This episode will tell an aspiring trekker exactly what they need to do in their training to get fit, strong and resilient to conquer the Kokoda Trail!
The Kokoda Trail is a pilgrimage for Australian trekkers. Renowned for its rough terrain, stunning landscapes and it's wartime history, it is something which has sat on so many hikers bucket list for years.
But while we know it is a serious physical and mental challenge, unfortunately, the majority of the training advice out there for this adventure is sub-par (to say the least!)
Once you listen to this episode, you will have a clear understanding of exactly what you need to do to training for the Kokoda track.
You will learn:
Today we are talking all about how to get fit for the Kokoda Track. I recently just came back from a trip which was trekking the Kokoda Trail, which was an absolutely fantastic experience. For those who don't know actually what it is, it's a trail in Papua New Guinea in which the Australian and Japanese soldiers fought in World War II, and for us Aussies it's a bit of a pilgrimage as it as a really massive part of our history.` Many Aussies go over there every year to walk along the trail, experience the hardships that everyone faced over there, and just appreciate what everyone's done for us in our past.
I absolutely had a great time and I really, really, really wanted to talk a little bit about the experience, but as there's already so much information already out there on the actual experience on the trail, I don't really want to talk about that so much because you can find so much stuff out there already. But I do know for a fact that the majority of the training information out there for this particular trek is pretty subpar, to be pretty nice about it. So today I'm going to be diving into the specifics of what you can be doing to help prepare for the Kokoda Track if you're heading over there.
For those who have absolutely zero intention of actually trekking the Kokoda Track, before you just skip this episode, let me talk you through what the specific demands of this trek actually are. While this trail itself is pretty unique for a number of reasons, the particular demands that it [inaudible 00:02:08] faces trekkers and hikers is not. So the information that I'm going to be providing today, not only is it going to be beneficial for those who have the Kokoda Trail sitting on their bucket lists and in their sights, but also for anyone who might encounter one of these things in another trek which they've got planned.
To kick things off, the demands of the Kokoda Track include, number one, loads and loads and loads of elevation. This Trek is renowned just for up and down, up and down, and it really, really doesn't disappointed that reputation. The trail itself is only 96 kilometers and we did it over eight days, so if you thought about that, that's not a huge distance kilometer-wise which you have to cover in a certain amount of time. However, just because there's so much intense up and down elevation, some really, really steep hills, more or less 95% of the time you are going either up or down, it really, really does drag out. One of the boys on our trip, he had an app on his phone which worked out the equivalent distance that we'd actually done each day and it said, as opposed to us doing 96 kilometers in total, end to end, we'd done the equivalent distance of 145 kilometers, which is a pretty big difference. As I said, more or less 95% of the trek is just intense ups and downs and it really does have a very, very, very tough challenge around that.
Number two is uneven terrain. The entire trail is rough and just about 1% of the trail is something that's nice to walk on, that's flat to walk on, that you don't really have to think about. Everything else is just completely, completely uneven trail. There's tree roots everywhere, there's river crossings, you're walking on river stone, you're going through mud on these dodgy trails which are just not very flat at all. As I said, you're always going up and down, so that always adds an extra to it. The challenge of this is you can never really zone out, so mentally you can never go into that happy place where just walking, walking, walking and just daydream and whatever. You've always got to be concentrating because it is super, super rough, and if you're not concentrating, obviously you'll get yourself into trouble.
The third thing is it's hot, it's humid and it's tropical, and it really, really is humid. That means you are super, super, super sweaty all the time, and as we all know, in the heat, particularly in humidity if you're not used to, it absolutely sucks to be walking and it sucks to be exercising. That makes things super tough. On top of that, because it is tropical, it's always raining or at least it was when we were there, so there's so much mud and there's just so much added extra stress and difficulty around that. It really, really does add an extra challenge to that adventure.
