In this episode, I discuss how you can get fit, strong and resilient for a significant hike or trek (if you are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle).
Hiking and trekking are sports for all body shapes and sizes. There should be no exclusion in these amazing activities. And everyone should feel comfortable aspiring towards any adventure they have their heart set on.
But let's face it, if you are carrying a few extra kilos, hiking and training can really grind you up.
And unfortunately, the majority of training information around hiking out there is designed for the smaller framed hiker. And if you are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle, and try to follow this advice, you are just asking for trouble...
In this episode you will learn:
Hey hey guys. So today we're talking about how to train for a hike or trek if you're overweight. Now I want to preface this episode by saying that hiking and trekking are sports for absolutely all body shapes and sizes. And with the right preparation and training, absolutely anyone should be happy to step onto any particular trail they desire. And there really should be no general exclusion around these types of things. But in all honesty and 100% brutal honesty, if you are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle hiking can really grind you up. And if you are trying to follow a traditional hiking training program or trek training program and you're trying to do all your type of training on the trail as so many people online like to recommend, in all honesty, you're just asking for trouble.
Now, yes, this type of approach may work for some people in which you do all your training, either walking or hiking, but if you are overweight it is simply not a good idea. This is simply because unfortunately you are already at a much higher risk of overuse injuries, certain things like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathies, shin splints, knee pain and a whole range of other things. And obviously those are things you really don't want to be messing around with.
So trying to spend all your time walking and hiking on the trail is probably more likely than not going to lead to something like this. But saying that, there are 100% ways you can go about preparing yourself for any hike or trek or mountain adventure in much, much safer ways. And you simply just need to be smart about your training and you need to structure it to minimize any chance of discomfort or injury while obviously trying to improve your fitness and your strength and your trek readiness as well. So today we're just going to be diving into how you can get fit, strong, resilient, capable for a trail adventure even if you are carrying a few extra kilos around the middle.
Now the very first subject I want to talk about is something called off feet conditioning. Now, off feet conditioning is an incredibly valuable part of anyone's trek training program. But if you're going from overweight, it goes from being valuable to absolutely essential. Now, off feet conditioning is simply doing some type of aerobic exercise in order to develop your aerobic capacity and muscular endurance without putting any stress through your feet and your knees. The idea behind this is you're going to improve these aspects of fitness in a much lower impact way than hiking or walking, which will still have great carry over into your performance on the trail, but it's going to minimize that risk of your body getting ground down.
Now great examples here include things like stationary cycle, the step machine, walking or swimming in the pool, the elliptical, and there's a whole bunch of other particular cardiovascular machines and exercises you can do in the gym. But basically stuff that has very, very minimal impact around your feet and your knees, but still you can maintain for a longer period of time.
So this type of training is particularly important during the early stages of preparation programs so maybe your first four to six weeks. In fact, if you are overweight and you haven't been active for a while, I personally get my clients spending the first phase of their program doing all their aerobic training as off feet conditioning. And the idea behind this, again, is if you can develop those cardiovascular aspects of exercise without putting stress through the joints initially. Once you do get to your hiking and your walking, you can be a lot more comfortable. You don't have to worry about getting absolutely knackered and pushing through a whole bunch of different issues. By doing this before you start any type of hiking, you really, really just can put yourself in a really, really good position.
Now, I will say that even though I do recommend this and I'm a very, very big fan around this, obviously you still do need to do some type of walking and hiking, but you want to slowly, slowly introduce that into your preparation. And then as you go longer through the weeks and the months, you might be doing something like one off feet conditioning session and one walking session. Or you might be doing two walking sessions and one off feet conditioning session. The key point here is just not doing all your time on the trail because that is going to grind you up. But off feet conditioning can be so, so valuable in this instance.
Now the next thing I want to talk about is strength training. Now if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, you know I am 100% an absolute fan of strength training for any hiker, trekker or mountaineer. And if you are overweight, strength training is even more valuable. Now this is for a few reasons, like number one, strength training is the number one thing you can be doing to help bulletproof your joints from injury. And as I said just before, if you are overweight, you unfortunately are a bit of a high risk of injury to begin with. So by spending a little bit extra time doing strength training, minimizing this risk, you can really, really set yourself up to me in a much better position to get through your training, get through your hiking, get through your adventure, injury and pain free.
On top of this, strength training is amazing for improving movement efficiency, meaning for every single step that you take on the trail, you're going to be using less energy, which is always, always beneficial. And then on top of all this, particularly if you are carrying a few extra kilos, increasing your strength can turn those up-hills and those stairs into something much, much more manageable. And I know a lot of people that I've dealt with in the past who are a little bit overweight and they're training for their adventures, sometimes they're pretty happy on the flats. They're pretty happy walking for miles and miles and miles like that, but when they do come to that elevation, those stairs or those hills, it does really get tough. And strength training can be very, very beneficial around this.
