Climbing mountains hurts. Hiking burns your legs and your lungs. I mentioned before that I teach a backpacking class at an outdoor workshop for women. As a part of this class, I usually bring a book with photographs from various hikes/climbs that I have been on. My "parting message" for the class is simple: The best times of my life have been in the wilderness, but you can look at photos and get the wrong idea about what this is really like. It is not a full day of euphoria. It is a full day of hard work, with a few moments of sheer brilliance, followed by more hard work. I don't say this to dissuade anybody from getting outside - in fact, just the opposite - I want them to have realistic expectations so that they don't try a difficult hike, assume they are doing something wrong because they are temporarily miserable and subsequently quit.
About 15 years ago, I didn't exercise much. In fact, I couldn't even run for 10 minutes. I wasn't consistent - I would go through "phases" of working out, and then I would stop. When I got accepted into the police academy to become a park ranger (note: I'm no longer a ranger - I was laid off about 4.5 years ago from that job), suddenly I experienced a spark of motivation. I started slowly - jogging for 5 minutes, and walking for 5 minutes ... jogging for 5 minutes, walking for 5 minutes. By the time I went through the police academy, I was running a mile in 6:30. Not setting any world records, but still, not too shabby.
After moving to WA permanently, I quickly became addicted to hiking and climbing - I knew I had to stay in shape, but there really was no rhyme or reason to my madness. I just knew that I wanted to suffer less than I had to, and I wanted to be fast and efficient. I knew that I never wanted to be limited by my physical ability.
The early years of my training regimen were consistent with what I like to call, "chronic cardio" - I did a LOT of running, mostly trail running. I was in "good shape" , but I wasn't strong. Over the past few years, I have developed a combination of training activities that work to target all of the various ways that climbing/hiking/backpacking test your body. In a nutshell - I combine HIIT Circuit training (cardio) + weight training (strength) + hiking (endurance training).
As a side note, one thing I want to point out is that I do not train by carrying a heavy pack - ever (keep in mind, some climbs like Denali might require more weight intensive training). For training hikes, I focus on moving as quickly and efficiently as possible and getting in some miles and elevation gain. In the winter months, we hike to the point where we are just bordering on being completely uncomfortable with the pace - constantly pushing it. My personal preference is not to destroy my knees by going out on a "training hike" with a ton of weight. I prefer to save the knee pounding for actual trips when carrying weight is absolutely necessary. In my personal experience, strength training (weighted squats, lunges, etc...) strengthens the legs more effectively. I promise you - the HIIT, weight training + some endurance hiking (without heavy packs) = a high level of fitness.
Here is a sample week (note: this is a week where I don't have a backpacking trip planned):
Sunday - rest day, 4-5 mile walk (I still try to move around on "rest" days)
Monday - endurance ... long hike/scramble of Del Campo Peak in Gothic Basin, WA (14-ish miles with 5000' gain, approximately 7.5 hours)
Tuesday - 1 hour strength training "boot camp" at my gym ... This usually includes a 1-2 mile run + weight lifting. This week my husband and I also added on a very slow "trail jog" afterwards.
Wednesday - 1 hour HIIT Training. My gym does "circuits" - so imagine 10-13 different exercises (ie. kettlebell swings, box jumps, lunges, various weight training exercises etc...), and then you basically perform each exercise for a set period of time. For instance, two rounds total and each exercise lasts for 1 minute and 40 seconds each (sometimes the duration of the workout is shorter).
Thursday - 1 hour strength training, 30 minute of sprints
Friday - "rest" day - 4-5 mile walk, or I'll do a 45 minute cardio/core circuit training.
Saturday - 1.5 hour outdoor functional training workout (i.e. springs, lunges, push ups, hill climbs, etc...). Sometimes I will do this with my gym, other times I will create a killer workout for myself.
I do occasionally "mix it up" by adding in hot yoga, power vinyasa or pilates. I find that preventing my muscles from getting "bored" keeps them primed for adaptation and strengthening.
If you check out my fitness page, I have added a bunch of at-home workouts that you can do, which require very little equipment. This past weekend, my husband and I did a killer Sprint/EMOM (every minute on the minute) workout... you will hate it (in a good way)... let me know if you try it:
And here is a video showing the various exercises in the EMOM, including modifications.
I'm going to write another post about motivation to stay in shape, but I want to say that consistency, above all else, is the most important thing you can do to maintain or increase your fitness level. My sample week might be more than you can handle right now, but make it work for you - break it into smaller chunks that are more manageable (i.e. do a 2 mile hike, instead of a 14 mile hike ... or do a short, 12 minute HIIT workout instead of a 45 minute workout). Go for a walk. Get out and move consistently.
Working out in "spurts" and then "falling off the wagon" will only serve to further your hatred towards exercise and your frustration. Overtime, you will unintentionally convince yourself that being in shape is, "for other people, not for you." That is 100% false. There is no wagon. There is only your life, and your choice to make decisions that are in the best interest of your health and wellness. Hiking and climbing will never be easy (no matter how fit you are), but over time you will be able to push yourself harder and faster than you ever thought possible. It's fun and exciting. All of your hesitation about whether or not you can physically handle a hike will disappear and be replaced with, "Sure, I can!" and "What's next?"