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Natural Awakenings Coastal Carolinas

Get Fit and Get Outside: How to Prepare for Outdoor Treks

Mar 29, 2024 09:25AM ● By Marlaina Donato
Senior woman on a hiking trip with the help of a trekking pole.

Jacob Lund/CanvaPro

Hitting the trails offers something for everyone, whether it’s hiking for the day or backpacking and roughing it overnight in remote areas. According to the 2022 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, getting up close and personal with Mother Nature is more popular than ever in the States, with 58.7 million hikers and 10.3 million backpackers in 2021.

With health benefits like stronger heart health, a lower risk of respiratory ailments and a boost in mental health, hiking is a fun way to stay fit, but prepping for the physical demands of local trails or wilderness is essential for both endurance and injury prevention. “A strong, well-conditioned body is your best ally when crossing rough terrain and overcoming unexpected challenges,” says Larry Pringle, a certified fitness trainer and founder of Perfect Fit Training and Nutrition, a holistic training hub for busy entrepreneurs.

 

A Trail Plan for Any Age

With great diversity of trail challenges to choose from, hiking is doable for most people. “If you're generally healthy, no matter your age, you can complete any hike you’ve always wanted to do,” says Fit for Trips hiking coach Marcus Shapiro. “I have had the privilege of working with many individuals who are over 70 years old, and they have successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and the base camp of Mount Everest.”

Shapiro estimates an eight-to-12-week training regimen for younger hikers and 12 to 16 weeks of preparation for older enthusiasts. For the best fitness outcome, he underscores the importance of choosing the right exercises for the sport, explaining, “Every recreational activity requires a unique training approach for best results. It’s called ‘specificity of training’.” His Fit for Trips training includes inclines, stairs, lunges, distance and high intensity interval training.

To meet the challenge of walking for hours at a time, cardiovascular conditioning like jogging, brisk walking, time on the treadmill or cycling is a good place to begin. Adding a heavy backpack of survival supplies to the equation requires extra strength in the legs, core and upper body and is best achieved through squats, planks, lunges and push-ups. Full body stretching with emphasis on hamstrings, quadriceps, hips and back are also essential.

 

Make It a Lifestyle

To avoid weekend warrior injuries, it is wise to adopt a hiker’s mentality in everyday life. “Start slow and find ways to incorporate more movement into your daily life,” advises Maggie Peikon, communications director of American Hiking Society. “Skip the escalator or elevator and opt for taking the stairs instead. You’ll be glad to have gotten those extra steps in when you’re taking on uphill climbs out on the trail.” She also hails the perks of biking to the store with a backpack or walking to the park for a lunch break if it is safe and feasible. Most of all, Peikon stresses the value of going slow and listening to the body.

The benefits of getting outdoors goes beyond physical health and spills over into positive impacts on the environment. Peikon muses, “When we hike, our connection to the places we explore grows. When we feel connected to a place—whether a trail or a favorite spot outdoors—we are more likely to step forward to protect the environment and change our behavior to lessen our negative impacts.”

For Pringle, having a strong body carries over into other areas of living. “Getting ready for the trails means getting ready for life. Before you hit those paths, hit the gym. It’s not just about reaching mountaintops; it’s about reaching for your best self.”

 

National Trails Day

June 1 is National Trails Day, a day of service for hometown trails and the people that love them. Promoted by the American Hiking Society, public events throughout the country offer opportunities for tens of thousands of participants to come together in partnership to advocate for, maintain and clean up public lands and trails. To learn more and find a nearby event, visit AmericanHiking.org/national-trails-day.


Finding a Nearby Trail

Check out these sites for detailed information about hometown trails that match the hiker’s level of ability.

  • AllTrails.com
  • FaroutGuides.com
  • HikingProject.com
 
What to Pack on the Trail
  • Sturdy, appropriate footwear—from trail shoes for moderate terrain to heavy hiking boots for strenuous climbs
  • Nutrient-dense food
  • Rain gear and dry-fast layers for changing weather
  • Means to start an emergency fire
  • Whistle
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Multi-tool or knife
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing
  • Lightweight protection from the elements

Marlaina Donato is an author, visionary painter and composer. Connect at BluefireStudio.art.



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