Updated: Aug 22, 2021
There's a myth among hikers (and many recreational athletes) that to conquer something hard, you need to work out even harder. What these hikers don't understand is the concept called specificity of training. Hiking is hard because they haven't trained correctly, but matching the exercise to their perception of hiking isn't the answer.
The problem with increasing the intensity of workouts through massively challenging cardio-type exercises such as spin, Peleton, or HIIT, is that this level of intensity isn't sustainable. These workouts are intended to be relatively short, while hiking can last all day or even several days. Furthermore, training with high intensity fosters the growth of fast-twitch muscles that help with speed and power, which are useful for sports that require sprinting and jumping. Hiking is not one of those sports. Lastly, high-intensity exercise usually pushes you into the anaerobic zone, where those fast-twitch muscles rely on glycogen stores instead of oxygen for energy. Those glycogen stores get used up pretty quickly, leaving you feeling fatigued and lacking energy, whereas oxygen is a plentiful and continuous energy source.
Training for endurance
To improve aerobic capacity (also known as fitness), hikers need more long-duration, low-intensity workouts. Many clients are relieved to find out they no longer have to slog through the high-intensity workouts that make them tired and delay recovery. Instead, focus on taking a bit more time and exercising at a slower pace.
One easy way to help you stay in the aerobic zone is to exercise at a pace that enables you to still inhale comfortably through your nose. If you're breathing heavily through your mouth or panting, you've likely transitioned to anaerobic training. This simple trick pertains to hiking as well. If you find yourself struggling and burning out, slow down and inhale through your nose and exhale fully through your mouth. This technique resets your metabolism, boosts your oxygen consumption, and gets your pace back down to the aerobic zone.
Need help structuring your workouts to improve your endurance? The Healthy Hiker Program tailors your training to meet your endurance and hiking goals. Contact me today to talk about how to get your training back on track.