You’ll want to start your training plan well before the day of your hike. Your training needs to imitate the physical challenges you’ll encounter when hiking a fourteener—high output with steep hills, long miles, and wobbly rocks. Features like stairs engage the muscles you’ll use when hiking, and adding weight increases intensity and aids your body’s familiarity with the weight of your supplies. Ultimately, each interval and cardio session will help your body process oxygen at elevation and make you hike stronger and more confidently.
Pro Tip: Make training happen no matter where you live. “I try to at least get a few endurance days a week—like a long run or bike ride with some elevation gain—and spending time uncomfortable and pushing through that discomfort. On other days, I’m at the gym working through a series of different high-intensity interval training style workouts.” Mike Chambers on training for mountainous terrain while living in New England.
Start with the Basics
A proper training plan ensures that you have a sturdy foundation to rely upon and work from. Our training plan covers three key areas—cardio, strength training, and recovery—and provides recommendations on exercises and activities so you can tailor the plan to you.
- Cardio: Cardio is a must-do component of fourteener training. Elevating your heart rate not only prepares your body for major changes in altitude, but also it readies your mind for difficult moments when you’re tired but need to keep moving. Examples of cardio are as follows:
- Trail or road running
- Stair intervals
- HIIT, CrossFit, Tabata
- Elliptical machine
- Strength: When paired with cardio and rest, strength training helps you maximize your potential for success. Strength conditioning helps develop and augment primary muscle groups, reinforces coordination, and reduces your chance of injury. Ultimately, core, leg, and arm training will help build and stabilize your muscles and promote a more adaptive experience as you hike a fourteener. Here are some suggestions for the types of strength training:
- Core—sit-ups, planks, knee raises, side planks, superman, bicycle twist
- Leg—box jumps, various squats, lunges, quadrupedal, leg dips, mountain climbers
- Arm—weight lifting, load carries, dumbbell row, chest press, arm raise
- Balance—single leg balance (add bicep curl for added difficulty), weight shifts, slacklining
- Active Rest and Recovery: On an assigned rest day, you can choose from an active rest exercise or rejuvenating downtime. Studies show that sleep and rest assist with muscle recovery after training and help you stay mentally clear and level-headed. Here are some suggestions:
- Breath work
Pro Tip: Take the time to rest. “Recovery, nutrition, and training are equal parts important. If one of them is out of sync, you’re not going to be as successful as you could be. Just because you’re training aggressively, hitting the trails, and putting in the miles and the hours, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. You need to have equal parts recovery and sleep to complement that.” Jason Antin on R&R.
Things to Remember
Water Consumption: As you workout, you must consume water—dehydration is extremely dangerous. The National Academy of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 3.7 liters for the average adult male and 2.7 liters for females, but you should let thirst drive consumption.
- Nutrition: Food is fuel, so make sure you’re listening to your body. Seek out unprocessed foods when possible: avoid foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates. Make sure you eat enough food to sustain training volume, but not enough to put on excess body fat. To establish daily calorie consumption while training, do two things: 1) Use a basal metabolic rate calculator—which is easily found online—to determine the daily caloric needs for a sedentary individual; and 2) Add estimated calories burned in a training session to the BMR number: the sum will be your suggested calorie consumption. For specific food suggestions, consult a certified nutritionist.
- Sleep: Most average people require seven to eight hours of sleep. When you’re on a regular training schedule you may require more than the suggested amount of sleep for adequate recovery. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night (or more) to start. This foundation will allow you to experiment with how workouts and your energy levels feel—add more sleep when possible.
- Breathe: Cardio pushes heart rate to the outer limits of your comfort zone. So as you’re conducting cardio or grueling strength exercises, you need to remember to breathe. Plus maintaining conscious breath will help you stay level-headed on your hike.
- Maintain Creativity: Try to incorporate training into your everyday routine. For example, that dog food bag is an opportunity to do a weighted carry to the car. Not only does this encourage muscle memory, but it also builds strength and endurance using the most tedious activities.
- Go Outside: It’s easy to lose yourself in the repetition of an exercise routine. However, getting outside is a nice, inspiring reminder of what your training for.
From the weight room to the stadium stairs, physical training is an essential component of fourteener prep. To help you get started, we consulted a licensed trainer and created a comprehensive, 12-week training plan specific to hiking a fourteener—so you can continue to focus on your goal.
And depending on your goal and which 14er you choose, you might need more or less time to train, so tailor the training to meet your personal situation.