I just recently moved to Vermont - land of hills, mountains and great hiking everywhere. I've been looking forward to getting more in shape, but without fail, every hike starts okay - usually with an incline with varying degrees of steepness and then 5-8 minutes in, I'm wheezing, can't breathe, and normally need to stop soon after to catch my breath. The hikes just take way more time and I'm starting to feel frustrated that I'm not seeing any improvement.
Are there specific exercises/training you'd recommend for building up better endurance? I am definitely out of shape, but trying, so any advice you have would be incredible.
You sound like me every summer when I get back to hiking Vancouver’s most popular trail called the Grouse Grind (for good reason), as well as the start of every mountain bike season. Without fail, I am left wheezing and struggling to get through what was a breeze for me just a few short months ago in the fall. So, here is my advice for you.
My first piece of advice is simply to get to the end of the hike, no matter how long it takes or how many breaks you need. The only way you are going to get better at hiking is by hiking. Once a week you will grab your water bottle, while leaving your watch behind, and you will pick a hike and just go. When you are tired you will rest and when you are no longer tired you will move again. No expectations and no negative self-talk. The only goal is to make it back to the start. As you start to become fit, you will need less breaks and you won’t find you fatigue as quickly or wheeze nearly as much. Before you know it, you’ll be completing the hike with ease.
On the other days of the week you are going to push yourself a little harder, and intervals are going to become your best friend. Once a week you are going to get on a treadmill or find a hill that is roughly 400m (1/4 mile) long and about 6-8% grade. After about a 10-15 minute warmup on flat ground, you will walk up the hill as hard as you can go (this should be about 3-5 minutes) and then recover on the way down. Start with 3 sets of hills and work your way up to 5 or 6. You can even try running some, or all of the hill, if you feel extra energized. Two tips though: leave a water bottle at the top of the hill so you can have a drink each time you reach the peak and make sure you stretch your calves out before and after your workout as hill training can cause your calves to become extremely tight.
Your next workout is going to be a strength workout, again focusing on interval training. My advice to you is to download a fitness app to your phone, like the Nike Training Club (NTC). After a 10 minute warmup, complete a 30 minute workout prescribed by the app and try and stick to ones that focus on your entire body. This interval training is going to get you in shape the quickest as well as it requires the least amount of time to achieve maximum benefits.
I also want you to source out an indoor cycling class and commit to one session a week. Indoor cycling is a great way to improve your cardiovascular system as well as increase the overall strength and endurance of your lower body. Most community centers and fitness centers offer these classes and don’t be intimidated by them as they are great for all levels of fitness. My 66 year old mother goes twice a week!
If you are not exhausted after these 4 workouts, then add a nice easy walk one night a week or a yoga class. Recovery workouts are a great way to easy sore muscles while you move. I don’t know about you, but for my mental health I need to move my body every day, which is why I swear by recovery workouts.
Get yourself comfortable at being uncomfortable by pushing yourself hard and know that it is ok to be exhausted and tired when you are trying to achieve something. It simply means you are working hard. Happy hiking!
Attached - Hilary Duff at the gym last week.