Then finally, there's a whole bunch of other terrain that you have to conquer. There's quite a few river crossings which you have to go over, and some of the rivers are relatively high, so for someone who's taller, probably won't have too many issues, it's just an inconvenience you have to go over. But for someone who's a bit of a shorter stature like my missus Ally, some of the river crossings were up to almost her shoulders and it was pretty stressful for her as she was going through. That's something you have to consider. On top of that one, obviously, walking in a river, there's some very, very uneven terrain. If you're not used to that, it can be a bit of a stressful situation as well. There's loads and loads of little balance bridges and just log bridges where you've got to have a fair amount of balance going through because if not, you're going to slip and fall in a river and there's not a huge amount of support structure around that. So that's another challenge that you've got to have a think about.
All of these demands mean there is a pretty big spread of things you want to be covering it in a successful preparation, because ignoring any of these factors is going to make things really, really tough. Not only that, this trail is really unforgiving. So not only are these factors going to be tough if you're not prepared for them, but they can potentially be very much trip ending and there is not much room for error in a few situations.
Having covered all these particular demands, I hope those listening, you can see how learning to overcome and prepare for these things is pretty relevant for quite a few treks in the world. Hopefully not only the Aussies who are planning on heading over there, but plenty of other people listening are going to get quite a bit of value out of this episode today. So I think it's time to just get into it.
To start with, the most common question I often hear, in general, is why do I actually need to train for a trek? But specifically today, why do I need to train for the Kokoda Trail? Well, in general, it comes down to two very specific reasons. Number one, prevent injury. As I've talked many, many times in this podcast, injury is very, very common on the trail; foot pain, shin pain, ankle pain, knee pain, lower back pain, not to mention a whole bunch of other things, is super, super common. Particularly on the Kokoda Trail, as I said, there's so much rough terrain, there's so much uneven terrain, the body really, really does take a battering and you do need to be preparing yourself for your body to be able to prevent this injury and be protected from this injury and this pain. You don't want to be walking in pain, you don't want to be walking injured, and if something serious does happen, it gets to the point where you can't walk anymore, there really isn't any bail-out points. Then that ends up in having some type of evacuation, which would just be an absolute saga and you just do not want that. So that's number one, prevent injury.
Then number two, training is always essential just to properly enjoy yourself on the trail. Sure, there are so many stories of people going onto treks around the world where they're like, "Look, I didn't do any training, I just get pushed myself through. It was mentally tough, but I got myself through and just kept on walking." Yeah, that does happen, but as I always say, if you have been planning this trip for years and years and years and you've been putting all this effort in, all this money, and all this time off work and time away from family, and it's probably the one time in your life you're going to go over and do something like this, or at least in this specific area, you don't want it just to be a trudge.
You don't want to be just stuck in your head and just having to mentally push yourself through. In my opinion, it's just not worth it. Do a little bit of training and a little bit of effort beforehand and you can get yourself into a position where you can enjoy it a little bit more. You can look up and appreciate the beautiful scenery around you, you can take a second and actually have a think about the history around the area, and you're not just pushing through and just hating every second of it. I really, really do think that's so, so important for preparation-wise, because why not enjoy yourself if you have the option?
Leading on from these two reasons, why do I recommend and why do I think people need specific training for the Kokoda Trail and other treks in general? Can't I just go out and hike? Again, yes, so many people go out and just hit the trail and hike, and I've done a previous podcast on reasons when this might not be appropriate for people. To cover some very, very basics today, the common approach, it can work, but the reason why I've made this my life's work and the reason why I'm such an advocate around structured strength and conditioning programs for the Kokoda Trail and other adventures is, number one, it's time efficient. If you're going out and hiking two, three, four times a week, very, very, very few of us have that time in our week. If you don't have a job or if you're retired or whatever, that might be feasible, but for the majority of us it's just not possible. Spending hours and hours and hours and hours and hours walking every week is just not going to happen.
Number one, structured strength and conditioning training, it's just so much more time efficient. You can really, really cut down those hours of commitment and get yourself ready for these trails in a much shorter amount of time than if you're just simply walking.
Number two, as I said, injuries. Hiking and walking training is going to do minimal things to help prevent injury. If you do have a predisposition to certain injuries or pain or you have an injury history, or simply you're just doing a lot of hiking, walking, your body can break down. Walking and hiking training is just not going to do anything to prevent that, so other types of strength and conditioning training is going to be beneficial for that.
