In this episode, I discuss how a hiker can best train and prepare for the Larapinta train. And I share a few particular areas a hiker should prioritise in their preparation to ensure they have a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.
This episode will also be relevant for any hiker who is planning a desert hike or a hike on particularly rough or rocky terrain.
How To Get Fit For The Larapinta Trail
Hello guys. Today I am talking all about how to train for the Larapinta Trail. Now, for those who may not have heard of this particular trail before, this is a 223-kilometer trail in the middle of the Australian desert, and it's becoming a really big hiking hotspot for many Australians these days, particularly as international travel has been at a bit of a halt. And just recently, just last week at the recording of this podcast, I went off and did a few days on the Larapinta Trail. I didn't get to do the whole trail and the end-to-end section, but I got to spend five days worth of hiking along this really, really stunning and fantastic trail. And as with a lot of these big adventures, when you go online and try to find advice around physical preparation for this type of thing and for this particular trail, most of the advice isn't particularly amazing.
And as you know, that was sort of the real reason why I started this podcast in the first place. So today, I want to do a relatively thorough episode around how you can train and get fit for this particular trail, the Larapinta Trail, and how you can get in the best shape to enjoy this adventure. Now, if you're not in Australia or have no intentions of ever hiking the Larapinta Trail, that is absolutely fine. And this particular episode is going to be really relevant for anyone who may be considering some type of desert trek in hot and dry conditions. And also anyone who may be considering a trek or a hike which has some pretty rocky and unstable terrain. And there's going to be a lot of great info for those particular areas in this episode today. And if you're never going to come across any of that hiking, well, you might get some good ideas anyway.
So to start with, let me tell you a little bit about my trip. So full transparency, I didn't do the end-to-end. I didn't do the whole 223 kilometers. I didn't do the whole full-pack hike or anything like that. Essentially what I did, was a five-day adventure over a number of different sections of this trail. And essentially I was offered a really cool role with a company that I do a bit of work for as a trip leader. And essentially this company puts together these amazing charity hikes of different people that want to raise money for charity. And they want to go do a hike to sort of raise money for that. And I was offered a role as a trip leader. So I essentially went and represented this company and I sort of helped everyone on the trail as they went through. Made sure everyone was happy and generally tried to look after people beyond what the other guides and everything was doing.
So essentially how our adventure looked. It wasn't the whole two weeks or two and a half weeks of hiking day after day, after day. But essentially, we had a series of pretty much five day hikes and we had a central camp which we went back to each day. And we'd sort of started a different section each day and we'd hike along. Then we get shuttled back to the camp at the end. So it was a really, really nice experience. It took away that worry about having to carry that full-pack. Took away the logistics worries of having to do food drops and everything like that. And for me, I had a really, really good time and it was absolutely fantastic to see a lot of people on this adventure who hadn't done a huge amount of hiking in the past and it made it much more accessible for them.
However saying that, obviously a lot of people are doing the full end-to-end. And a lot of people listening to this, are sort of considering something to different degrees of strenuousness. What a word, that's not super good but either way. And so today, after being on the trail for five days, I feel like I'm in a pretty good position to give you some pretty unique insights either way. So full transparency, haven't done the end-to-end itself and I'm probably not the best person to talk about the logistics on that side of things. But in the training, I can definitely help you. So essentially, whenever we're looking at some type of training journey, pretty much, we want to sort of be looking at the three big areas of training that I always talk about on this podcast. But I'm not going to go into too much detail in these areas because we've gone over it again and again and again on this podcast. But for anyone new, I'm just going to give you a bit of a rundown.
Typically, the three areas of training every single hiker should be considering for a big adventure and particularly for this big strenuous Larapinta Trail, is you want to be looking at hiking training, strength training, hiking-specific conditioning. Now your hiking training is literally getting out and hiking, or if you don't have access to trails, getting out and doing longer walks. Obviously, you do need this, you do need to get ready for this. You do need to prepare your body for the uneven, undulating, and unpredictable nature of the trail. And you just need to get used to walking for hour and hour and hour and yada, yada, yada. Now, if you are doing the full end-to-end, if you're doing your full-pack carrying all of that, obviously you need to consider carrying a pack in those things. Obviously, you need to consider getting yourself ready for that.
