How to Start Training for an Expedition 🏃🏼♂️
Created by Harvey Peirson
INTRODUCTION: Training for an Expedition
Training for an expedition is one large task to set yourself. To walk through difficult and potentially hostile terrain all for the sake of reaching Point B is not something that most people would set out to do just because they could. Expeditions are mentally and physically demanding, and unless you are a veteran hiker with years of experience under your belt, it is likely that you will need to make some adjustments to your daily routine if you would wish to set off on your own expedition. Hence, before you even set off, training for an expedition should be your first priority, or else you may risk losing yourself in unfamiliar territories, or generally just not enjoying yourself.
The more prepared you are, the easier and more enjoyable it will all be. However, finding the time to train in our busy daily lives can be tough, so with that in mind, here are some of my tips to help you prepare yourself for your very own expeditions.
MAKE THE TIME
Work, chores and general life commitments can, and frequently do, get us all bogged down in a repetitive cycle that leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. Getting the motivation, then, to make the time to push ourselves a little bit further every day and get training for an expedition might seem a step too far. Before you plan your training for an expedition regime, then, it is important to plan for when you can actually get training for an expedition.
An easy start towards this could include simply getting up an hour or so earlier in the morning and going for a long walk, a run and/or even a yoga session. Getting up a couple of hours earlier than everyone else’s normal will slowly but surely put you ahead of everyone else, and will gradually get you into a self-made disciplined routine; the more you can challenge yourself to get out fo your comfort zone on a daily basis, the more you can grow as a person, and the easier those once-tough challenges get. It is important to stay consistent in your training, but not to set yourself unrealistic standards – listen to your body and be realistic.
For a decent expedition, a time frame of between eight and twenty weeks, depending on your current fitness levels, is a sustainable and safe enough length of time to get training for an expedition. Working back from the time you plan to go on your expedition, a good way to plan your training for an expedition is to divide it into four week blocks, consisting of three increasingly hard weeks of training and one easier week of work for recovery. Your next four week block should then increase in intensity from the last block, so as to make your training regime slowly get tougher and more intense over time.
Increasing the intensity of your training for an expedition can be done in many ways. For example, if part of your training involves a simple couple of hours of walking up your local hills, increase the intensity by bringing a rucksack with you filled with heavy items. You can increase the weight of the rucksack’s load as the weeks go by, allowing your body to become stronger as it adapts to carrying heavier loads over a long period of time.
BUILD UP YOUR STRENGTH
Simply put, strength is important for when it comes to walking efficiently up steeper terrain, or over uneven grounds. Strength is especially important for when you might have days worth of supplies on your back, and it will always help you keep your balance, especially when going back down those steep hills. For expeditions of course, the most important parts of your body to build up your strength are your legs and your core, however some upper body training is also important for whenever you are carrying heavy items, or scrambling or climbing up rougher terrain.
The best way to do strength training for an expedition is of course to get yourself over to a gym, hire a personal trainer and dietitian and have them lay out the best personal routine for you. However, as recommended as these are, these are not easily accessible for everyone. An easier – and, frankly, cheaper – option would be to train at home; go outdoors and run around your local estate instead of using a gym’s treadmill, and buy yourself a set of dumbbells instead of waiting on someone else to use the weights at a gym.
Ideally, you’ll want some weight adjustable dumbbells; this will allow you to use lighter weights when working on the weaker parts of your body, but it will also allow you to up the weight once you start getting stronger. Depending on how much of a gym you want to set up in your own home, and how much money you are willing to spend, getting a barbell and a squat rack to properly train your legs will take your strength training up to the next level. (Don’t forget to consume plenty of protein before and after a workout to repair and build the muscles you’ve just worked out; 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is the generally recommended amount.)
INCREASE YOUR ENDURANCE
Your cardiovascular system uses oxygen to create energy for you, and prolonged walking over several days, a very aerobic activity in its very nature, will get your cardio system working hard. As stated before, one of the easiest and best ways to get endurance training for an expedition into your daily routine is to go for a thirty minute to one hour walk or run in the mornings before your breakfast. If you have the time for in your week, turn this brisk thirty minute walk into one that takes a couple of hours, to really push your endurance.