Then number three, it's just a lot more comprehensive. As we said before, like I went over, there's so many different factors that comes into hiking the Kokoda Trail and other treks in general, and just to think that just hitting the trail and hiking around your local trails, or maybe a couple of further afield ones if you're lucky, it's probably not going to prepare you for a whole bunch of different situations. It's not going to prepare you for the specifics of the Kokoda Trail, in all honesty, and doing structured strength and conditioning training, when you're doing specific workouts for specific outcomes to help you specifically on the trail, is going to help. That is why I am such an advocate for that type of training.
Now that we've got all that covered, let's get into specifics. I'm going to go through the essentials of what any type of preparation program should be for the Kokoda Track and then just go into a little bit of detail on how to apply it, how to best get the most out of it. Then hopefully by the end of this you will have a pretty solid understanding of what you need to be doing to prepare best for this adventure, and then hopefully you can go out and make it happen yourself.
Number one is your hike or trek training, which, as I just said, is not the only thing that you should be doing, but it definitely needs to be included. This simply involves going out and hit the trail, as we all know and love, but instead of just doing random walks on the weekend or just random hikes here and there, I always say putting a little bit of structure around this can really, really, absolutely explode the benefits of improving your fitness, making sure you don't break down with injury, and whole bunch of other. Applying structure is so, so, so critical for your hike training if you want to get the most out of it. There's a whole bunch of different ways you can apply structure to it, but this is a really, really simple way that I often recommend to people. It's pretty straightforward, it's not incredibly complicated, and it works pretty well.
Basically, in any type of hiking preparation program, about two weeks before you head off on your adventure you should be aiming to do your toughest training hikes. I often recommend you want to be doing the equivalent distance of your longest day of hiking, and specifically to the Kokoda Trail or any other multi-day trek, you want to be doing two back-to-back sessions of your longest day. That would be on the weekend, you might do an overnight hike or you might do two day walks on a Saturday or a Sunday. Obviously that's not incredibly practical to do all the time, but for this last two weeks before you go, it's a really, really good time to do that.
Specifically for the Kokoda Track, you want to be finding a weekend where you can do an eight-hour hike one day, ideally with a reasonable amount of elevation, and then the next day another eight-hour hike, again with a bit of elevation. As I said, whether that's an overnight hike or two day hikes, whatever works for you. Obviously, again, this is an ideal situation. This might be a long time in the future where you're planning for this and when it comes down to it, it might not be practical in your life. Maybe you're busy, maybe you're sick, maybe you're dealing with a niggle or an injury or something. Don't stress about that so much at this stage. Right now, you just want to get out your calendar and you want to schedule this in. Just pop it in there because this is going to be the key for the rest of your planning.
From there, you want to sit down and have a think about realistically how often you're going to go out and get hiking. In an ideal world, if you could hike every single weekend, that would be amazing, that would be perfect, but again, most of us, it's probably not incredibly practical to get out on the trail every single weekend. So you want to be realistic here. You want to have a think about all the occasions and the events that are coming up in the next coming months or whatever you've got, you want to cross them out, and then just think, "What can I actually commit to?" Is it hike every two weeks? Is it hike every three weeks? Is it only hiking every once a month? Whatever it is, you really need to have a think about it. Then from there you need to work backwards from that initial date of your toughest hike, which was two weeks out, and just work backwards, in every date that you can sort of commit to a hike, you want to schedule in that's a day you're going to be hiking.
Then, as you're having to look at it all, you just want to ensure that there is a gradual and steady progression in distances. You want to think, "Hey, two weeks out from my trek is going to be my super longest hike, eight hours on each day. Maybe two weeks before that, maybe I want to do a single eight-hour day. Then two weeks before that, maybe a seven-hour day." You just want to sort of schedule in a whole bunch of different distances which has a very, very nice, slow and steady progression from your first week to your last week. So if you sort of plot it all out on a graph, there wouldn't be any massive spikes, there wouldn't be any jumps up and down, but it'll be a nice steady progression up.
Then from there, if you're super enthusiastic about it, you can start researching particular trails you're going to do around the locals, matching up times and distance and figuring out what you want to do. Obviously, again, in an ideal world, this is all going to work like clockwork. So many things in life come up, but you just want to... putting a little bit of structure and actually write this down. It might not happen perfectly, but at least it gives you a general plan of attack and you can go with it.