And you need to figure out sort of how many kilometers you're planning to do each day, and how much time you want to do each day, and figure that out. Now again, I'm not going to go into way too much detail on that because we talked about it so many times in this podcast. But the one point I want to make on that front, when you're doing your hiking training and when you're planning out your hiking distances for your training, I would highly, highly, highly recommend when you're doing your training hikes, making sure you get comfortable doing even more kilometers than your planning to do on the actual trail. So for example, if your longest day on the Larapinta or on whatever hike you're doing, is 22 kilometers or whatever it may be, I would highly recommend you get yourself used to hiking 23, 24, 25 kilometers at a time.
Now, the reason I say that is, and we're going to go into this in a lot more detail in a moment, but the Larapinta Trail has two main differentiating characteristics that make it a big challenge. It's hot, even when we're hiking in the winter. And it has really, really rough and unstable terrain. And you may not have access to either of those to actually train on. And I'm going to go into detail on how to prepare for that in a moment, but you can get yourself ready by just hiking longer distances. And that's something I'd strongly, strongly, strongly recommend. Now the second area training every hiker should be doing, and if you're doing the Larapinta you 100% need to be doing it, is your strength training. Now strength training, as I always say, it's going to be amazing for helping reduce aches, pains, and injuries. Improving your movement efficiency on the trail, so every step you use uses less energy.
Making heavier pack carrying easier, and just making ascents and descents much more comfortable. So you need to be doing, or you don't need to, but I strongly recommend that you do some strength training in your preparations. Again, not going to get into too much detail today, there's dozens of other podcasts on this, other podcasts go into it, but make sure you're considering that. And then the third area of training every hiker should be considering when it comes down to this, is your hiking-specific conditioning, which again, I've talked about many, many times. Essentially this hiking-specific conditioning is doing particular cardio sessions, which are really, really targeted-particular aspects of fitness that you need for the trail. So it's not just going out and doing a run or it's not just going and doing a HIIT class or a spin class, whatever it may be.
These things may be beneficial but they might not be quite as good as they could be. But this is saying, okay, look, I'm expecting to be doing lots of hills on this trek and there's going to be lots of ascents and descents. So I'm going to do some particular hill intervals where I go up and down a hill, body weight or a loaded pack, whatever it may be. Or I've got to carry a full pack on this, and it's going to get heavy in between food drops, and that way I need to prepare myself to do that. So I'm going to do some loaded pack training, just walking around the neighborhood or on a treadmill with a pack that's heavier than I'm expecting on the trail. And you sort of think about all these different considerations of the track and what you can do to prepare for them.
So typically, in a person's training week you want to be looking at some type of hiking or walking along the walking training, some type of strength training, and some type of hiking-specific conditioning. And that should be forming the bulk of your training. Now, as I said, those are the general ideas of training, and there are things that every single hiker should be doing. But when it comes to the Larapinta, there's three areas. After being on there for a few days myself, there's three areas which I sort of was thinking, this is going to be really, really beneficial for any hiker to work on. And there's three areas that if you do a little bit of work at this before you go, I think it'll pay massive, massive, massive dividends for you when you're actually on this adventure. In regards to your enjoyment, in regards to your comfort, in regards to your performance. And in regards to your safety, such as reducing the risk of aches, pains, and injuries.
So I really do think you should consider these three things. Now, as I said before, the two characteristics of this particular trail is it's hot. It's in the middle of the Australian desert. So even in winter when we are hiking, it does get very, very hot and it has incredibly, incredibly rough terrain. So I've got to talk about the rough terrain for a moment. So pretty much as you walk along the trail, it is very, very, very rare for you actually to find any section of the trail where it's flat and smooth. What you get instead is, you're constantly walking over small rocks, small pebbles, and just rough surfaces. Now what this does is it never really lets you relax. It never really lets you completely switch off. And your feet and your ankles and your knees and your legs in general, are constantly working in weird and wonderful ways just to stop you falling over. To stop you twisting an ankle, to stop you just ruining your body, in all honesty.
