For those who love to travel in the great outdoors, climbing the world’s great peaks and adventuring through the wilderness offers exhilaration and mind-blowing vistas. Whether it’s your bucket-list climb up Kilimanjaro or one of your less daunting treks, high-altitude travel has its rewards and challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is fitness. Traveling at high altitudes requires strength, agility and endurance. Lack of fitness will result in exhaustion and injury, which are the best ways to ruin your trip.
But fear not! If you feel healthy enough to climb mountains in the first place, you can certainly handle a little extra physical conditioning.
Incorporating balance, endurance, strength and cardio into your fitness routine is the best way to prepare for your next high-altitude trip.
Just follow these few common-sense guidelines, and you’ll be ready to tackle your next high-altitude trip.
Create a fitness game plan in advance to calibrate your training. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor at this stage to pinpoint any specific health issues that could inhibit your climbing experience.
Once you’ve got a clean bill of health, create an exercise program that will prep your body for the trek.
Your fitness routine should incorporate at least three 45-minute to 1-hour cardio sessions a week. A strong cardiovascular system is essential for high-altitude travel. At 8,000 feet above sea level, the oxygen concentration in the air diminishes, making you more susceptible to altitude sickness. Your body will most likely adjust to the reduced oxygen over time, and there are some great nutrient supplements that help with the condition. Nevertheless, if you have efficient cardio your body will have a better chance of mitigating or avoiding these symptoms altogether while also expediting any adjustment process.
Here are the three activities that will give you the biggest cardio boost:
Swimming: An exceptionally good full-body workout, swimming trains your breathing while building your cardio. A low-impact exercise, swim training is ideal if you have joint pain and injury. It’s the perfect prep for any adventure that requires physical exertion. Likewise, there’s no expensive gear required; you just need a bathing suit and access to a pool.
Biking: Another lower impact sport, biking works the cardiovascular system while also exercising your quads, glutes and hamstrings — all essential muscles for climbing. While biking may be a gear-heavy sport that can be a bit expensive, the joy of working out with the wind in your hair might be worth the cost.
Running: A low-cost exercise that works both large and small muscles, running is probably the easiest exercise to just get out and do. Other than properly fitted shoes, all you need is a path. Interval running or sprints are especially good for building good cardio. That said, you need to be mindful of your joints and any associated injury. The last thing you want is to do is hurt yourself before a hike!
Climbing, hiking, trekking and skiing all require muscle strength and stamina. In addition to a good cardio regime, incorporate exercise that works your glutes, hamstrings, quads and core. This will give you the power to push uphill while also protecting your back and knees.
Try out these key exercises:
Mountain Climbers: Appropriately named, this high-paced training works your glutes, hams and quads while also helping to improve your small, stabilizing core muscles in the lower abdomen. Do your MCs in intervals of 10s and incorporate short periods of rest. This will mimic physical exertion you’ll be experiencing on your trek.
Squats and Lunges: Your glutes are the largest muscles in your body. They help to establish good posture and protect your back. Strong glutes are also what power you forward, which is essential for a good climb. Squats and lunges are great ways to isolate and build up this muscle group, while also improving stability and back strength.
Crunches and Planks: Build your core. Abdominal muscles protect your spine and maintain stability. Incorporating a variety of crunches and planks will help strengthen your abdomen, which in turn, will make you more efficient when working out other muscle groups in your lower and upper body.
Get ready for the long haul. Traveling at high altitudes requires strength and cardio for extended periods of time. The easiest way to build up your hiking endurance is by climbing. Get the bag you plan to take on your trip, and weight it down (use 20 lbs. to start) and start climbing steps. If you’re planning a longer hike, do these exercises at least three times a week, and aim to do at least 700 steps within a 30-minute interval. Once you achieve this, you’ll be ready for almost anything.
High altitude exercise often requires agility over rough terrain. This makes you susceptible to knee and ankle injury. Incorporate stabilizing exercises to protect these joints and improve strength. These exercises work the smaller muscle groups, which act as foundational support to larger muscle groups while also protecting our joints. A workout that incorporates stability will help prepare you for the variety of physical challenges you meet on the climb while also improving your overall fitness on a foundational level.
Stabilizing exercises include squats on a Bosu ball, balancing your foot on a tennis ball, or incorporating crunches on a work out ball. In general, they are exercises that force you to maintain stability through resistance and concerted balance. They’re a great challenge that leads to great physical results.
Incorporating balance, endurance, strength and cardio into your fitness routine is the best way to prepare for your next high-altitude trip. The more you put into your fitness, the more you’ll get out of your trip.
Don’t let lethargy and weakness get in the way of your next great adventure.