One other thing I'd recommend here is if you are planning on hiking every single week, that's great, but I would probably say every fourth week, if you're doing every single week, is just schedule a shorter, easier hike or walk or some other type of activity on this day. You don't want to be doing higher distance, higher distance, higher distance every single week because it's a recipe for overuse injuries. You just want to be letting yourself have a little bit of relax, a little bit of a de-load every four weeks or so if you're hiking every single week.
Then once you've done all that, then the last thing you really want to think about is specific skills that you need to conquer. As I said, things like river crossings, huge amounts of elevation, just simply walking in creeks, little small river stones and all that. Walking on stones, which I know a lot of people struggle with, walking in mud, even dealing with the rain. If any of those things you're not 100% confident about and you've never dealt with before or it just gives you a bit of anxiety or anything like that, these are things you want to be incorporating into your training hikes.
So you want to have a think, "Hey. Look, I need to deal with river crossings, where can I put that in?" You want to maybe have a look at your local hikes and say, "Where can I find a river crossing?" Or, "What's the equivalent of this?" and just see where you can fit that in. It doesn't have to be every week unless you really, really want to overcome a particular fear, but just slot them in here and there; making sure you've at least spoke exposed yourself to all of these things at least once in your preparations, just so you're not going in completely blind. There's a whole bunch of other things that go into your trek training, and it often does turn into... life does get in the way of these types of things, but at least if you've got this general plan written out and this general idea of what you want to be aiming for, that gives you such a leg-up as composed to just doing random walks on the weekend. That little bit of structure really, really does go a huge way, so I cannot recommend that enough, going about it.
Now that we've talked about trek training, the next thing we want to talk about is strength training. I've talked about strength training a lot on this podcast previously, but I will say you'll be absolutely crazy if you're not including this in your Kokoda Track preparations. It is so incredibly important for injury prevention, aiding stability, which is so essential in this trail, helping you with elevation, which is, again, so essential, and improving movement efficiency, meaning you're just using less energy for every single step. It is so, so critical, and please, please, please put it in your preparations.
Straight off the bat, if you don't know what you're doing here or if you're relatively inexperienced, or you're even not a hundred percent sure, this is where you probably want to invest in seeing a professional. It's just so worth it, just getting a professional set of eyes who has spent years and years studying these types of things, learning these things and applying it, as opposed to trying to figure it out yourself if you're not 100% sure. Reach out to someone at your gym, contact me online, or just whatever you need to do to see a professional because it really does add up.
But if you are looking at doing yourself, there are a few particular rules you want to be following. Number one is the main thing is you want to be looking at a structured progression. What I mean by that is the body gets used to things very, very quickly, and if you're just doing the same workout or the same type of workout for months and months and months and months, you'll see stay fit and you'll reach your level. You'll get initial gains in fitness and you'll get initial gains in strength, and then you'll probably just maintain that continually. Which isn't a bad thing if you're doing day-to-day life, but if you're trying to train for a specific trek, if you're trying to train for Kokoda, you want your training sessions to be getting the most out of it. You really want to be making sure that you're continually progressing, getting stronger, getting more resilient, and just getting the best bang for your buck.
A common thing I see here is just trekkers just simply just doing high-repetition training. They'll just do circuit training, they'll just do lots of lunges, lots of squats, things like that, and they'll do it week by week, by week by week. They might add a couple of extra repetitions here and there, they might add some weights here and there, but in all honesty, it's not an incredibly effective way of going about things. There's a whole bunch of different ways you could go about strength training. I could go on and on and on and on and on about this and I do in my day-to-day life, but a really simple way of a trekker planning out their strength training, and one that I use for quite a few of my clients and it can be very, very effective, is you break it up into three phases.