You have rocks shifting underneath you. You have to think about every single step you take and it does get tough physically and mentally. And in all honesty, you need to be ready for this. Because in my particular group when we went out, and I know I hear this from a lot of people talking about this particular trail, a lot of people we worked with, we were walking with I should say, we're pretty fit and active. Any other hike they would have breezed through, but the rough terrain was really giving them troubles. And not so much that they weren't getting through the days, but lots and lots and lots of people reporting foot pain, ankle pain, knee pain. And a lot of people were getting really tired towards the end.
Now, this is purely, there's a lot of other factors, but this really came down to the rough terrain because constantly their feet and their ankles and their knees were trying to stabilize themselves. As one lady said, she almost sprained her ankle about 20 times in one day. And she was just constantly trying to prevent that. And it is tough. So in your training, there are some particular things you can do to help make this more comfortable and I highly, highly, highly recommend you get around. Now, first and foremost is you want to be doing lots and lots and lots of calf strength and calf training. Now your calves are smaller muscles down the bottom of your legs. They often get neglected for a lot of hikers. Purely for the fact that they're boring to train and they're a small muscle group. They're not much fun, but they are so, so important to your hiking.
And when we're in this particular situation with the rough terrain, it is absolutely essential. So when we're looking at our calf strength as a hiker, we want to be looking at two different types of movements broken up in two different types of ways. So the two different types of movements is essentially with our calf raises. We have straight leg and bent leg calf raises. Now straight leg calf raise is probably a calf raise that you're all familiar with. If you've gone to a personal trainer or someone at the gym, whatever it may be, you've probably done this and it's essentially standing on the floor or on a step either on two or one legs. And you literally push up to your toe, hold for a second, and go down. And you do that 10, 15, 20 times, whatever it may be.
As I said, you can do this on one leg, you can do this on two legs. You can do it off a step. You can do it with a weight, with a barbell, with a pack, with a dumbbell, whatever it may be. Tried and true, this is really, really, really effective at developing one particular type of calf strength. And absolutely get around that. Do lots and lots of that. On the other side of things, we want to be doing bent leg calf raises as well. Now bent leg calf raises are exactly the same thing, except instead of just standing and pushing up onto your toe with your leg relatively straight, what you're going to do is bend your knee and then push up onto your toe. So you're in a sort of half or quarter squat position and then push up onto your toe, up and down, up and down.
Now what this is actually doing, is this is working a different area of your calves. The straight leg calf raises that we all know and love, typically work the calves that are a little bit higher, a little bit closer to the surface. And they're the ones that you typically see at the top of the calf. The bent leg version is working muscles that are a little bit lower in the calf, and they're a little bit deeper but they're just as important. So it's really, really important that you do get a variation of both the straight and bent leg. Typically, for my hikers, I usually get people doing at least two strength sessions a week. So it's really, really easy. We do one day strength in one strength session, we do straight leg calf raises in another strength session we do bent leg calf raises. And we do that all the way through that prep in different variations and different forms. Now, when you're looking at your calf training as well, you also want to get a mixture of both lower repetition training and higher repetition training.
Now, the high rep stuff is what a lot of hikers do. They'll do 15, 20, 30 repetitions again, again and again, and again. And that's really, really, really good, but to get the best benefits out of this type of stuff, you also want to do some periods of lower repetition calves training as well. So getting some weights behind you, whether it's a dumbbell, whether it's a barbell, whether it's just a loaded pack and doing things that'll go six repetitions before you get tired, or eight repetitions before you get tired, or somewhere in between around that. Now, this can be super, super, super beneficial for your hiking and I highly, highly, highly recommend you get around it. So calf strength is priority number one. Making sure you do straight and bent leg calf raises high and low repetitions.
Priority number two is you want to be doing some type of proprioception or balance training. Now proprioception is essentially the ability of your body to know where it is within space, and balance is pretty much the same thing. Now, the reason why this is important, even if you don't have issues with balance, is you don't want to be spending your entire hike staring at the trail wondering where you are and where your feet are going to go. As much as it can be beneficial, you're going to miss a lot of the stuff and it's not something you're going to want to do hour after hour, day after day. So essentially, developing the ability of your body to know where it is in space means that when you step out, your body will be more likely to understand, okay, is this a good rock, is this a bad rock? Am I stepping in the right spot or whatever? Without your eyes actually seeing it. Now for proprioception training, it is all pretty straightforward.
