of entries and with very few entries. People with lots of entries generally finish and you can look for common traits or experiences. Similar with the few entries. Sometimes these are people who stop early. Sometimes they give a reason, other times you can figure it out.

04-07-2003, 15:32
As the ole saying goes.. nothing prepares you for bping than bping. But what I have found helpful for me was running 3-4 miles a day at an easy pace and doing 150 situps/crunches along with 100 two count twists. I started doing those and went on a short trip the other weekend and it was the best hike I had had. Usually my lower back gets tired but not this time and the running helped me with the endurance and the hills. Now was it 100% effective .... no... but it did help me.


04-09-2003, 13:50
What's a two count twist?

04-09-2003, 14:33
a two count twist is this:

I get a long pole and put it behind my neck and drape my arms over it. Then I twist in one direction (1 count) and then the other ( 2nd count) I usually do this on my knees so i work the ab section instead of my hips.

04-09-2003, 15:10
Dirtyold man is right--it's a big plus to start a hike in good shape, but after about 6 weeks, everyone's in excellent shape. There's no rule about how far you "should" be able to carry a pack--some people just start out doing very low mileage until they get stronger. I wouldn't recommend relying on that, though--even low miles in Georgia or in Maine would be a big drag if you weren't in fairly decent condition.

Before my Georgia-Maine hike, I ran, hiked with a pack full of phone books, and climbed stairs. I was broke/saving money for the trail, so I had to get creative with my shape-up options. Forget joining a gym! I lived in DC at the time so I used the long escalators in the subway as stair-climbing machines, with a pack on. I also spent lunch hours climbing up and down the stairwells in the office buildings where I worked, and to get to work, I ran part of the way (until I got into a bad neighborhood--then I took the subway the rest of the way).

All this really helped. At the beginning of my hike I was one of the lucky ones who had plenty of energy and strength. But eventually everyone caught up and the ones who were able to keep hiking did fine.

Another tip is to lower your pack weight. I wish I had known about ultralight methods when I hiked (in 1996). It would have made the whole hike much easier and less injury-prone.

Hiking will definitely get you into the best shape of your life, unless you take up marathoning after it!

Amazin' Grace

04-10-2003, 16:02
Originally posted by chris

If you want to spend a lot of time sitting
around being tired or staying in the same place most of the day, then do the "get in shape on the trail" approach. I knew lots of people who just hiked from one shelter to the next. 3,4,5 mile days were not uncommon with them. I wanted to enjoy what time I had on the trail and did not want to be beaten down all the time. So, I got in shape. Best thing I ever did for my hiking. .

Okay, first our stats: we did our hike in 2002 and I am 28 and my husband 29. We started the trail "fat and out of shape". I was about 10 pounds overweight, and my husband was about 20. We were regular hikers at home, going out a couple times a month if that, but didn't do any type of training whatsoever. In fact, the only thing we did the entire month before we left was eat...becuase we figured we'd walk it off. Not only did we walk off our over-weightness, but we both lost another 15 on the trail. We started out from Springer doing 12-15 miles days, and we never "stayed in mostly the same place" all day, and for the most part it felt like we had consistent energy levels and we had an excellent, excellent start of trip. I think it is defintely possible to get off the plane in Atlanta without being in any type of athletic condition and thoruoughly, completely, enjoy your trip from the very first step. We did and I would do it the same way all over again.

After about a month you wind up in the same shape as everyone else, you feel and look fit, and then you can bang out bigger miles if you want or need to. I would say "training for the AT" is overkill..and god forbid you got injured starting some new training regimine and had to eliminate your hike altogether. You can always back off on your intensity on the trail if you need to, but I wouldn't worry too much about any prep-work. It's not Mt. Everest, or even close :) Good luck!

04-10-2003, 17:00
Jumpstart, I have heard that from more than one person that the trail will get you into shape. 100% agree....

I personally love to plan and take it as part of the adventure.. and while I am running ( I hate running ) I tell myself this will help me... But I know that the only thing that will get me in shape for bping is ... bping. But since I can not hike for another 2 years this is what I expend my energy to... But again... you are not the first I have heard who hit the trail with little to no physical preparation... That is why I think this is such a great sport.. basically anyone can do it...

Thanks Jumpstart!

04-10-2003, 17:20
Regarding Jumpstart's message...

From your description I would not desribe you as out of shape. You seemed to be far to active to be "out of shape". Could you run a marthon? No. But that level of fitness is not required to hike.

