Physical preparations for the AT

When starting my research into how to prepare to Thru Hike the Appalachian trail, physical preparation is not something I found a lot of people talking about.

I believe the general opinion is that people will “get in shape” at the start of the trail, I feel this is a flawed approach for many reasons.

Of course this is feasible, the trail will of course toughen you up pretty fast, however, what about the long term, grinding injuries? Those injuries that only rear they’re ugly head after miles and miles of distance covered? I don’t want to get two weeks into the trail and be in so much pain I’m forced off the trail.

Its pretty common for people to quit within the first month due to injury, why? They’re bodies aren’t prepared and they’re trying to put in too many miles day after day. I’d rather put in the work now and start slowly increasing the miles to get trail ready.

The Appalachian Trail will no doubt be the hardest thing I have ever done, I want to give myself every possible advantage going into the hike. I believe its best to push yourself physically in training beforehand to evoke a psychological response. Getting out of bed to go for a ten mile training walk when its raining and cold outside is a lot easier to do when you’re surrounded by your safety blanket of home, friends, family and normal day to day life. That safety blanket does not exist on the trail, you’re in a foreign place (country in my case), surrounded by strangers (emphasis on the strange) and your living in the woods. At least if I’m reasonably in shape its one less thing to think about.

So, where am i physically and what does my training look like?

I like to think of myself as a pretty healthy twenty-something guy, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink regularly to excess and I exercise five to six times per week. Ive dabbled with many different sports and physical hobbies; Martial Arts, Climbing, Rugby, Cricket, Running (Unnghh), and more, I’ve lifted weights five days a week to achieve the “Cover Model Body” and got good results. The ones that appear to have stuck, are at least for now, lifting weights in some form or another, walking/hiking and some Yoga and Martial Arts thrown in now and then.

What are the physical demands of hiking the AT?

Walking mile after mile, day after day for up-to 180 days.

Preventing and minimising the risk of injuries.

Simple, right?

Walking

My place of work is around 13 kilometres from home, two to three times a week Ive been walking home. I work nights and so the journey home begins at eight AM, there has been snow and slush on the ground (good training for hiking with wet feet) and temperatures have been hovering around the zero degree mark, it has proven to be as much mental training as it has physical. The journey itself takes around two hours and fifteen minutes, its almostly completely flat which isn’t representative of the AT however. I’ve also been taking other long walks when time permits, around town and in local national parks.

Stair climbing sessions

To somewhat simulate the rigorous ascents and descents i’ll face on the AT I added one or two stair climbing sessions per week. Our apartment is on the top floor of our building so during these sessions I just set a timer to thirty minutes and go up and down the stairs. This proves to be a real thigh burner and gets my heart rate soaring.

Yoga and Mobility sessions

To supplement my training and aid recovery i’ve been doing a couple of different Yoga sessions a week as well as undertaking daily “stretching” sessions, i’ve been going to massage once every few weeks which has also really helped. Proper nutrition is also paramount, I have eaten a mostly Paleo diet for a couple of years and feel great because of it.

Yoga is something I tried a few years ago with a little skepticism, It didn’t last long. I’ve found regular Yoga sessions to be extremely helpful in maintaining and improving flexibility and muscular endurance and it forces me to spend time stretching, something which otherwise I tend to neglect.

Ive also been looking at Kelly Starrett’s work over at www.mobilitywod.com and have found his two books to be extremely helpful. They’ve opened my eyes to a whole new world of optimum movement patterns, self massage techniques and other ways to make myself “A supple leopard”.

My training has thus far gone really well, i feel stronger both physically and mentally and will continue to increase my output up until I leave. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment and ask questions.

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3 thoughts on “Physical preparations for the AT

  1. My Reply

    I know you have been preparing really well and really taken your time with doing all those things. Keep it up, soon you are leaving!!! 🙂

  2. Dessie Reply

    Sounds so good Paul. I envy and admire the way that you are preparing for the project. Did you prepare also for the mental stress a trip like this could bring? With a strong body you will get far…but I do belive you need also a strong mind. Good luck with preparations!

  3. PIE Reply

    Thanks! Im really excited. I am trying to prepare mentally, the biggest thing i feel is that ive done my research and know what to expect, I know some days im going to be cold, wet, hungry and missing everybody. I have to think about all that I will gain from this experience and remember even the bad stuff is just temporary. Thanks for the support

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