You don't have to do too crazy. So for someone that may struggle with balance a bit, it may literally just be standing on one leg, one foot up in the air, and just holding it for 30 seconds. Or then you can close your eyes if you want to make that a bit harder and then you can just hold that for 30 seconds. Or you can do the same thing, but standing on a pillow or a foam cap hat or a Bosu ball, and stand on one leg on a Bosu ball for 30 seconds with your eyes open. If that's easy, with your eyes closed. Now then you can start getting things that are a little bit tricky, after that. Once you've developed that, you're feeling confident with that, then you can start moving through different motions. So you might do the same thing, standing on one leg on a Bosu ball or on a pillow and chuck a ball against the wall.
And just those spanked little variations can give you a bit of challenge. Or you might set out three cones in front of you and you might stand on one leg and just reach down and touch each cone 1, 2, 3, and do that a few times. And that in itself can be really beneficial. And there's a 100 other different ways of going about it. And again, as I always say on this podcast, if you do need ideas with any of these recommendations, if you need any video demonstrations or anything like that, come and find me in the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook group, and I'm always happy to share videos. So if you do need help with this, please do come in there and I'll help you out. So that's area number two, developing proprioception.
Area number three is developing direct ankle strength. Now, this is super, super, super, super, super important. If you've ever had a history of rolling or spraining your ankle and just in general, even if you haven't, super, super important, for this particular trail. Now direct ankle strength can be developed in a lot of ways. The calf strength is going to be beneficial. The proprioception is going to be beneficial. For the direct ankle strength, this is typically doing stuff with little mini bands. And doing the little fiddly exercises where you'll hook a band up to a chair and you'll do 10 or 20 repetitions pulling the band, say your right foot, pulling your foot to the right. And then you pull the band the other way and you'll do 20 repetitions pulling your foot to the left. And then you pull the band in front of you and you do 20 repetitions of pulling your toes towards you and then put the band the other way and 20 repetitions going. And you go to literally each direction and just building particular strength in the ankles.
Now, this is not much fun. It's a little bit tedious, a little bit boring, but it can be very, very beneficial for a particular trail like this. And over time you might use thicker bands. You might do more complicated exercise or whatever it may be, but it can be very, very beneficial.
And then the final area that I probably consider training as well, which often does get overlooked by a lot of hikers. And I think it can be super, super beneficial for this particular hike, is foot strength. Now, your feet themselves, they often get neglected in their training. They are important to develop the stuff like this, but they often do get neglected and we'll often feel sore feet. And we'll be like, all right, that's fine. We'll just push through it, it'll get better by itself. Now foot strength can be super beneficial just to develop and strengthen the muscles, develop stability in those muscles, and just reduce a bit of discomfort.
Now there are again, 100s and 100s of exercises around foot strength which you can do. And a lot of them are super fiddly, like picking up marbles with your toes or scrunching towels and this and that. This stuff can be beneficial, but it's so fiddly, it's such a pain, in all honesty, I can't bear the thought of doing that. So I like to keep my foot strength pretty simple. Now what I like to do with my clients is I have a series of four exercises, which are going to be a little bit hard to describe over audio. But again, this will be in the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook groups. If you want to see these, you can check it out. But essentially what we do, first exercise, standing upright, knees straight, glutes squeezed on. You're going to pull your toes up, so you're just up on your heels. And then literally all you're going to do is do 20 steps forward, 20 steps backwards. Keeping those toes pulled up and you're just walking up and down on your heels.
Second exercise, same starting position. Legs straight. You're going to roll yourself out onto the outside arches of your feet, keeping the knees straight, keeping the glutes switched on. So the big toes up and you're on the outside arch. And then holding that position, you're going to do 20 steps forward, 20 steps back. Number three, you're going to do the exact opposite of that. So what you're going to do is stand up straight. You're going to roll onto the inside arch of your feet, and not let your knees collapse in because we don't want that, we want them nice and strong. But inside arch and you're going to go 20 steps forward, 20 steps back.
