Training for a walk like the Camino de Santiago is very different to the challenges I’m used to, like recruiting my fast twitch muscle fibres and creatine energy system for a 1RM snatch or high box jump, say, or working the anaerobic system to get a fast mile time. The challenge of a long hike is the fatigue – both mental and physical – and keeping your muscles working together for the entire walk.
It’s less heavy squats and fast burpees, and more spending time on your feet and ensuring those small stabiliser muscles are being used optimally. Of course, it’s a given you need to do some longer weekend walks to prepare yourself, but there are other aspects you may not have thought of. Read on to hear about how I’ve been training over the past few weeks, and how you can apply the principles to a trekking challenge like the Camino.
Although hiking the Camino is a different sort of challenge to running a marathon, both cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance are still needed for the hike. Improving both of these elements will make the walk feel easier due to your body being able to process fuel more efficiently, fatiguing less, and recovering faster.
I’ve been keeping up with CrossFit to work on my strength and cardiovascular fitness though I’ve also added in 1-2 half hour runs, including some hill work, and an endurance class (usually 4km of varied sprint training) per week to further increase my endurance and prepare my body for the long days of walking.
Stability and activation
Core and pelvic stability plus strong glutes will be your greatest allies when doing a long walk. You tend to stay pretty stable during a simple walk around the shops, but the further you walk, the more the small stabilising muscles tire, leaving the big guys like the quads to do the work on their own. This leaves us open to aches and pains, or at worst injury, as it’s those small muscles that keep our joints stable and our bodies balanced. Strong glutes help protect the back, which can take a bit of a hammering if you’re on your feet all day!
I’ve recently been to see a podiatrist (and yep, I’ll be getting some shiny new orthotics very soon) who recommended the following exercises before every training session or walk to help fire up the glutes and help stabilise the pelvis and core:
Lay on your side with your knees bent 90° and the hips around 120°. Keeping your hips stacked on top of each other and your feet together, then lift your top knee. If you don’t really feel it in your glute and hamstring, ensure the hips are totally stacked instead of the top one dropping back. Do 20 reps.
Stand on the edge of a step or kerb, one foot on, one foot off. In a controlled manner, drop the foot not on the step down (hold onto something for support) – with the movement coming from the hips – then lift back up again. You should feel this in the supporting leg’s glute. 20 reps each side.
Lay flat on your back, with your knees tucked in towards your chest and your lumbar spine firmly on the ground. Slowly reach one leg out straight, then the other, ensuring the lower back stays on the ground. Now rock – the rocking should be initiated by your core. Do this 20 times – but if your lower back starts to come away from the ground, tuck one or both of your legs in to scale the movement, and hold this statically for 30 seconds.
Time on your feet
It’s pretty essential to spend as much time on your feet as possible before taking on an adventure like the Camino. This helps your entire body prepare for the long walk, but the more time you spend on your feet, the more you’ll get mentally and emotionally used to the feeling of fatigue you’ll experience during the walk.
It’s been difficult for me to increase the time on my feet – I have to drive to get to work, then I spend a lot of time behind a desk. I’ve combated this by adding I’m walks and runs whenever I can – at lunchtime, going into town at the weekend, and walking between places while I’ve been travelling.
The key here is to do the very best you can to be as prepared as possible. Try walking to work or parking your car a little further away, getting to the supermarket on foot rather than driving, or allowing a little more time between meetings to walk there. Every little will help, so getting out for 10 minutes three times a day is as beneficial as one half hour walk!
Next up in my Camino series is what I’ll be packing for the trip. It’s my first time on a trip like this so please leave your suggestions for things I might forget in the comments – but I just did got an outdoor shop haul so hopefully I’ve covered most bases!