Prepare to Take Your Walking to The Next Level
Now that you’re a dab hand at some of the finest leisurely strolls and hikes that Ireland has to offer, why not consider making some improvements in your lifestyle to have you in top shape for your next adventure.
You might be a weekend rambler ready to take on Lugnaquilla, or a country stroller ready for your first trek up Croagh Patrick, either way, there’s always room for improvement.
If preparing for a more strenuous climb than usual, it’s a good idea to condition your body for the more challenging conditions in the weeks leading up to the activity. To give yourself the best possible chance, it’s necessary to incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic activities into your routine. Sometimes referred to as ‘cardio’, aerobic exercise involves the pumping of oxygenated blood from the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Examples of aerobic activity include light intensity workouts over a longer period of time such as jogging or cycling. Anaerobic exercise refers to the type of exercise that relies on energy sources that are stored in the muscles, for example, when you train using weights.
The more aerobic exercise that your body endures, the longer the outdoor excursions that you’ll be able to enjoy. For those who are completely new to outdoor pursuits and exercise, try and walk 4 km, three to five times a week (walking briskly) for three months before your first challenge.
Your exercise could be walking for part of your commute in the morning or evening and fitting in a walking session over the weekend. Remember to keep the pace brisk and factor in an uphill walk or two.
For those of you that already have a reasonable amount of fitness and may be active hillwalkers, don’t assume you are instantly ready for a challenging hike. Aim to consistently maintain a walking routine for 1 month before taking on your excursion. As with the inexperienced walkers, it’s ideal to incorporate as many hills as possible into your routine. If you are practicing on a treadmill, set the surface to have a slight incline while you’re walking.
Naturally when it comes to tackling those big hills, a good cardio programme can be complemented by enhancing the muscles in your legs.
For legs you can look online for videos that show you how to correctly do the following exercises: lunges, squats, front and reverse leg-curls and step aerobics.
As you might be carrying a heavy pack with you on a long journey, it can help to strengthen your back muscles as well. To exercise your back muscles, look for online tutorials on: sit-ups, kettlebell rows / swings, and shoulder presses.
To get the best of both worlds try some training on the Stairmaster. A typical daily 20 minute Stairmaster workout will work your thighs, knees and buttocks and help you get your heart rate going.
For those looking to travel abroad and take on a mountain trek with a high elevation, high altitude training can really benefit your efforts. At higher altitudes, the air is thinner, there is less available oxygen and it becomes more difficult to breathe. Climbers can condition their lungs for the high altitude that awaits them by training at a similar altitude for 10-14 days before the main challenge.
Those that don’t have access to a mountain that’s high enough can use the facilities of a specialised altitude training centre that mimics the conditions of high altitude such as Limerick’s Delta Sports Dome.
Nutrition for Hillwalking
With some of the breath-taking views that you’re likely to find across a whole range of Irish summits, it’s tempting to pack a bit of a luxury picnic and a small bottle of wine to enjoy the view to its full potential.
However, as you take on more challenging routes, room in your pack comes at a premium so you’ll need to bring the supplies you need and not the food you desire.
Our bodies take energy from food when we exercise and the more strenuous the exercise, the greater the demands.
On a one-day hike that will involve some uphill walking, your body will need carbohydrates and fatty acids to feed your muscles.
A typical day lunch might include a whole meal wrap with protein (such as chicken) and salad, two energy bars or granola bars, some fruit and a packet of mixed nuts and raisins.
No matter how long you expect your journey to be, separately pack additional supplies in case you get expectedly delayed or get into trouble. An extra energy bar and a glucose based energy drink can do the trick.
It goes without saying that water is one of the most important things to bring on your hike. For a hike that is likely to take 3-5 hours, it’s ideal to bring between 1.5-2 litres per person.
If you are familiar with the route and know of some natural water sources along the way, you can reduce the weight in your backpack by bringing a refillable water pack. Do not assume there will be fresh water sources, always carry at least one small bottle of water just in case.
Learn How to Read a Map
When you venture away from familiar routes it’s vital that you know how to use a map and compass. This can be extremely useful for preparing your route and for establishing your position mid hike.
You can learn more about how to use a map and compass correctly with this helpful OSi blogpost.
You can also learn how to deal with a lost map situation and how to stay safe when you get into danger with our Essential Guide to Walking Safety.
If you’re taking on the great outdoors in some challenging conditions, there’s never been a better time to invest in some new gear. Invest in proper wet gear, in particular a jacket and trousers with taped seams and pockets. Try to get the most breathable material possible to reduce the chance of sweating, as this can lead to some discomfort later.
Ditch the wellies or that old pair of trainers that aren’t suitable for more than running out into the back garden in the rain. Factors to consider when you buy a proper pair of walking boots are weight, support, traction, versatility, water resistance and durability.
For more advice on walking preparation and safety and to browse a selection of Irish walking routes visit the OSi Blog.