Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - balanceHappy New Year! It’s the time of year when everyone starts reflecting on their chocolate and ham consumption. When the end caps of the big box stores switch out candy canes for yoga mats and fitness videos are displayed next to the way too early displays of pink and red hearts.

But the new year represents a time of change. A period of reflection and hope for better days or continued success. For many the new year symbolizes a fresh start.This will be the year I learn to knit, take voice lessons, finish that damn novel, and get a tattoo with my sixteen year old and deal with the glaring disapproval of mom with a smile (and flowers and gift cards… maybe some wine).

Here’s the deal, you only live once. So as cliché as the big NYR of fitness is, it is a good one. But changes in your daily habits are not easy. It takes work.

We can’t work from a place of deficit. You have to think of it as gaining something. Gaining energy. Gaining ability, strength and opportunities.

So if you set your mind to taking control of your health and training to hike one of the more majestic places on earth, it will give you something to work for.

Being able to fit into a size smaller may make you feel good. But being able to pull off a hike at the Grand Canyon even if you have spent the past five years of your life being a couch jockey after work everyday- that will seriously up your confidence meter to the badass range.

This piece is going to focus on the recommended exercises and physical training. But here’s a quick list of a few other things you should keep in mind:

Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - knees

  • Set a realistic trail goal. If you currently have no or very little hiking experience, then it is important to make a rational decision about the hike you want to do. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work yourself up to training as if you were planning on taking on one of the crazy Rim to Rim to Rim hikes, but actually doing a R2R2R as a novice can be deadly. That one is for seasoned hikers. But just for fun do check out experienced backpacker blogs such as this piece from Michael Lanza. And you can work your way up to an adventure like that. Visit the National Park Service Grand Canyon site and learn more about trail selection and how to prepare. It’s also good to hit travel sites and read the comments to gain perspective on what trails are suggested for beginners (as well as training tips).
  • Talk with your doctor. Whenever you begin a new workout routine or training program, it is good to discuss your goals and plans with your physician, especially if you have any existing medical concerns. Hiking in the Grand Canyon is challenging due to the terrain, elevation, weather, etc. And changes in elevation and extreme temperatures can impact your body’s reactions to medications and your physical condition.
  • Focus on nutrition. Don’t think of this as dieting. Some may need to be taking in more calories. Can you be overweight and malnourished? Yes. Too many people take in the wrong kinds of calories. When kicking off a new fitness routine, the last thing you need to do is starve yourself. Not sure how to get started on reframing the way you think about food? Check out an online fitness coach such as Tricia Zelenak for nutrition tips and a focus on healthy lifestyle instead of fad dieting. Her coaching and educational materials are focused on optimum health. Her energy is contagious and that’s the kind of influence you need in your corner.
    • Drink water. So simple yet one of the most important things you can do for your health and training. To put it plainly, you absolutely must be prepared to drink more water than you normally would when hiking. Dehydration during fitness activities is a serious risk. Drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water a day is part of the preparation and lifestyle change. Check out this piece from Sally Tamarkin : 34 Proven Ways Water Makes You Awesome. It’s a fun read.

What do experienced hikers and outdoor athletes say about training for Grand Canyon conditions?

Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - hikeWhen hiking the Grand Canyon you are going to be dealing with several factors you need to be prepared for. The elevation changes, lack of humidity, extreme temps, terrain will be a very different scenario than working out at your local gym. You will need to build up your muscle strength, cardio and overall endurance. One important thing you need to remember is that when you are hiking into the canyon you will be descending. This works your muscles and impacts your body very differently than going for a morning run around your neighborhood. In short, even if you are a trained marathon runner, you need to train differently for this hike.  

Warming Up
Warming up is essential. You need to take the time to prepare your body for the work. Whether you are getting ready to for an upper body workout or cardio, the Outdoor Conditioning Warm-up would be a good routine to work into your plan. This warm up has the essential stretches you can do without equipment and has been designed by expert Courtenay Schurman, CSCS, for preparing for outdoor activities (hiking, climbing, kayaking etc.). If you start now, using this warmup and cool down, you will form an excellent habit for your outdoor adventures.
Read more…

Flexibility
When some people think about flexibility, they often think in terms of warm ups. But flexibility goes beyond warming up. Flexibility is important for overall range of motion, prevention of injuries, and is an aspect of fitness that is as important as cardio and endurance.