First phase is your first, say, four to eight weeks of your training, depending on how long you have. This phase, it doesn't really matter too much what you're doing. You're looking at exercises where you're trying to do a little bit of stability. It's nice and slow and controlled, you're just trying to get your head around certain exercises, and you don't have to stress too much about weight, it's all about control. You'll be doing things that might take between eight and 10 repetitions, and you'd do that a couple of times a week. That'll be weeks four to eight. I don't want to get too finicky into the details here, but I will put a link up on the how to structure your own strength training programs, how to choose exercise and all that, in the show notes so you can check that out. That'll be your first four of eight weeks, and that's just prepping the body to exercise, learning the movements, getting everything sorted.
Next phase is a strength phase in which things just get a little bit heavier and a little bit more difficult. Those exercises that you've been doing, you might start adding a little bit extra weight in which you can only do something like six to eight repetitions or, if you're a bit more experienced, maybe four to six repetitions. For the experienced exercisers, you might be doing stuff with your barbells like barbell back squats or dead lifts or whatever. For people who aren't so experienced, it might still just be body weight exercises with stuff that's a little bit more difficult, something that's going to give a genuine challenge to the muscles, something that is going to be relatively stimulating, and something that's a bit of a struggle.
This phase is super, super, super important. This is going to be giving you such benefits for going up hills, such benefits for movement efficiency, such benefits for injury prevention. It really shouldn't be something you should miss, but this is something that 98% of trekkers that I see in their strength training, they just completely ignore. Maybe they're oblivious, maybe they're not 100% confident around it, but whatever it is, it's so important.
Then the final phase before you go, this is the last four to six week before you head off, this is where you do that high-repetition stuff, the endurance training. You might be doing circuit training here, you might be doing lots and lots of repetitions of certain exercises. This is perfectly fine at the end stages of your preparation, but you don't really need more than six weeks of this. The body probably doesn't need... it reaches an end point where it's like, "Hey, I'll improve a little bit, but I don't really need to do anything more." So six weeks is probably the limit of this. Saying that, as well, if you do do your strength training before this, you get huge, huge, huge, more amounts of benefits from this endurance training as opposed to if you just went straight into it.
Following that three-step structure can be really, really effective. As I said, I'll drop a link in the show notes below just for you to have a look at this so you can check it all out yourself.
That's the general structure of strength training. There's a few other bits and pieces I want to mention here. One thing I really want to emphasize is when you're doing your strength training, you want to keep the exercises and the muscles in balance. As I said, common exercises, most trekkers know and love; squats, lunges, step-ups, which are great, they're very, very effective, very, very specific for the trail. An issue here is they're all one particular type of motion where it's mainly working the quadriceps, a little bit of glutes. That's great, but there's a whole bunch more going on in your body, and if you neglecting these other parts of your body, it's really not incredibly amazing for you on the trail and you are losing out on a lot of the potential benefits of strength training. I always say, when you're doing the training, keeping everything in balance.
For the everyday trekker, how do you know if you're keeping it in balance or not? How do you choose the right exercises? Well, the really, really, really simple way of doing it, basically for your leg exercises, you want to think about, is this exercise doing a pushing motion, is this something like a squat, a lunge or deadlift where you're pushing through the floor? Or is this exercise a pulling motion where you're doing maybe a deadlift or a pull through or a kettlebell swing, something like that where you're pulling the weight and pulling movement? Those are two simple, simple classifications. You basically just want to think, "For every single pushing exercise am I doing, I want to balance that out with a pulling motion." Really, really simple, but that just ensures that you're hitting all the muscle groups in your legs. You can do the same thing with the upper body as well, but just make sure there's balance in your training. That's a super simple way that people can do it and anyone can do it, more or less.
Then, when we're talking about strength training, we're also talking about a few other bits and pieces that you'll want to include in these sessions. Things like mobility training if you have particularly tight muscles. Commonly for a trekkers it's your hips or your calves or something like that. You want to be doing mobility stuff or stretching stuff, usually in the rest periods of your strength training. There's also your balance or your proprioception work. As I said, you're going to be walking on some pretty sketchy bits of trails, some sketchy bridges, you're going to be slipping and sliding in the mud. You really do want to make sure you're training proprioception. This would be doing balance exercises somewhere in your rest periods or potentially parts of your circuit work or whatever. That's a very, very important inclusion, and also all your core work as well.
