Crossfit, P90X, Couch to 10K, Sweatin’ to the Oldies. These type of fitness programs have been used by hopeful thru-hikers to get into shape for their start date. Nothing wrong with any of them, except maybe one of them. Or all of them. What do I know? I have an English degree and a disdain for science.
I’ve done Crossfit. It’s okay, but it is only a general fitness program. Thru-hiking is a specialized event. It involves walking for miles at a time, uphill, in rain, sleet, snow, heat. P90X is a quick metabolic shot to the groin designed to melt fat. Couch to 10K isn’t a bad choice, but it leaves out too much. Richard Simmons, while I’m sure he’s a nice balding man, has probably not considered a thru-hike.
The thing about a long distance hike is it kills your body. It sucks up nutrients. Nobody ever went on a bulking program while thru-hiking the AT, PCT, or CDT. You end up eating a buttload of really bad food, mostly carbohydrates and Little Debbie’s. You will lose muscle mass while on a thru-hike. If you consult the internet you will find people who have posted questions about how to maintain muscle mass while on a thru-hike and the answer has generally been “You won’t”. No matter how much you desire to continue your Monday tradition of bench pressing it ain’t gonna happen. If it does you are doing it wrong. Just accept it and move on.
So What’s the plan? Glad you asked. Compound lifts, vary the sets and reps, stay on the heavy side, and walk, sometimes run.
Right now I can bench, squat, and deadlift, more than I weigh. I can overhead press, and clean, a significant amount. I can do ten, maybe more, chin-ups. The goal is not to continue on a periodized trend, but to maintain it until we step foot on the trail. I need to get my miles up. Not running, just walking. I am of the opinion that a simple 5×5 (think Starting Strength or Stronglifts) would serve most people well, even if they were not preparing for a thru-hike. It’s quick, progressive, and effective. Add in a run once week, and a walk every day, for a well rounded program. That’s for everybody else. Me? I’m sticking to a similar program, but I am adding one long hike each week. We go to Sweetwater State Park, which is close by, and hike the longest trail. By December we will be doing that trail two times in one session.
You will end up smaller after a thru-hike. For some people that’s an actual goal. Some people (like a ‘roid freak) consider that a travesty, and they will pick apart everything in order to figure out how to stay “swole”. These people will probably not find themselves making it to Fontana Dam. They won’t be able to withstand the lack of night clubs, their bro’s, the babes, and protein shakes. I did read one post on the Crossfit.com boards where some guy asked about WOD recommendations while thru-hiking the PCT. Some actually tried to recommend something (mostly bodyweight, burpees and chins). Oh how he must have lamented his start date and lack of a box to visit.
The first day of a thru-hike is not the moment to start a fitness plan. Have one going well before then. Crossfit Football is a decent mix of strength and metabolic conditioning, plug a few long walks in and it will have a positive impact. P90X, not so much. Start the trail with some extra weight on your frame, it will help keep you warm those first few nights, and it will vanish before Damascus. And screw your Fran time, and your squat-bench-deadlift PR, and how many curls you cranked with the fifties (your football coach was right, curls are for girls).