But as I've said previously, when I talk about strength training, it doesn't just mean doing hundreds of squats or step ups or lunges at home or just jumping into a generic circuit class at your local gym. While these can help, they are really, really in the grand scheme of things quite low in effectiveness. Instead, you really should be working through a tailored structured strength training program, which is designed for you as an individual and also around the upcoming challenges of your trek.
Now in here you want to be talking to, if you don't know how to do that yourself, probably talking to a professional and just making sure you are talking to a personal trainer or a strength conditioning coach who does understand what the demands of hiking and trekking are because just jumping into a generic program, which someone will just throw you to do 1,000 exercises, is very, very low on that effectiveness. So if you do need help with that, obviously I'm always here and you're more than welcome to reach out.
But moving on is the next one, we've got hiking smart. Now, as we said before, in reducing the amount of time spent on the trail is very, very beneficial. However, that doesn't mean hiking training is not important. But the key part here to minimize your risk of injury, minimize your risk of pain and make sure that you are getting the best out of this type of training is to have a plan of attack and is to put a little bit of structure on.
Now, the simplest way of explaining this is the very, very first hikes you do, they should be short. They should be really easy. And in all honesty, you should finish them feeling like you could have done plenty more. So for someone who is completely sedentary, that might be a three or four kilometer hike and they might be like, "Hey, I finished that, I've accomplished that. I'm feeling good." For someone who is a little bit more experienced, it might be a 10 kilometer hike or it might be a 15 kilometer hike. But everyone's going to be a little bit different, but you really, really want to find in the first few ones you do, they were super, super easy.
And then every time you do a hike, try not to increase your hiking time by more than 20% at a time, which might sound a little bit weird at first, but if you get out a pen and paper or jot down in the calendar what you've been doing bit by bit, you can really, really track what you're doing and the distance and the hiking time behind this. And this is really, really important. For a general hiker, but very, very particularly for the overweight hiker.
Now the reason behind this is that a spike in your training load, for example, this means if you were doing a two hour hike one week and you jump up to a four hour hike the next week, is one of the most significant causes of injury. And while someone who might be a little bit lighter frame might simply pull up with a bit of sore muscles and achy joints and maybe have to have a few extra days to recover. If you're overweight, you don't want to risk this because you are already at a higher risk of more serious injury.
So basically what I want you to do, if you're in this situation, you have a significant hike or a significant trek or a mountain adventure coming up, you need to get out your calendar, you need to mark in all the days you want to go hiking. And this doesn't have to be 100% but want to have a rough idea over the months leading forward. You want to choose your first trail, which should be very, very easy. Then you want to get out a calculator and you just want to add that 20% each time. You want to check that against a list of local trails, which you want to do, and then you want to slowly jot out which one you're going to be doing in order. Now it might take a little bit of time to figure this out, but it's so, so effective in making sure you're continually progressing and it's so, so important for reducing any risk of injury.
So next up I want to talk about recovery sessions. Now recovery is one thing that is often neglected in traditional training programs. But if you are overweight, you really cannot afford to skip this. Recovery sessions are basically really, really important for, A, muscle recovery and adaptation in between sessions, reducing muscle soreness and really just keeping you healthy, pain-free and happy in your training.
Now there are countless different recovery methods you could be doing and you could just literally go into Google type in, "How to recover between sessions," and you can get a million different things. And here's a few really, really simple things, really, really effective things that I quite often ask my clients to do, which more or less anyone can do.
For one, you can spend five minutes of foam rolling every day. You can just choose a muscle that's particularly sore or you know might be tight, spending a little bit of time rolling up and down on a roller. Five minutes a day. It doesn't take much, but it can make a bit of a difference. You can perform on top of that 20 minutes of stretching and foam rollings on your off days. So that's in between days that you aren't particularly training, actually dedicate 20 minutes doing this and it can make a bit of a difference.
The night after completing a hike wear some compression clothing to bed, I previously mentioned compression tights. Really, really effective at reducing muscle soreness, can be relatively beneficial for recovery in between sessions. Literally if you do a long hike, wear them to bed. They can make you feel a little bit better.
The day after you do every single hike, scheduling an easy, what's called an active recovery session. Which is a really, really gentle cardiovascular session, which doesn't put any stress through the body. So this might be something like pool walking, gentle cycling, swimming. It's literally 15 to 20 minutes, maybe half an hour at a maximum, should be zero, very, very, very low intensity. You should walk out of that feeling good.