Core training is pretty essential, again, for keeping your stability, protecting you from injury if you do slip or slide, and also helping your movement efficiency. So slipping in your core work as well. Again, that's a really good thing to put in your rest periods. A super simple way of creating a little bit of structure is you might do one strength exercise, for example you might do a squat, and then straight after that you could do a core exercise. Straight after that, a balance exercise. Straight after that, a mobility exercise. Then you're straight back into the squat. That means you've got a huge amount of rest in between the two sets of squats you've done, so you can be fully recovered to work on that exercise properly, but you've also used that in a time where traditionally you see a lot of people in the gym just waiting around playing on their phones. You've actually filled that in with some really important stuff.
Before I get way too complicated on all the strength training, it's all getting away from me a little bit, I want to move on before I get stuck in the weeds any more than I have, I want to talk about conditioning training. Conditioning training is simply additional cardio sessions through the week in which you use to develop specific aspects of fitness while you're off the trail. The reasons behind this is, number one, obviously you can't always be on the trail, it's just not practical for most of us, need, but you still need to be developing your certain aspects of cardiovascular fitness throughout the week.
Number two is walking all the time. If you're only doing all your walking either on the trail or outdoors, it's going to more often than not lead to some type of overuse injury, whether it's in your foot, your shin, your knee, and in your back for some people. You want to be mixing things up, and simply walking probably won't help with things like if you're always getting huffed and puffed in elevation or if your legs are always burning on a [inaudible 00:26:32], or a few other bits and pieces. You want to be supplementing your walking and hiking training with some other types of conditioning.
There's generally three types of conditioning things I recommend, and you can probably fit this all into your way or you can alternate it between your weeks or whatever. Number one is interval training. Interval training is great for a whole bunch of different reasons. When I talk about that, I'm not talking about these generic HIT classes that you are do in the gym where you'll do 45 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest, and you'll do just a smorgasbord of exercises. That's great for general people, for trekkers, nah, not so amazing. Interval training is just simply doing periods of higher intensity exercise followed by periods of rest just so you can get a whole bunch of work done in a short amount of time and you can just work in a more of a higher intensity than you would traditionally do when you're walking or you're hiking.
This is where you'd be doing things like aerobic power intervals, which I mentioned in a previous podcast, which is something like three minute intervals at a time with maybe a minute and a half and two minute rest. You do that on maybe the bike or the cross trainer or the rower. Or you might be doing longer intervals of something like anywhere from four minutes at a time up to maybe 12 minutes at a time on something like the stepper or the rower or doing sled work. Also, this is where you would include things like you're loaded pack intervals, which are probably going to be so, so, so incredibly beneficial for someone heading off to Kokoda, purely for the fact that elevation is going to be your struggle.
These loaded pack intervals involve you finding a nice, big, steep hill or a nice, big, steep set of stairs, and you're loading up your pack with a weight which is going to be pretty, pretty heavy and which is going to limit your speed as you're walking up the hill. So when you're walking up, you can't go quick enough that you get huffed and puffed and out of breath, but your legs are really, really burny. You walk up that hill for as long as you can, and then if you get to the top and you have to go again, then you'd empty all the weight out, go down to the bottom, put your weight back in, and then go up again. Again, I've discussed that in a bit more detail in a previous podcast in the specific workouts for hikers and trekkers. So you can check that out, but interval training can be very, very beneficial for someone preparing for Kokoda.
On top of this, the next one is off-feet conditioning, which again I've mentioned previously. The idea behind off-feet conditioning is you're choosing some type of conditioning in which you can do a long, continuous bout of exercise, something you can sustain for 45 minutes, 60 minutes-plus, which doesn't involve you walking and putting pressure in your feet. In this way you can still develop your aerobic fitness in a number of different ways without putting stress on the lower joints, which do a lot of work already in your hiking. So you can get those benefits of fitness but also giving your feet and that a rest. Great examples here are cycling, whether it's indoor on the stationary cycle or outdoors on the bike, swimming, pool walking, stuff on the elliptical, things like that. It's just longer periods of exercise where you're not stressing out your feet.