And then number four, is you're going to go up onto your tippy toes, and then you're going to do 20 steps forward, 20 steps back. Super, super simple. And you typically do this at the end of a strength workout, and you do two or three rounds of each of those exercises. Do them for about five to six weeks and they can make a big, big difference. And again, if you need help with that, videos in the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook group. So essentially, on top of your normal strength training and your normal other development, if you take your calf strength, your proprioception, your ankle strength, and your foot strength seriously, you put a bit of attention into those areas, it would make a massive and dramatic difference to your comfort on that rough terrain. And I cannot recommend it enough.
Now the second area we need to consider is hiking in the heat. Because the Larapinta Trail is in the middle of the desert. It gets hot. And we're very rarely hiking it in summer, but even in winter, it's going to get hot. And typically people try to wake up early, get their hiking done by the middle of the day, and then just chill out in the afternoon because it gets really, really hot. And that's great if you can do it. You may have days where you have to hike in the heat. You may have days where it's just hot anyway, and it's something you need to be aware of. And there are a few things you can do before you go, which can make this a little bit more comfortable, can help you perform a bit better, and also reduce the risk of sort of heatstroke and heat exhaustion, those types of things. Again, you still have to be smart on that stuff. I'm not saying this is a magic cure and you still need to have sunscreen and hats and be smart and hydrated and all of that jazz, but these can definitely help.
So essentially, if you have the luxury of doing training hikes in the heat, in the mid-day sun, that's going to be pretty good for you. So if you're in Sydney, or Perth, or Melbourne, or whatever it may be, and the weather is hot and you can get out and do training hikes in the heat, that is going to help get you used to this particular weather and performing in this weather. Because we all know the first time we'd go out in a hot weather hike that we haven't done in a while, it's tough. We get tired quicker. We get a headache, we get dehydrated, all of this stuff. And the body does take a bit of getting used to it. So we can acclimatize the body to this type of heat. And getting exposed to exercise in the heat is the way we do it.
So if you have the luxury of getting out and doing training hikes in the heat, that's amazing. Good on you. Get out and do it. Easy days. But as I said before, if you're in Australia training for this hike, it's going to be probably winter when you're doing the last of your training. And heat acclimatization, when we're getting our body ready to the heat, we typically want to do this more closer towards the end date. So if you don't have the luxury of getting out for hot-weather hikes in your training, then you need to get a little bit more creative. Now to get the best adaptation to get your body used to the heat, is you want to expose your body to the similar type of heat as what you're going to be doing. So for example, if you're going to get ready for a jungle trek where it's hot and humid, and you're sweaty, you're probably going to want to train or prepare yourself, your body in an environment where it is humid and hot and sweaty.
But in this Larapinta Trail, we probably want to be looking at dry heat because the body is going to be exposed to different type of heat there, it needs to adapt in a different type of way and yada, yada, yada. So if we're in the middle of winter or we don't have access to training hikes, well, what can you do to replicate this heat? Now on a humid hike, you might be looking at putting on a tracksuit and doing some cycling sessions or something like that. And that'll get you sweaty, that'll give a similar result. It's not super relevant for the dry weather hiking. Typically, I say here, the easiest option you can do is find yourself a dry sauna. So not a steam room where again, it's super humid, but something that is pretty dry.
So you might find one in a local gym, you might find one in a local spa, or whatever it may be. You may need to buy a number of casual sessions or whatever it is. But this can be a good investment before you go if you are worried about the heat. If you're lucky enough to have access to a dry sauna at the gym that you're likely to go to, and the easy way of doing this is just using it for 15 minutes or so after a session. And just sitting in there, you don't have to exercise, you don't have to do anything crazy. Just sitting there at the end of the session, then shower off and go home. If not, and if you don't have access to this in a gym and you have to go somewhere specifically, you might go in there and do something like a 20 to 30 minutes session two to three times a week. That is a decent time commitment but if you're worried about the heat, it can very well be worth it.