And then very, very, very important, make sure you're getting eight quality hours of sleep every single night, which I cannot stress how important that is for anyone who's training. Incorporate those simple things into your weekly routine and it can really, really make the big difference between success and failure in your training. And failure, by that I mean breaking down with injury and pain and bad moods and tiredness, and just dropping out before you even get onto your adventure. So I highly recommend you take those steps and apply them into your week.
And then next, get your gear right. This is a question, what the best piece of gear is, the question will literally never end and it's something that drives me a bit mental on the internet. But if you are overweight, without diving into specific brands or anything like that, there are two really, really essential things you need to get right when it comes to equipment.
Number one, you always, always, always want to use trekking poles. Now, I've talked about this previously, but trekking poles are 100% a trekker's best friend. They keep your balance, they help improve your posture, they aid your circulation. And most importantly for you is they take a lot of pressure off your lower limbs when you're hiking, particularly on knees and your feet. Now if you're over weight, this is 100% incredibly essential. Every single time you hit the trail, no matter how short it may be, bringing your poles, make it happen, just don't have any excuses there because they can make such a difference and it's just not worth skipping them out.
And then number two is getting your boots fitted. So having the wrong pair of boots is obviously a disaster waiting to happen. You just don't want to mess around with this. So simply just don't buy your boots online. I cannot stress that enough. If you go into a shop, talk to one of the experts. If the expert doesn't know what they're talking about, go to another shop. Make sure you really, really, really get them properly fitted. Spend a bit of time figuring them out and just get it right the first time. And if you are having problems with your feet or problems with your boots, I highly recommend you go and see a podiatrist. Talk to a professional in that and 100% that makes such a big difference to your time on the trail and your injury risk as well.
And then on top of this, the final thing I want to talk about is weight management strategies. Now if you are overweight, now losing a few kilos can go a long way to both your enjoyment and to your success on the trail. And now this, what I'm talking about, has nothing to do with looks or social stigma or just the weight loss world. I used to be in that world, I'm not any more and I'm not incredibly interested in that type of stuff. But simply for the fact that for every extra kilo your body holds, it can put an incredibly disproportionate amount of extra force through your joint. And people always talk about losing weight in their pack, they absolutely obsess about it. But even dropping one kilo of body fat, if you're doing a long trek, can make a massive difference to both your enjoyment and your chances of injury.
And obviously weight loss is an incredibly complex subject and the details of that is well beyond the scope of this podcast. There's millions and millions of podcasts around that. But today I just want to share one simple strategy, which I apply to my hikers and trekkers, which does make a bit of a difference, and it's simply going off the old recommendation of never go shopping when you're hungry. So when you're hiking, and you're training you're obviously burning a whole bunch of extra energy and the natural response to that is getting relatively hungry just to purely refuel and get the body back into a fully fueled state. And a common habit many people have, and I've definitely fallen into the trap of this as well, is they do their training and their hiking session and then they go to shops and they buy their next meal.
Now a recent example of this is I did a big hike, a big training hike with Ellie the other day leading into, you know, we've got our Kokoda trip coming up. We did big hike, we didn't have any food with us for the end of the trip. We had enough while we were doing it. We didn't have any food at home, so we went down to the chicken shop and got a chicken schnitzel burger and chips, which was fantastic, but it wasn't really so in line with our training goals and if we were trying to lose a little bit of weight, it's not incredibly effective for that either.
So what I highly recommend is before every training session and every hike, just have the next couple of meals planned and bought, if not prepared already. Now this takes the impulse buying out of the equation. It takes that laziness out of the equation when you're knackered from training and hiking and you just don't want to cook something or whatever. And just so you can eat it right away and have it waiting for you and you can make those nutritional choices when you're in a good state of mind and you're not absolutely starving. Put that one strategy into action and it really can make a big difference.
So that's about it from me today guys. As I said initially, hiking and trekking is an absolutely amazing pursuit that everyone should really get involved with. And if you are overweight, you simply just need to be a little bit smarter in your training, in your preparation and your hiking than maybe a smaller framed person may be. Simply just so you can avoid those injuries and ensure that you do stay safe, pain-free, and just have a good time in both your training and your adventures. So I hope you've got a bit of value out of that today guys. As always, if you have enjoyed this podcast, if you have learned something new today, if you have been appreciating some of the knowledge getting shared, I would absolutely love if you can leave me a five star review on iTunes. It really goes a massive way to helping me grow this podcast, reach more people. I would really, really appreciate it. But aside from that, again, I hope you enjoyed this episode and we'll talk to you very, very soon.
Need some help getting fit, strong and resilient for your adventures?
Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.