Some might say, "Hey, why am I doing this lower-intensity exercise? How beneficial is this?" Just take it on faith that it's going to be super, super beneficial, and trying to cram more time in in that lower-intensity state is going to always be beneficial. It's not going to stress out the body so much, so you can do quite a bit of it without absolutely knackering yourself. As opposed to if you tried to fit in three interval sessions in a week, you probably would get pretty fatigued and pretty run down pretty quickly.
Then finally the last type of conditioning, this sort of goes under conditioning but an extra session, is recovery sessions. This basically involves just doing some really, really light activity on the days that you're not actually training or training hard, just to help stimulate recovery, help the blood move through the body, flush out waste products. It's good for your mental health, it's good for reducing muscle soreness. This might be doing simply 15 to 20 minutes of super gentle exercise, which might be a little bit of cycling, a little bit of swimming, a little bit of pool walking, foam rolling, something like that. It's just very, very gentle exercise to help promote recovery. Those the three things I generally recommend going into a week. If you don't have time to fit them all in, that's fine, that happens, but they're pretty, pretty effective.
Then finally the last things I want to talk about are little bit of extras that sort of can just help in certain situations on the trail. Number one is heat acclimatization training. As I mentioned previously, Kokoda is hot, man. You sweat and sweat and sweat. One of the boys, I vividly remember walking behind him and he was literally looked like he had jumped in a pool in his clothes and his socks. It hadn't rained at all that day, he was just dripping sweat in the first few days. It just makes things tough in the heat. Whether you're getting dehydrated very quickly or... There's been so much evidence to show if your training in a hot and humid environment and you're not used to it, so many aspects of your exercise performance just gets absolutely restricted and it makes things tough. So you want to be dealing with that.
A simple way to help with that is something called heat acclimatization, which, as simple as it sounds, is getting in the heat before you go to help the body get used to that type of environment so it can create some particular adaptations in which it'll help you not only survive that environment but exercise in it as well. Particular adaptations there is if you do do this type of training, you come a bit of a better sweater, meaning you're a bit more efficient at using your sweat. The body sweats quicker and it cools you off better, and you also lose less salt in your sweat, which is a big thing. It also reduces the detriments to exercise that happens in the heat and it can also improve your performance in a number of different ways, as well, while you're in the heat. So it is pretty effective.
The common recommendation for this for athletes going to a hot environment is doing one hour of exercise every day in the heat for two weeks before they head off. For a professional athlete that might be practical. For you, not so much, so there's a couple of things you can do which can help here. It might not be as effective as doing one hour every single day, but it can be pretty effective. Number one is simply getting out and hiking in the midday sun. If you're in Australia, that's going to be effective. If you're any other hot country, that's going to be pretty effective. It might not be the humidity, but it can get you used to the heat. Obviously, again, that's not incredibly practical and weather dependent, so you can't really rely on it.
Other option, super, super simple, that most people have access in one way or another to a sauna. Simply sitting in a sauna for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a week can be relatively effective for this type of thing. It's going to be hotter. It's going to be more humid than you would be when you're trekking. You're not actually exercising in there, but it can stimulate some of those adaptations. It can get you a little bit more used to this environment. Myself, I was doing... for about two weeks out, I probably did about two or three times a week in the sauna. In retrospect, I probably would have done a bit more if I'd been a bit more organized, and maybe done it for four weeks or three weeks or something like that. This is a really low-impact option you can do. It's not going to stress you out, it's not going to really add too much to your week. You can literally just hop in the sauna or after a session or go to a sauna at your local pool or something like that and just sit in there for a while.
One thing I'll say is that's not something you want to be messing around with. That's not something you want to be training in that environment, because that's going to really, really zonk you out and it can be potentially dangerous. It's not something you want to be doing having a go-hard-go-home mentality. If you are getting spacey, if you are not feeling good, or if you have any health conditions which might take you away from a sauna, this isn't for you. Don't mess around with it. It's not worth doing silly stuff in a sauna. I've seen people do it in the past working in gyms. But if it's all well and good and if you do it in moderation, it can be pretty good for you there.