Even better still, if possible and if realistic enough, walk to places that you go to daily instead of driving there – it will save on petrol money too! Use those lunch breaks to go outside for a stroll, take the stairs instead of the elevator, focus more on breathing through your nose rather than your mouth, focus on your posture when standing or sitting, sit down less – there are a lot of little adjustments that you can slowly introduce into your daily routine that will help you build up a better functioning body, which will help with more than just training for an expedition.
If it is more convenient for you, getting yourself on a treadmill for a few minutes a day is a good way of forcing yourself to walk a little quicker than your normal walking speed, and increasing the steepness of the treadmill will train you to walk uphill better too. If you can adjust the steepness of your treadmill, prioritise that before you increase the speed as it will better increase your strength. Ideally, since you want to be walking and not running, an ideal heart rate to stay on while on the treadmill is around 120 to 130 beats per minute (BPM). Other than for checking your heart rate every few minutes, do not hold onto the hand rails – no cheating!
Even better than a treadmill is a stair master. This takes the steep setting on a regular treadmill to the next level, as will walking up it with a weighted vest to better simulate walking up a hill with all of your equipment strapped to your back.
START HILL TRAINING
Stair Masters, gradient adjustable treadmills and gyms are not always easy to come by when training for an expedition. For more accessible, and natural, ways of training for an expedition is simply to go and walk up one; if you only ever go about training for an expedition by walking on flat ground, then the steep hills that you are likely to encounter will be tougher on you.
Go and seek out some hills to climb – more preferably doing so in the very boots that you wish to hike in so that they break in and get use to your weight. Should you live in a flat area with less access to hilly terrain, several reps of a small hill will do, as will going up and down your stairs a few times a day.
Planning to go out to the hills for a few hours for most people is something that can only realistically be done during the weekends, or whenever you have time off of work. Gradually increase the distance and gradient of your walks as the weeks go by – don’t go climbing up some snowy peaks on Day 1 – and build your body’s stamina and strength as you go.
If the furthest that you have ever walked in one day is ten kilometres, for example, then start from there, Maybe each week, you could add a kilometre to the same walk. Starting off too hard is a good way of getting injured; if you’re training for an expedition, the last thing that you want to be when out in the unknown is injured. As you near the date of your expedition, increase the distance that you walk and the load that you carry.
RUN, CYCLE AND SWIM
You don’t have to sign up for your local triathlon, but use other means of training your body to increase your overall trekking fitness and round out your training for an expedition regimes. If you are worried about over-working your knees or your shoes during your practice walks, then have a day off from your regularly scheduled walk and spend the day cycling – you will still be getting great exercise for your cardiovascular system, but you’ll also be putting the strain on other parts of your body for a change.
Should you have access to it, another highly recommended activity – not just good for training for an expedition – is swimming; get down to your local pool once in a while and try and do some laps in the lanes. Swimming is also a great way to avoid injuries, since you won’t be impacting your body on anything solid. You could join a swimming class for a few weeks, or a yoga class, a running club, a spin class, a core class – really, there are lots of clubs and classes that are available out there for you to join, so monotonously repeating the same activities every week can be more easily done away with.
It’s all well training for an expedition by going for walks, but should you want to stay in good enough shape, then your diet must be just as disciplined. Proteins will help build and repair muscles, carbohydrates will make your body some energy, fats will give you a greater storage capacity for energy as well as an extra layer of insulation, and fruits and vegetables will give you a good source of vitamins and minerals.
And of course, water is essential for your body to even function properly, and you should really be drinking several cups worth of it every day, whether training for an expedition or not. The odd snack is fine, and actually highly recommended when out on an expedition, as it’s a good way of getting some food and sugars in you quickly while on the go – take a couple of energy bars with you on your expeditions.
Arguably the most important part of training for an expedition is the times when you are NOT training for an expedition. It is those periods of rest that allow our body the time it needs to actually heal and grow – your muscles aren’t going to repair themselves after a weight training session if you’re still straining and tearing them. Should you have the extra time and cash on you, arranging to visit a professional sports masseuse is the perfect way to recover from training for an expedition. Of course, our longest period of rest and recovery in the day is sleeping, so make sure that you are getting your recommended seven to nine hours of it every night.
To help prevent you from straining your muscles in the first place, consider doing a few minutes of yoga in the morning and in the evening. One form of yoga that I would highly recommend is breathing yoga, particularly the Wim Hof Method, as it works the cardiovascular and immune systems very well, and generally makes you feel better throughout your days, training for an expedition or not. And hey, there’s nothing like a boost of morale than kicking your feet up every once in a while.