I pause several thousand stairs up for a drink of water. Ahead of me, the steps continue to spread upward. My thighs burn. My breath is hard and fast, but as I sip my water it quickly slows. I’m ready to go again.
Many people worry that they are not fit enough for long treks, especially in the challenging Himalayan region. I was concerned when I started, and so was most of my hiking group. However, with the right training, realistic expectations, and healthy on-trail habits, Himalayan treks are possible for most healthy hikers. Here are some tips for how to train for trekking in the Himalayas.
You will need to build muscle, endurance, and your cardiovascular system. Do not put off training until a month before you leave. It is worth splurging a bit and hiring a trainer who can design a program specifically for what you are doing. If he or she can see your hiking itinerary, even better. They will likely develop a plan that spans several months. Stick with it.
Use a combination of exercises
If you choose to develop your own plan (after careful research), use a variety of exercises. Including trail running ensures you will be confident on your feet on uneven terrain. You will also want to include box steps on boxes of varying heights while holding weights. Though you need to build endurance to hike between 4 and 9 hours a day, it is also worthwhile to include sprint intervals, either running or on a bike. This improves your recovery time. Try short bursts of pushing a heavy sled to build your CV system to ensure you don’t feel like throwing up on the trail! And do not forget your arms! You should use trekking poles, and these may give you more of a forearm workout than you anticipate. Try some tricep extensions, as well as pull ups, rows, and dips for your shoulders and back. You will, after all, be carrying a day pack.
Staying healthy during the trek
Water is the most important part of your hike. Drink about 5 liters a day. Stretch your calves, hips, and glutes any time you stop. This will minimize morning soreness and prevent injury. Bring biofreeze, icy hot, or Tiger Balm for rubbing on sore muscles at night (Tiger Balm is easily available in Kathmandu and Pokhara). I found these particularly helpful on and behind my knees after steep downhills. No matter what your diet is at home, eat on the trail. All teahouses serve pasta, rice, and pizza. Take advantage of all those carbs. Keep beers to a minimum, especially when you reach higher altitudes.
When you finish
The work you have done hiking will affect you even after you finish. The plane ride might feel particularly painful, as your legs may be very restless for several days. Wear compression socks and try to get an aisle seat so you can walk around. I found myself needing to take melatonin or another light sleep aid for the first week, as my legs kept wanting to jump and twitch in the night now that they were not doing so much work.
After all this, you will definitely come away with a sense for exactly how strong your body is.
Article by Dani Bailey.
Top image by anoldent/Flickr