And it is pretty relaxing. Now you don't have to do exercise in there. You want to be smart. You want to keep hydrated. If you have health conditions, you need to be aware of that. So don't be silly with this type of training. But if you're smart with it, it can be a good benefit. I typically recommend with this type of thing, is save it for the last about three weeks of your preparation. So you don't need to be doing this for months and months and months. It doesn't make sense. It's not worth it. But about three weeks before you go, maybe try to fit in two to three times a week and just get a bit of exposure to this. It's still going to take a bit of adjusting when you get home. When you get on the trail, I should say, because the body's not going to fully adapt.
But it will give you that headstart to stay a bit more comfortable to help you perform a little bit better and just make sure things are going well. So that's area number two, heat acclimatization. I highly recommend you have a think about it.
And then the final one I wanted to mention, is not quite as in-depth as the other ones, but typically you want to also make sure you train your eating. Now, what I mean by this is when we're hiking in the heat, it can sometimes disrupt our hunger. Some people don't experience this and don't have an issue and that's fine if that's you, but a lot of people will find when they're hot, their appetite goes down. Which day-to-day, not a big deal, but when we're actually on the trail and we're trying to get through a long hike, eating and fueling correctly is so, so critical to your performance, to your comfort, even your safety. And if our hunger cues are not so reliable in the heat, you need to train yourself in other ways to remind yourself to eat.
Now, typically, as I say on this podcast many, many times before, what I like to recommend my hikers regardless of what hike or trek they're doing, is trying to have something small to eat once every hour outside of their normal meals. So as you're hiking along, you might stop and just have a couple of snakes, or you might have a piece of fruit, or you might have a couple of pretzels, or a bite of a bagel, or whatever you're carrying on the trail. Obviously, everyone's going to be different there, but every single hour, just having a little bit of food. And I highly recommend in your training hikes is getting yourself ready and used to doing this.
So on your training hike, set yourself a little timer to go off each hour. And when the hour goes, stop, have a bite to eat, and then move on. It doesn't have to take long. You can even do it on the move if you want. You can just munch a couple of jelly babies as you go, or you can drink some electrolytes supplement as you go, whatever it is. But it can be really, really beneficial. And training yourself this in your training and learning how much food you go through day-to-day hiking, will give you a better idea of how much you need to bring on your actual hike, how much you need to fit in that pack. And it will help you remember to do this on the trail. And that one simple little thing, it can make a dramatic, dramatic, dramatic difference to your performance on the trail, to your comfort on the trail, and ultimately your enjoyment on the trail. And I highly, highly, highly recommend you get around it.
So that's probably about it for me today. The Larapinta Trail is an amazing, amazing trail. I was lucky enough to do a small section of it and for the guys heading off for a big adventure, you've got such a cool, cool hike coming up. But it can take it out of you. It does have its unique challenges. That uneven surface, that uneven trail, that hot weather, it is a tough hike and is very, very well worth taking seriously. So in your training, make sure you're doing your regulars, your hiking training, your strength training, your hiking-specific conditioning. Make sure you're putting in those points around getting ready for the rough terrain specifically. Getting ready for the heat specifically. And getting your eating in order. Put all those things together, string that out over a few months, stay consistent with your training and you'll be giving yourself a fantastic, fantastic chance of a safe, enjoyable, and successful adventure.
And I really do think it's a great idea. So thank you so much for listening today, guys. I really do hope you've got a bit out of this. I really do hope you've enjoyed this. I really do hope it's giving you some good ideas for your preparation. Now, for any of the exercises or any of the ideas that I was talking about today on this episode. If you need video demonstrations, if you need extra advice, if you need extra help, or whatever it may be, I would absolutely love if you could come and find me in the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook group. Now inside that group, I'm always happy to expand on these ideas, explore things in a little bit more detail, and really, really get into the nitty-gritty of stuff that is a little bit difficult to share in the audio format.
So if you want to find that group, it's the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook group. I'll leave a link in the show notes below and you can check it out there. So thank you so much for listening. I hope you have a lovely day and we'll talk to you soon. Bye.
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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.