Think college kid that just walks to/from classes (if that) eats crap, drinks 2 nights a week. They are out of shape. Even if they are only 10 pounds overweight.

And, unless you live in California 10 pounds is not overweight.

steve hiker
04-10-2003, 18:52
I have no long-distance hiking under my belt yet, but I agree that nothing really prepares you for the exertion of backpacking up and down mountains except b'packing. That said, I wouldn't want to start a thru-hike with no conditioning.

The most vital conditioning in my opinion is building lung power. I'm no doctor but getting winded is much more of a problem for me than the physical exertion on the legs and back. I don't think it takes much muscle strengh to b'pack, but you definitely need to increase your breathing capacity. Shallow city breathing just doesn't cut it on the trail. So any way you can increase your lung power would be of tremendous benefit when you start.

04-10-2003, 19:02
I think for someone who didn't get kicked off trail because of an injury it's easy to say "don't train." However, I do think that it is a great benifit to train with some real long miles over a long time to get ready, and to work out any problems with your foot gear. I think the best things is running, doing 25+ miles a week, one of those being a long run. The long run will really tell you if you have a problem with your feet before you start, and you can have your favorite doc look at them, rather than someone in never-never land. But you have to do long miles every week for several months to really find any problems. Unless you are training for a marathon (which I actually think is VERY good training for this) you most likely won't do this.

However, training for a marathon is not nearly as tough as it sounds... you build gradually, and you can take the rest days because you aren't desperate to get out of the rain, or whatever. On trail people tend not to take the two or more slow days a week that is required to build up the intensity.

Look at a marathon trailing page and see how they build up to doing 26 miles. That's what the body needs to build ligaments, bones and muscles safely and to not get injured. How many hikers take 18 weeks before they start doing 20 mile days?

Gravity Man

04-10-2003, 20:03
is because I'm not talking about not being in decent shape to begin with.

I am a yoga enthusiast. I have strong quads and good lung capacity. Both from doing yoga regularly.

however, i can't imagine the thought of putting 40lbs on my back and walking much further than say 5 miles.

I thought there might be some fitness level people would recommend to be at when starting the trail.

I don't want to be on the verge of collapse each day for the first few weeks.

I've read varying respones. But I'm guessing that running a few days a week is the base. Hiking with a full pack as often as I can, and... that's it.


04-10-2003, 22:33
Sounds good.

You might want to consider dropping a few pounds from the pack as well.

04-11-2003, 08:59
Here is a post from Trailforums from my wife, Pinball. She hiked the AT with me in 2001 and was and still is a certified personal trainer. The post was in response to a guy with knee pain, but her advise is great for those whow uld like some leg strength before hitting the trail.

It is really important to strengthen the muscles that support the knees. Before you begin, be sure that you have no pre existing injury that would require rest and perhaps medical attention. One of the fundamental lower body excercises is the squat (as mentioned above). This is a great exercise because it allows all of your muscles to work together. Either hold dumbbells in your hand for weight, use a Smith Press, or a Free Standing Squat Rack. Be sure to tighten you abdominals before you begin to keep your torso erect. Slowly lower your weight down. As you lower reach the hips and rear end back as though you are trying to sit down on a chair behind. This is important because as you want to keep your knees directly over your ankles. You do not want your knees or body weight to come forward because it will put too much pressure on the knees. Pause briefly, then straighten the legs as you stand up. Do not lock your knees at the top of the motion. Repeat. 3 sets of 8 reps. Start relatively light if you have not done this before, then add weight so 8 reps is challenging.

One of the most important excercises for hiking, I believe, is the one leg step up. There are so many times when hiking that you will need to lift all of your weight and your pack with one leg. This is a very functional exercise. Start with a bench approx. a foot and a half high. Place one leg on top of the bench. the idea is to "step up" on the bench trying NOT to push off the foot on the ground. Try to keep the weight on the leg on the bench. PRess up, pause at the top. Then keeping weight on the same leg lower the other one down slowly with control (until eventually gravity will win) As you lower, keep the weight, hip and rear pressing back so the knee does not come forward. It should stay right above the ankle. Repeat 3 sets of 10. Do each leg and hold dumbells to make this more challenging

Also good to do are leg extensions and leg curls on the machines at the gym. I would recommend doing these one leg at a time rather than both together. These are isolating exercises and are great for hamstrings and quads. Do these after the first two exercises. 3 sets of 8 to 10

Hope this helps. I do believe the best prep one can do for hiking is hiking. If this isn't an option you can always wear your full pack around the neighborhood, climb stairs (try skipping a step for extra work) Please feel free to email me if you want more exercises/advice. Happy Training!

