So what happens if you love hillwalking but are very busy with work or family or simply have too many other interests to devote a lot of spare time to walking up hills?
You want to make the most of the few opportunities you get so how can you get in shape and stay in shape for the hills, thus ensuring enjoyment of this beautiful passtime.
Last year I had a dilemma. I agreed to do the Three Peaks Challenge with some friends but my work and home life was, lets say all-consuming. I was not in tip top physical condition having not been to the gym for some time and had not seen a mountain for a few months.
When I signed up in February 2015 to do the 3 Peaks Challenge in July, I had not seen a patch of rising ground since a weekend with friends in the French Alps back in November 2014. A weekend that was as heavily focussed on red wine as it was on hiking.
So in February 2015 I set the following goals which I estimated would enable me to complete the challenge in relative comfort, not having had the possibility to rely on natural conditioning from walking regularly in the mountains. I think the exercises I outline below, although intensely personal, give a good grounding for maintaining a fitness that will allow you to enjoy walking in the mountains when you have the chance to do so.
1) Run 25+ km per week
2) Do at least 2 sessions of strength work on my legs per week
3) Walk or preferably jog 5 kilometres up an incline every week
4) Improve upper body health
5) Lose 5 Kilos, without dieting, to make my life marginally easier
6) Limit my intake of craft beers.
Now, two things to note here. Firstly I acknowledge that this is, whilst not exactly straight forward, also hardly the stuff of an SAS training camp and secondly, obviously I failed on point number 6.
However, here is how I implemented the rest:
Running 25km a week sounds like a lot to those who do not regularly exercise. But I imagine if you enjoy walking in the mountains you are not a complete exercise novice and in reality it is equal to just over 3 treadmill sessions of around 8km. This kind of cardio work is great for preparing both your legs and your lungs for the task ahead. You also don’t have to start at this level but look to be doing it by month 3 or 4.
I actually varied the distance so sometimes I did a 5k run one session and 2 X 10km runs the other days, depending on time available.
The gym takes up valuable time so find one on the route to or from work (or at work could be even better). Secondly consider running home from the gym to incorporate this distance in your weekly mileage. Both of these things freed up more valuable family time in my case. Every little helps. But why do it in the gym when you could be in the great outdoors? True. But I was living in a city and running in the gym meant I was close to the weights which allowed me to...
2) DO SOME STRENGTH WORK
I did at least 2 sessions of strength work per week. I have the physique of a stork; ludicrously long thin legs and a slight belly. For me doing power work on the quads and glutes (arse to you an me) was absolutely invaluable and I really believe it was the difference between me struggling on the 3 Peaks having not done much climbing or hillwalking for years and actually finding it a reasonably pleasant physical experience.
3 - 5 sets of 10 repetitions. In the gym I find the leg press to be infinitely better than the leg extension machine which just kills me and seems to achieve nothing in terms of strength. Find the weight that challenges you and build up when comfortable without lowering the reps - this is not about having bodybuilder muscles - the idea is to actually use your legs. Its probably worth throwing in a few comparable hamstring exercises to keep a nice balance although I rarely did.
If you want to limit your time at the gym squats are a great alternative that you can also do at home whilst watching House of Cards.
Lower into a squat position, as if you were sitting on a chair, by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor and stand back up again. Remember to lift your arms up for balance when you squat.
I started with 4 sets of 10 reps, increasing to 6 set of 15. Push yourself but don’t damage yourself.
Always warm the ol’ knees up and, when perfuming squats, make sure your feet face straight ahead so your knees do not have any unnecessary strain.
3) UPHILL TRAINING
Time was of the essence so I combined walking up hill with my treadmill runs.
Slipping one km of 8 - 10% incline at the beginning and end of each run really threw in a little test of stamina.
Don’t overdo this and fall unceremoniously off the treadmill in a gasping tangle of limbs. I felt it was important to get some miles in the legs and added these inclines in gradually as my fitness improved.
4) CORE FITNESS
Maintaining core and all upper body fitness is really important for so many reasons. You might not think you use your it when walking but in actual fact if you do all the time; using walking poles, taking a ruck sack on and off, shifting your body weight to get up steep steps. In short core fitness helps your stability and helps you move more efficiently - it should not be neglected. Furthermore it happens to be where most of us carry our excess weight. The lighter you are, the easier your legs can transport you up a hill.
There are plenty of options here. Personally for each of my 3 weekly workout sessions I did 3 sets of sit ups interspersed with 2 sets of push ups - 10 - 12 reps each time. Obviously it depends on your upper body fitness so it could be half push ups to begin with and work up.
I also did some lat pull downs in front of the head and behind the head. Again you find your starting weight here and perhaps build up a little but for me its not about building any form of bulk, so I started with 4 sets of 10 reps and ended up doing 6 of 15 reps.
This is totally unscientific and is based on how I felt. In terms of core strength there is a multitude of variants.
Get some advice from a fitness instructor to get a good all round core work out, but remember this is also something you can do at home whilst catching up on your favourite series, after the kids have gone to bed.
5) LOSING WEIGHT
This goal is naturally very specific to me. Actually I lost 4 kilos and to be honest this kind of just happened from the extra exercise I was doing. I did cut down on my bread intake and tended to eat earlier in the evening whenever possible but because I was mostly going to the gym after work I couldn’t change this too much.
Yeah, well, not a lot to say here. Try and do better than me.
Brew Dog Punk IPA
I freely admit that I did not stick to my plan 100%. There were weeks when I went twice to the gym and some when I went 4 times. There were a couple of weeks I didn’t go. But I tried to supplement with exercises at home as outlined above, much to the amusement of my 4 year old daughter. I also had the chance to do a couple of long cross country runs to feel a little bit of uneven terrain under my feet a couple of weeks before the Three Peaks Challenge. This was good to give my feet a different kind of pounding.
I think I managed to limit most gym sessions to an average of around 1hr 15 mins, through running home and showering at home.
Last, and my no means least, if you are going to do something like the Three Peaks Challenge, remember the impact you are having on the land and the impact you are not having on the local economy. Please revisit these places in daylight and take your time not just to enjoy a physical challenge, perhaps an even more modest one, but also to enjoy the environment and buy a couple of pints of ale in a local pub.