Yoga is a good choice. The benefits of yoga are far reaching, and if you are someone who has been a bit of a slacker in the area of fitness it is a great place to start. Yoga is a health practice that is a worthy lifelong habit that allows beginners to start out wherever they are in fitness and move forward. Yoga classes are now widely available in fitness centers and private studios. But if you don’t have the time to take a class with your schedule or you are intimidated about being in a class as a beginner, there are a number of resources online. Check out Sarah Beth Yoga on Facebook or go straight to her instructional video 20 Minute Yoga For Flexibility: Level 1. You can get started at home right now.

Cardio
Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - workoutOne thing many experts agree on is the best way to train for an outdoor activity is to do that activity. As you work on preparing your cardiovascular system (the ticker et al) be sure to work in actual hiking. For beginners, you will want to begin with simple terrain and then work in various terrains and inclines. A person cannot simply work out in a gym for months and then go on a strenuous hike without any prior experience with equipment, hauling a backpack, and negotiating a steep descent.  

Cross-training is great for beginners and those getting back into a fitness routine. It allows you to find out what different kinds of workouts you enjoy and variety keeps you from getting off track. Cardio choices include many indoor and outdoor options:

      • swimming [great low risk for injury sport for all]
      • biking/cycling
      • walking and jogging
      • step aerobics [*very important combined strength and cardio workout for hikers]
      • indoor and outdoor climbing

This is just the tip of the cardio iceberg. When you check out the resources at the end of this article, you will see that good cardio training for hikers involves variety to achieve good results and proper training. Mix it up. For more on general cardio, aerobic and anaerobic prep:

8 Free Low-Impact Cardio Workouts for  Beginners
Intermediate Cardio HIIT This (video)

Clear info for calculating your target heart rate:
Aerobic Exercise Intensity and Target Heart Rate

Strength
Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - strengthWarm ups are essential. Flexibility will put you in touch with your core. Cardio will help you become heart strong and give you the aerobic endurance you need to develop over time. Strength training is essential. You want to be body strong. Your work should focus on both upper and lower body endurance. Working with free weights, leg squats, lunges, steps, and deadlifting should all be part of your routine.

Leg Strengthening Exercises for Hikers and Backpackers
The 21 Best Bodyweight Exercises for a Strong Core

For an important discussion on why you should eventually move to training and hiking with your pack:
Back to Back Pack Carrying

The knees and shins

After digging around several articles from experienced backpackers, hikers and trainers one thing that is commonly discussed is the impact of descending into the Grand Canyon and how it can affect your knees, calves, and shins. Simply put, when you walk downhill it affects your muscles in different and complex ways. Knee pain and shin splints can be a problem. So take special care in preparing for your hike. A great resource to visit for training tips focusing on strengthening and conditioning for descending:

Hit the Trail – Training & Physical Fitness

Heat and altitude

The heat and altitude when hiking the Grand Canyon can be brutal for those who are not prepared. This is why being in a good hydration habit, taking in electrolytes and having excellent cardio health is important. For a detailed and blatantly honest read (keep in mind this is focused on that great challenge of hiking rim to rim to rim I mentioned earlier) check out this piece from  r22R.org.

Also, another important read concerning altitude training Interval Training for Altitude Climbing

Train to Hike the Grand Canyon - adventureCheers to your health and adventure…

Creating a healthier lifestyle is not an easy task for many of us. Having a real goal to work towards can be a great motivator. Hiking and experiencing the natural surroundings of our state and national parks can help you unplug from the chaos of your life and give you the peace to connect to yourself.

Here are a few more resources for you:
BackpackerThe Workout:Hike Farther, Hike Stronger
REI COOPThru-Hiking: Training Tips and Exercises
Walking & Trekking Fitness Plan

Help each other out by dropping us a line in the comments. What training advice do you have for someone preparing to hike in the Grand Canyon? What’s a good trail for beginners?

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