Physical fitness plays a very important role in hiking, trekking and mountaineering. It becomes the difference between enjoying the trip or going through lot of pain, suffering and injuries.
To properly understand the physical requirements for hiking, trekking and mountaineering, it is important to first understand the difference between the three. Though all these three activities require walking in hilly or mountainous terrain, the difficulty, and technical and physical requirement for all of them are different.
- Hiking: It is the shortest of the three. Normally hikes vary in duration from half a day to one day. In most of the cases, one starts and ends the hike at the same place. The walking trails during hikes are well defined and minimum equipment is required.
- Trekking: Simply put, a trek is a multiple-day hike from one place to another, on defined trails or through snow, ice or moraines. Some basic technical equipment such as camping and cooking equipment is required for a trek. Since a trek is done over multiple days, its physically more demanding than a hike.
- Mountaineering: It is the toughest of the three. It is also conducted over multiple days but requires some level of technical training and also far better physical fitness, especially the adaptability of the body to low oxygen at heights. Technical training is required to walk or climb through ice, snow or rocks using special equipment. Further, the risks due to weather and altitude are also high in this activity.
The primary difference between the physical fitness required for the three activities is mainly dependent on the endurance aspect. While a small hike requires minimum level of endurance, long and high altitude treks and mountaineering expeditions require a very high level of endurance.
The endurance level can be increased by primarily working on the following physical aspects:
Cardio basically means to increase your heart rate during exercise which in turn results in a stronger heart, good lung capacity and better circulatory system. As the availability of oxygen becomes less as one climbs higher during high altitude trekking or mountaineering, having a strong and healthy circulatory and respiratory system is very important.
For mountaineering and trekking purposes, walking, jogging and running are good cardio exercises as all three require one to carry and support their entire body weight. This helps in development of the muscles required for walking long distances. Swimming and cycling can also be done for cardio, but in both these cases, the person doesn’t support his/her own body weight.
Strength is required to carry one’s own body weight and the weight of the rucksack during the activity. Strength is not only needed while climbing up, but also while climbing down as it plays a very important role in preventing injuries.
Squats, leg raises, push-ups, pull-ups and lower back exercises are some of the important exercises to achieve the strength goals. Further, building the core strength is also very important, which can be achieved by doing different types of plank exercises.
Body flexibility is very important when one is involved in technical climbing. For normal climbing, a minimum level of flexibility prevents some basic muscle related injuries. Regular stretching of the entire body muscles helps in increasing the flexibility.
Yoga is helpful in number of ways for all three activities. It helps to regulate the breathing, build lung capacity, increase flexibility and also improve endurance and strength.
In general, a workout regime for strength and cardio should be followed for around 4-5 days in a week, while flexibility exercises can be done daily if possible.