04-11-2003, 09:25
One additional exercise that helps improve the strength of your quads as well is to stand on the first stair of a staircase. With your hands on your hips, try to touch your right heel to the floor below the step and then return to a one-legged standing position. Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps for each leg. As the exercise gets easier, you can consider adding a light backpack to simulate additional weight.

04-13-2003, 23:05
Originally posted by dfpgirl
is because I'm not talking about not being in decent shape to begin with.

I am a yoga enthusiast. I have strong quads and good lung capacity. Both from doing yoga regularly.

however, i can't imagine the thought of putting 40lbs on my back and walking much further than say 5 miles.

I thought there might be some fitness level people would recommend to be at when starting the trail.

I don't want to be on the verge of collapse each day for the first few weeks.

I've read varying respones. But I'm guessing that running a few days a week is the base. Hiking with a full pack as often as I can, and... that's it.


The minimal requirement for fitness would be the ability to reach the next resupply point without running out of food. I think even 5 miles a day would accomplish that. Unless you have an injury you are probably ok in that regard. When I started I had some knee troubles and was only doing 4 miles a day. I wasn't really expecting to make it too far, but ending up going the whole way.

As far as exercise goes, running and hiking sounds good. Also, keep an eye open for opportunities to walk or climb stairs as part of your daily routine.

As much as I enjoyed the low mileage days at the beginning of my hike, I wouldn't intentionally start a big hike without getting into shape. I'm normally looking for motivation to get in shape and stay healthy, preparing for a big hike definetly helps get me motivated.

Its funny how some see it as a chance to be healthy and others see it a chance to eat anything you want. My brother ran a marathon once, and I think the most enjoyable aspect of it for him was that he could eat and eat and eat.

04-14-2003, 12:01
If you live in a place with real hills, don't worry about running and just go walking, up, up, and up. I run because I live in Indiana. Running builds up leg strength. Lung capacity is, of course, helped as well. But, I've found that it is only recently that my legs have really gotten strong enough so that it is my lungs, rather than my legs, which is the limiting factor in walking uphill. I'm now running less per week, trying to let my body heal completely before setting out soon.

More than anything else, I think, you want to try to build general stamina. This is what thruhikers build in the course of the first month or so. The ability to continually move throughout a large portion of the day. This may mean 2,6, or 12 hours of hiking during the day, depending how much stamina you have. If you are beat after 4 hours of hiking, I don't think it makes much sense to continue for another few hours. Be smart and listen to your body. By getting in some sort of physical shape before starting your thruhike, you can extend the amount of time during the day in which you can hike in comfort. I think that adds to the enjoyment of a hike. At least, it does for me.

11-29-2003, 17:16
I'm a personal trainer and my area of expertise is in bodybuilding, and strength training. Here is a quick list of exercises that you can perform to help get you into shape for your next thru hike.


1. Squats
2. Leg Extensions
3. Knee Curl (Hamstring Curl)
4. Calf Raises

(support the weight of a backpack)

1. Shoulder Shrug
2. Lat Pulldown
3. Upright row


1. Side Bends (with dumbells)
2. Good Mornings (bend forward at the waste)

*Perform all exercises using resistance. Start with a weight you feel comfortable with and allows you to perform 2-3 Sets, with 12-15 reps. As you get closer to your hike date, (approx. 30 days prior) decrease the amount of weight and increase your reps to 20-25 reps. Increasing your reps to the 20-25 range will be the start of your endurance training.

11-29-2003, 23:41
I'm only a wannabe hiker (2004) but it seems to me that the lower the packweight the less chance of injury.

People who start completely out of shape with 40 or 50 pound packs are just asking for trouble, in my opinion.

But, on the other hand, if you have a light pack it hardly seems like it's there. I've been going on 1-2 hour walks 3 or 4 times a week with a 20-30 pound pack and it doesn't even feel like I"m carrying it anymore. I plan to carry even less on the trail.

Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking has a good chapter about conditioning. He stresses the need for rest days in between training hikes or runs or whatever you do. Then when you hit the trail your body will be ready for daily exercise. He says that if you don't exercise before the hike, you will be good if you take every other day off....but who would really do that?

Bill Bryson's friend was probably one of the most out of shape people to hit the AT and he seemed to do okay after a couple weeks so there's always hope I guess!

11-30-2003, 08:10
with drawn