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Build a better body by hiking

By Joe Marino

Add outdoor fitness to your workout routine and the rest of your exercise will seem, well, routine—especially if you swap in hiking. It's one of the easiest and least expensive of all outdoor recreation activities, and it's got one of the most impressive calorie burn rates. The average male burns 595 calories in one hour when hiking. Add a 20-pound backpack, and you'll strengthen and tones your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, core muscles, and upper back.

Plus, there's the breathtaking scenery, not to mention the mental health benefits, particularly for those who link up with a GLBT outdoors group like Campton, New Hampshire-based Gay Outdoors, says its administrator Mike Boisvert. "When you're hiking with [a GLBT group like ours,] you don't have to be on guard or careful about what you say and do; you are among family," he says. It's a great way to connect with like-minded people, who also enjoy the outdoors, care about the environment, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and maybe aren't as into the bar scene.

"We push people to their physical limits, far beyond what is typically experienced in the gym or running in the park," Eden Slezin, founder of San Francisco-based Backcountry Found, which provides both custom or private backpacking trip and pre-planned group tours. "Gay men, specifically, tend to find this challenging and somewhat foreign at first, but very empowering in the end. Often the experience can result in them taking more positive steps in their lives; getting in better shape or getting outdoors more."

Sounds great, right? Well, before you sign up for one of the aforementioned club's multi-day treks, you'll need to set aside several weeks of training. Otherwise, you'll pay—with aching feet, sore legs, and a bad back.

Below, courtesy of outdoor conditioning coach Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS, co-owner of Seattle-based outdoor Body Results, is our kick-start guide to getting your butt into awesome endurance-hiking and altitude-trained shape. Follow this eight-week training program and you'll be ready to finish an eight-mile hike with a 3,100-foot elevation gain in two hours or less.

Mission: Get in hot hiking shape

Timeline: Eight weeks of increasingly intense cardio and strength-training workouts

Gear: A decent pair of hiking shoes or boots, a backpack, standard workout clothes and sneakers

Weeks 1 and 2: Get started
Monday: Do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio at the gym or outside. Choose running, steps or a stair machine, treadmill, elliptical, or outdoor hill hiking.

Thursday: do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio at the gym or outside.

Weekend: Call a friend and take an easy weekend hike (one to two hours with a 10-pound pack filled with books or gear). If possible, find a trail that offers at least 1,000-foot elevation gain, so that you can begin to get used to the altitude.

Weeks 3 and 4: Strengthen your fitness foundation
Monday: Do 45 to 60 minutes of cardio, choosing from running, steps or a stair machine, treadmill, elliptical, or outdoor hill hiking.

Tuesday: Time to add strength training to the mix. Do a 30-minute full-body workout. Hit six to eight major muscle groups, including those in your core, legs, back, chest, and arms. For each lifting routine, do at least two sets of 12 to 15 reps with light to moderately heavy weights, depending on your fitness level. Be sure to include free-weight exercises to ensure balanced muscle groups.

Thursday: Do another 45 to 60 minutes of cardio training.

Weekend: Celebrate a week's work by taking your training buddy to dinner—after you trek two hours with a 10- to 15-pound pack. Aim for a 1,500- to 2,000-foot elevation gain.

Weeks 5 to 6: Build muscular strength
Monday: Do 45 to 60 minutes of cardio at the gym or outdoors.

Tuesday: Strength train at the gym, increasing your workout to three sets of eight to 10 reps with moderately heavier weights.

Wednesday: Time to head for the hills—the hilly streets that is. Do a 50- to 60-minute hike on some hills near your home with a backpack weighted with 15 pounds of gear or books.

Thursday: Do 45 to 60 minutes of cardio at the gym or outdoors.

Friday: Strength train at the gym, increasing your intensity from the previous week. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps with moderately heavier weights.

Weekend: Rest and relax. Tell your training buddy to take the weekend off, unless he wants to buy you dinner.

Weeks 7 to 8: Increase muscular endurance
You're almost there. For your last two weeks of training, you'll prep for pre-long-distance trek with three days of cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Wednesday, you'll again hit the pavement and practice hill intervals with a 20-pound pack. _

Monday: Do 50 to 60 minutes of cardio at the gym or outdoors.

Tuesday: Strength train at the gym for 45 to 50 minutes. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps of different resistance exercises than you did in the previous four weeks. This will hit your muscles from different angles.

Wednesday: Do a 50- to 60-minute hike on hilly streets with a 20-pound pack.

Thursday: Do 50 to 60 minutes of cardio at the gym or outdoors.

Friday: Strength train for 45 to 60 minutes. For each exercise, do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Weekend: You're ready! Call all of your friends and show off the man of steel you've become. Invite them to join you climbing eight miles in two hours (try for a 3,100-foot elevation gain). Pack your bag with about 20 pounds, and watch their jaws drop as you leave them trailing in your dust.

Joe Marino is a Hollywood, Calif.-based healthy lifestyle writer.