Top 10 Training Tips for Strenuous & Ultimate Challenge Hikes
Joining one of MT Sobek’s Level 5 (strenuous and ultimate challenge) treks is an exciting and rewarding experience. It is hard to beat that satisfying feeling of accomplishment after reaching the summit, a remote vista, or taking the last few steps of the day and finishing a hard trek through some of the most stunning and remote settings on the planet.
Training enables hikers to go the distance and get the most enjoyment out of the trips. Due to the daily elevation gains and extreme altitude that we encounter on hardcore hiking trips, it is imperative to have strong legs, muscular endurance, mental fortitude, balance, and experience with multi-day hiking.
Proper hiking techniques are crucial for safety and satisfaction, and practicing them makes it easier to cover varied terrain over long distances with greater ease and comfort. Utilizing proper techniques also helps conserve maintain energy levels at higher altitudes, reduce fatigue, achieve your goals, and most importantly, have a lot more fun on your next MT Sobek adventure.
1. Keep a steady pace and rhythm
Find a consistent pace and work to maintain consistency with that pace throughout your entire hike.
2. Mix up your stride
Vary your stride with longer steps and shorter steps, stepping with feet flat, back on your heels, and up on your toes. By adjusting your stride frequency and length, you’ll spread out the impact, and avoid overburdening one specific area.
3. Practice breathing techniques
At higher altitudes, especially over 10,000 feet, there is substantially less oxygen in the air so it’s advisable to take deep, consistent breaths through your nose and mouth. This practice works to mitigate the unpleasant symptoms of altitude sickness by exhaling more carbon dioxide from your body. It is also advisable to set a rhythm and match your breath with your stride, because it will help you keep a steady pace. For more information, check out Web MD’s section on Altitude Sickness.
4. Explore the “rest step” method
The “rest step” is a method used for steep uphill portions and enables the conservation of energy. Over the course of treks involving higher altitudes and requiring more endurance, the rest step is a helpful technique. This step helps fatigued muscles, giving them a rest while utilizing the body’s bone structure for support.
While stepping up and forward, lock the downhill knee and shift your weight on to that back leg. On the next step, transfer your weight to the uphill leg and use momentum of your stepping leg to swing your foot forward.
5. Descend safely and efficiently with a low center of gravity
Descending efficiently can limit impact on joints and reduce the chance of falling and other awkward or potentially dangerous mishaps. You can also move quicker and tread lighter with the proper step.
While stepping downward, work to keep a low center of gravity. Do not lean forward. By keeping the downhill leg slightly bent, your muscles can better absorb the impact, reducing the strain on your joints.
Downhill hiking requires more focus and concentration on foot placement. You’ll also want to take smaller steps when the gradient is steep to maintain balance and control.
6. Hike with a weighted pack
On MT Sobek’s Strenuous and Ultimate Challenge trips, you’ll carry a day pack to hold the items you’d like to have on you during the day (extra layers and rain gear, water, your camera, a picnic lunch, etc.). During training, try hiking with a 10-15lb pack and gradually add weight as the departure approaches. This type of training and progression will improve strength and endurance.
Make sure the pack fits comfortably and the weight is evenly distributed between your shoulders and hips. A properly fitted pack can help reduce soreness and the risk of injury.
7. Invest in poles
Trekking poles assist with balance, provide additional protection from falling, and alleviate constant pressure on your knees and other joints. Clients who do not normally use trekking poles, often end up borrowing them from guides or buying a pair during the trip. We advise saving the trouble by purchasing a new pair of poles before your trip and becoming comfortable using them on varying grades.
8. Break-in your gear
Train in the same gear that you plan to wear on your trip. Break-in those boots, pick out your favorite hiking socks, get used to the daypack, know how to handle the trekking poles, and make sure you are comfortable layering your clothes.
9. Take a break
It’s best to take regular, short breaks to stay agile and keep your muscles warm. If you decide to rest for a longer period of time, plan appropriately with your choice of clothing in order to stay warm. Additionally, It’s important to stay hydrated and drink lots of water. Don’t forget to stretch before, during, and after your hike to develop better flexibility, mobility, and allow for proper muscle priming and recovery.
10. Hike with friends and family
Encouraging friends and family to join your hikes is a great way to make training more social and more fun!
There are many other techniques and training methods to prepare for the trip. Remember to consult a physician if undertaking any new exercise, and raise any questions or concerns with your Regional Specialist/Adventure Coordinator before your trip. Hiking is the best way to prepare for a your next MT Sobek adventure, but we encourage trying alternative activities to supplement your training such as cycling, swimming, running, weight training, and other sports. I’m an avid swimmer myself, and I find the anaerobic training really helps me prepare for low-oxygen high altitude hikes!
We’d love to hear about your favorite training methods! Feel free to write to us directly or share your training approach on our social media pages—and be sure show us your photos from the trail.
Hilary Walters, Director of Africa Programs