A walking holiday doesn’t necessarily involve trekking to the ends of the earth carrying all your worldly goods, or covering huge distances for 12 hours a day against a rigid schedule. A walking holiday exploring national trails or a supported tour where your luggage is transported between hotels is far more common and an increasingly popular way of enjoying a walking break. If you’re planning something along these lines, it is important to be fit enough to enjoy your holiday. To help you get the most from your holiday, we’ve designed a step-by-step programme to help you get in ‘walking shape’ so that you’re not left nursing aching muscles after the first day.
This guide includes advice on:
- How to assess your current fitness
- Building your walking fitness — sensibly
- How to strengthen key muscles for your walk
Where are you going on your walking holiday?
The first stage is to accurately assess the level of fitness that you need for your walk, so do as much research as possible. Factors to consider include duration of your holiday, rest days, terrain, climate, time of year, whether you’re carrying a load and distances covered each day. Walking holidays can vary considerably from completely supported tours with rest days, where all your equipment and baggage is carried; to unsupported, much more challenging adventures in more remote locations. From this assessment you will have an idea of how soon you need to start your training programme.
Where are you now in your fitness?
Next, you need to honestly assess your current fitness levels. Without an idea of where you are now, you can’t measure progression or start at the correct level. From the activity levels described in the following table, check out which one is the nearest match to your current level of fitness and then follow the training programme best suited to you and your goals.
Cardiovascular training (walking or more vigorous activity)
|Resistance training||Training programme category|
|Frequent||3 or more times per week||Once or twice per week||A|
|Regular cardiovascular (CV) training||3 or more times per week||None||B|
|Regular resistance training||None||Once or twice per week||C|
|Occasional||Once a week||Up to once a week||D|
|Haven’t exercised for some time||None||None||E|
What’s right for me?
Simply consult the following table to match your fitness level with the most suitable training programme. After that, follow the specific guidelines on CV and resistance training and away you go…
|Training programme category||CV training||Resistance training||Training notes|
Make sure your current programme includes plenty of walking and add in some back-to-back sessions.
|Change your training focus to concentrate on leg exercises.||You’re in good shape. Continue with your training, including the recommended adaptations.|
|B||Make sure your current programme includes plenty of walking and add in some back-to-back sessions.||
Start with a single leg exercise session each week, building to two sessions as your fitness improves. Use light weights to begin with, only adding weight when you are both comfortable with the exercise and capable of stepping up.
|You have a good foundation, look to factor in the resistance training to fully prepare for your walk.|
Start a gradual walking programme. Build up to a minimum of three sessions each week to eventually match the duration of a single day’s walking.
|Continue with your current programme concentrating on leg exercises.||Your resistance training background should ensure that you have good all round strength. Your primary focus will now be CV exercise.|
|D||Build your CV session frequency to at least three sessions per week.||Build to two weekly leg exercise sessions as your fitness improves. Use light weights to begin with, only adding weight when you are both comfortable with the exercise and capable of stepping up.||
You will have a double focus, CV and resistance training. Allow yourself sufficient rest to allow your body to adapt to the increase in training volume across both disciplines.
|E||Start a gradual CV walking programme. Build up to a minimum of three sessions each week and of the duration of a single day’s walking.||Start with a single leg exercise session each week, building to two sessions as your fitness improves. Use light weights to begin with, only adding weight when you are both comfortable with the exercise and capable of stepping up.||
Have a check-up with your doctor before you begin so that you have the all clear to start exercising. After that, look for gradual progression. Start your training as early as possible.
Getting started with your walking training
Look to begin your training as early as possible, to give your body the maximum amount of time to adapt and strengthen in readiness for your walking holiday. Avoid trying to cram several months of specific training into a couple of weeks because as well as arriving totally unprepared, you are likely to end up injured and having to postpone your walk. By starting in good time, you can factor in plenty of rest days as you build your fitness and easily incorporate your training into your life, as opposed to beginning late and trying to fast-track your fitness — at the exclusion of everything else.
Cardiovascular walking training
This should form the foundation of your walking-fit training programme. Without good CV fitness, you will be unable to complete each day. Look to carefully progress your CV fitness so that in the final weeks, you are comfortable with the maximum daily distances that you will encounter. Any CV exercise will help but walking is the most suitable discipline because it completely replicates the actual requirements of your holiday. Additionally, if possible, try to train on similar terrain.
For example, for a more mountainous walking holiday, try and get off-road onto trails and into the hills. Off-road training is more challenging than purely road walking but you will strengthen both your ankles and knees which will better prepare you for the demands of your holiday.
A minimum of three sessions per week should be your aim, including some back-to-back sessions later on in your programme, similar to your walking days.
Training with weights will build specific strength in the key muscles that you will use when walking. The main focus area is the legs, but exercises for the arms (biceps and triceps), back (particularly if carrying a rucksack) and core are extremely beneficial. Aim to build up to two sessions per week and try to get correct instruction so that you carry out the exercises correctly, get the maximum benefits from your training time and most importantly, avoid injury. A programme focusing on these key areas and including a warmup and cooldown should only take 30 to 40 minutes, so it can be fitted into your life without too much difficulty.
Ready to go
After following this walk-fit programme you will be ideally placed to get the absolute best from your holiday. CV, strength, all-round fitness and body awareness will be the benefits you enjoy, in addition to general improved health through being fitter.