More than proper physical fitness, one needs the right attitude before embarking on a trek (especially at high altitudes). So you might want to know what happens when the body is not ready for high altitudes. However, what you should really keep in mind is how to avoid it. And hence trekking preparation becomes very important.
Serious health conditions like AMS a.k.a. Altitude Sickness, are waiting just around the corner of a mountain slope. To be physically and mentally prepared for any kind of circumstances under any conditions of weather should be the utmost priority before leaving for a trek.
In order to do so perfectly, one needs to understand that the human body functions in a certain way when putting in certain environments and that it can be made to react differently if the inner environment is reprogrammed through constant practice. Our body learns through experience which comes from practice. And the experience is the best teacher. So, if not the mental aspects, at least you can simulate the physical aspects via regular exercise and certain habits. And when it comes to a trek (no matter what altitude and difficulty), it is never “too early” to start preparing for it.
In this post, you will learn about the essential guidelines and a few tips for training for a trek (even high altitude Himalayan treks).
— Advertisement —
Trekking Preparation: Essentials
Mentioned below are 7 essential aspects of trekking preparation:
1. Exercise Everyday and Eat Healthy
Exercising everyday will gradually train your body, specifically the muscles, to get used to the extreme conditions of cold and diminished levels of oxygen. So, run, swim, jog, go for long walks, hit the gym, pick up a sport (which involves high amounts of physical activity)and play it; do whatever you can to keep your muscles active but do not overdo it. Remember that you are programming your body and not hacking it. So take your time in building stamina and endurance. Maintain a healthy and protein-rich diet. Plan it in a way that compliments your exercises. Then follow it.
2. Reprogram your Breathing through Aerobic/Endurance Training Exercises
Since the oxygen content dwindles (resulting in the air becoming thinner) with increase in altitude, our lungs somewhat fail their purpose and muscles start respiring in the absence of oxygen(anaerobic respiration) forming lactic acid which leads to fatigue. To cope with this one needs to build their Aerobic Fitness(relating to aerobic respiration[in the presence of oxygen and absorbing lactic acid]). Basically, it is the measure of a human’s ability to absorb oxygen and convert it into energy for the muscles. It programs the lungs and muscles which constantly adapt over time and finally get used to it. Examples: Running, Walking, Swimming, Cycling, Dancing, Aerobics/cardio classes, Spinning, Aquarobics, Boxing, Rowing, etc. Aerobic Fitness is something that in general helps you to live longer and healthier. So don’t wait for a trek to get on with it. 😛
3. Build/Enhance your Core
Trekking/walking for long durations, against gravity, on an inclined surface (mostly rugged terrains) and while wearing a rucksack/day-pack on the back, will require moderate levels of strength and endurance training. Without the proper core strength, one can be severely agonised by lower back issues. So make sure you include a few core strength exercises in your routine. Examples: Lunges, Squats, Planks, Side-planks, Abdominal Chair Crunches, Hip Lifts and Bridges, Kneeling Extension, etc. Try to mix them up and gradually your muscles will even get used to the absence of oxygen.
— Advertisement —
4. Make an Exercising Routine
Once you have decided and practised a few exercises, choose a few that you are comfortable performing. Mix them up over a week(then repeat) focusing on one area at a time(like leg days, shoulder days, hip days etc.). Depends on the nature and difficulty level of the trek but a moderately strenuous regime should be good enough to prepare you for (almost) all the challenges. As the process advances, keep a few targets in mind that you wanna reach before leaving and regularly track your progress. Rest adequately between sets.
5. Follow the Routine after Stretching properly/Flexibility Training
After making a routine be sure to follow it. Before starting and after ending each day’s session, don’t forget to stretch properly. Flexibility is the ability of the muscles(and tendons) to relax and stretch easily. It determines the amount of movement your bones can make in any direction around joints such as shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. It improves your posture and protects from lower back pain. Stretching your hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps and lower back muscles regularly, promotes relaxation in the tissues reducing the strain on your back. This warms you up for a strenuous exercise and prevents muscle cramps. On a trek, it is important that you arrive at the slopes with your muscles as relaxed as possible.
— Advertisement —
7. Reconstruct your Stamina and Endurance
In general, when getting on with your personalised fitness regime, start with sets of 10 and gradually increase over a couple of days(in the beginning). As you progress and notice a change, increase weights/constraints and the number of laps by 50%. After about 4-6weeks, start incrementing the sets on a daily basis. Once you do this and your body adapts to it over a few more weeks, your stamina would have nearly doubled(depending on how disciplined and sincere you were) and your endurance would kiss new boundaries. Before leaving for the trek, you should ideally be able to walk for 5-7hours, comfortably.
Trekking Preparation: Hacks & Tips
- For better control and understanding of your breathing and other life processes, try practising some traditional Yoga and Meditation. Yoga tremendously helps in aligning the body with the right energy. Instead of stretching, you can just practice some yoga, focus on some specific meditation techniques and perform some breathing exercises. Properly aligning your energies will help you administer certain remedies if you feel uneasy or uncomfortable during the trek.
- Focus on Optimizing Sleep and analyse patterns. Wake up only after having slept for 7-8 hours a day during the preparation time. It should be similar to the amount of sleep you expect to get on the trek. Sleeping during treks (at unusual altitudes; to which they are not used to) can be troublesome for some people and result from headaches. Make sure you program your mind to sleep for longer durations so that even if you have trouble sleeping on the trek, you might be able to compensate in totality. Also, nothing beats an afternoon nap in a tent, especially if it’s raining outside.
- While you’re following the exercising routine, try to eat/munch on items(like dry fruits, energy bars, chocolate, etc.) and drink water ‘on the go’ as much as you can, so your body can get used to digesting during strenuous exercise without causing any abdominal pain or peristaltic irritation. Stay well hydrated.
- Get a friend/acquaintance to do the exercises with you or tell people about taking up this challenge. That way even when you are tired you will not lose inspiration and push a little harder while being regular at it.
- Try exercising in your trekking shoes (instead of regular sneakers) so as to get used to the weight and feel of it. It might be a little uncomfortable at the start but gradually things will fall into place. Make sure that before the trek you wear them out a little so that it adjusts to the shape of your feet. Also, if possible, train with your rucksack on (half-filled on the first day and then gradually increase weights accordingly). Even this helps the body to understand and get used to the constant weight by increasing endurance.
- Experiment training in trekking shoes and rucksack on different terrains and under varying conditions of weather. In a park this might make you look silly but it will definitely be worth it. Also, you can always lap a staircase in case you feel too embarrassed. Staircases, in general, can be great as training grounds.
- Invest in the proper gear after thorough research and reading every single product review online. Decathlon and Wildcraft stores are good(budget) shopping stops for trekking and outdoor equipment.
— Advertisement —