Then finally, if you don't have access to a sauna and you don't have access to hot weather, training in heavy clothes can simulate the effects to some degree. You might do once a week, hopping on a treadmill in a track suit and a hoodie with your hood on and just walk for 45 minutes or something like that. You'll probably get some weird looks. The gym staff will probably hate you if you're sweating over all the machines, so make sure you clean up after yourself. But it can sort of give you a little bit of a kick start and your body a little bit of awareness about what it's getting itself into.
Next thing I want to talk about is self-care. Previously I've done a whole podcast on this, so I won't dive in it too much, but let's just say when you're on the trail, when you're constantly going up and down, you're constantly sliding around in the mud, your body takes a battering. So many things pull up sore, so many things pull up tight, and you really need to know how to take care of yourself. So I highly recommend practicing before you go learning how to release certain muscles that are tight. That might be getting a foam roller or a massage ball and just playing around on your calves or playing around on your quads. Or watching a few videos on YouTube about what you can be doing to release certain parts of the body so that when you actually go on the trail, you know, "Hey, my calves are tight. I can do these particular things with my water bottle or with a cork massage ball or with my trekking pole to relieve that."
Alternatively, you're like, "Oh, my quads are so, so sore. I can be doing this." I highly recommend you look into that and add that into a little bit of your training. Quite often this stuff is really, really effective for those recovery sessions I was talking about before, so 100% get on top of that. That's one of those little things that can make a massive difference to your time on the trail.
Next is camping. If you have experience with camping, you've done this in your life and you've got no worries with sleeping in a tent, fine. No dramas, you can ignore this point. But quite often a lot of people going to do the Kokoda Trail, they haven't camped before and they haven't been exposed to that type of sleeping. If you haven't slept in a tent before, if you haven't used a pit toilet before, if you haven't just dealt with living out of a backpack before, I highly recommend you give this a crack before you go.
In an ideal world you'd be doing an overnight hike carrying your stuff because it'd be a great training method for you and you get to try out all your equipment and everything. But if you can't do that, at least get out once or twice with a tent, practice sleeping in a tent, practice your sleeping systems. Whether your sleeping mat or your pillow or whatever you're taking is going to work for you. That [inaudible 00:36:49] just going to take a lot of stress off you. If you haven't camp before, that can add an extra element which you probably wouldn't consider, but it does make a difference.
Then finally, last thing I want to say here is food and electrolytes. In your training, any food you're going to be bringing, any electrolytes you're going to be bringing over on the trail, you want to be practicing this in your training. You want to be teaching yourself to be able to drink while you're walking and while you're hiking, making sure your body can handle whatever electrolyte solution you're using.
Also food. Any type of snacks you're planning on having while you're on the trail, practice them out while you're hiking to make sure your body can handle them and they're not going to run right through you. On top of that, practicing making sure that you eat even when you're tired and even when you're hot, because some people will react to those situations and they'll lose their appetite, and that's a really, really bad thing on the trail. You need to be getting so many calories in because you're burning so many calories, and that's something you need to practice in your training. Without getting too complicated there, just simply eat while you're hiking. Eat while you're training, force yourself to eat after sessions, and make sure you learn and teach your body how to do that.
So that is a whole bunch of information to digest today, guys. There's a huge amount of value packed into that episode. I really do hope you've enjoyed that. However, I do completely understand if you've listened to all this and you are sort of not getting it and you are little bit stressed that you don't know how to apply all this information into your everyday life. I completely understand that because the stuff I'm talking about, this is my profession, this is what I do day to day, this is what I've spent years doing. If you're just hearing this stuff for the first time, it might be slightly stressful. However, if this is you, you are in this situation and you do want help on putting all this stuff together into your own personalized program, I would love to help you.
I run the Online Summit Program, which specializes in helping hikers, trekkers, and mountaineers prepare for their bucket list adventures, which is entirely online. If you were wanting a little bit of help with your preparations to get you fit, strong and resilient to cover everything you need to get ready for the Kokoda Track or anywhere else, you can check out all the information on summitstrength.com.au/online. You can roll through all the information there about how I help trekkers every day prepare for their adventures.
I really do hope you've enjoyed this episode today, guys. If you do ever have any questions about this stuff, please feel free to reach out. If not, we'll talk to you very, very soon. Bye.
Need some help getting fit, strong and resilient for the Kokoda Track?
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.