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Consider Training Variables in Your Hiking Workout Plan

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

I recently spoke with a hiker who was exhausted!

They were training for an upcoming hike and were carrying a heavily loaded backpack, increasing their distance, training at elevation, and trying to pick up the pace - all at the same time in every training hike.

This hiker’s error was working on four training variables at once! Not only were they wearing themselves out, but they were also setting themselves up for injury. Errors in training are the number one cause of sports injury.

A training error occurs when you change one training variable too dramatically or change more than one variable simultaneously. For instance, a marathon runner either works on pace or distance. They wouldn’t suddenly decide to increase their run by five miles while also shaving three minutes off their finish time. Their body wouldn’t be ready to handle the load that the increased speed and distance placed on them. Instead, a smart runner builds up their distance gradually and then, when their body is accustomed to the distance, works on running it a bit faster over that distance. In the meantime, they’ll work on pace training within distances they know their body can handle.

Hikers typically experience four training variables:

1. Distance

2. Elevation

3. Pack load

4. Pace

How a training program manipulates those variables depends primarily on the goal hike. For instance, if you’re backpacking ten miles per day, the distance isn’t too great, but the load will be substantial and elevation may be a factor. If you’re training for a rim to rim at the Grand Canyon in one day, then your carrying load will be minimal, but the distance is long. If you hike regularly with your hiking club, you’ll need to maintain a certain pace to keep up with the group. And, if you’ve set your sights on a 14’er, you’ll be climbing and scrambling.

Each of those hiking scenarios has essential training aspects, but a good training program will address them all – just not all at the same time within every workout! Here’s a sample training week for a client who’s comfortably walking 8 miles with a day pack but training for multiday 10-mile hikes with a full backpack.

Sample Training Schedule

Notice that each day works on a specific training variable. Working every variable at every workout sets you up for an overuse injury, or worse – a trail-side injury. Also, notice that each day doesn’t work at maximum capacity. Pushing as hard as possible during every training stresses the body and the spirit. I had a client training for a Grand Canyon hike who thought she had to work up to doing 10 hours of cardio straight since that’s what her hike would look like. I corrected her training error, and she started getting more rest and allowed her body to recover between workouts. She trained for her Grand Canyon hike with a healthier and more targeted training plan that required less time working out!

If you are worn out, struggling with your training, and frustrated that you’re not meeting your goals, message me to schedule a free consultation and find out how a more targeted training program can put you on the path to conquering your dream hike!

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