I have a client who is going on a trek to Machu Picchu and will need some training to prepare her for high altitudes.
When training hikers, especially those who will be hiking at an altitude, specificity of training is the key. Initially many concerns raised by those undertaking the climb is the effect that altitude will take. Whilst altitude does make a significant contribution to the increased work rate, specificity of training for altitude would require several weeks at an altitude of at least 5,000 feet for any biochemical response; for most preparing to go on an adventurous hike, this parameter of training is not possible.
With this in mind however, there is still a lot that can be done. In fact, often it is simple training parameters that provide the difference between failure and success, even more than altitude.
- You must train wearing the clothing you will be wearing for the hike; this is no time to get blisters from new boots two days into your hike. You need to experiment with your socks, underwear, shirts, pants, waterproof or thermal clothing. Will you need Vaseline for wear spots, or will you use micropore? Several days into a hike is too late to find out. “What do you mean these boot aren’t waterproof?”
- This also includes backpacks, which are loaded with the same equipment you will take hiking. Not only is it important for the musculoskeletal and metabolic training effect, but you also need to get used to wearing the backpack, feeling the specific aches and pains and spend time getting the straps and packing right BEFORE you are half way through the hike.
- You will have to attempt to train in similar climates; hot destinations require training in heat (e.g., the heat of the day) and cold destinations require training at colder periods (e.g., between 1 - 5 am).
- Your hiking must be that…not going up and down on a stepper. You must prepare your neuromuscular system for walking on uneven ground that slides out below your feet, lifting the feet a little higher than usual to step over rocks or uneven pebbles…etc
- You need to ensure that your diet is 100 percent, especially your iron intake. You cannot afford to be anaemic when the O2 gets scarce.
- Finally, you need to prepare mentally. This includes training with no head phones and training for long hours for several days. It will do little good training for two hours a day every second day when you will be hiking for eight to 10 hours a day for three consecutive days. For those unaccustomed to long walks in solitude (by this I mean alone or in small groups without distractions), you will find more often than not it is your mind that succumbs first. For example, you start to feel an itch in your foot or an ache in your thighs. If you cannot divert your mind away from the physical discomfort, it becomes the center of your attention, and there is a good chance you will succumb to the temptation to stop…just once…then once more.
For your mental preparation, you should also run through “what if” scenarios to prepare you for the psychological challenge: What if my backpack strap breaks? What if my clothes are wet? What if I find it hard to breathe? The benefit of this approach is that it will help you prepare for tricky situations before you go. (For the backpack scenario, buy a few extra clips; for wet clothes, pack a few plastic bags and place these with the wet clothes inside in your sleeping bag at night so that your trapped body heat will help them dry. For the breathing scenario, learn some deep breathing exercises or relaxation exercises to ensure that you do not become more tense and use up even more metabolic O2).
These are just several examples of the level of specificity required when preparing for a hike, especially one in a challenging environment.
Good luck, and climb ever higher.