For those of us in sedentary occupations our vacations are an opportunity to be a little more active. Even if we do not wish to partake in heroic levels of activity, a number of tours, excursions and destinations require quite a bit of walking, often on uneven ground. Since you likely paid a lot of money for your holiday arrangements you want to enjoy these activities. To do so will need a certain measure of fitness.
Significant improvements in fitness cannot be gained overnight. If you are terribly unfit you might find it useful to start an exercise programme 12 weeks before you go on vacation.
Here is a free exercise programme to condition your body for extended walking on holiday.
Before you start exercising, you should check with your medical practitioner first. This is particularly important if you have any known conditions that will affect your ability to exercise safely.
Generally speaking, even severe medical conditions do not automatically mean that exercise should be avoided. They merely indicate that you will need very careful medical direction to avoid causing yourself harm. Your physicians can help you with that.
You get fit in stages
When you are starting out with exercise from an initially poor level of fitness you pass through stages when there is a risk of injury.
For many, the cardiovascular benefits of exercise start early. The problem is that muscles, bone and ligaments get stronger at different rates. So you can quite easily get to the point where you feel a bit fitter, and your muscles are stronger but your ligaments are still weak and injury can result. Weight-bearing exercise like walking has been shown to improve bone density. (Web site on osteoporosis at the University of Alabama) The problem is that the rate of progress of muscle, ligament and bone density is dependent on your own specific physiology, so we cannot give you a chart that says, “be careful about ligament injury after eight weeks” or something like that.
Similar risks of injury can arise from a sudden increase in the intensity of your exercise.
Any sensible schedule includes days of rest in order for your body to heal from the rigours of exercise. More benefit is to be obtained from an easy programme that you can stick to, than from an over-ambitious schedule. We suggest that you walk every second day.
Some simple rules
First rule: No pain, no injury. Take it easy. Always feel that you could have exercised a bit more. If you still feel abnormally stiff from the previous walk, take the day off from exercise.
Second rule: Do not keep a workout logbook. If you are a “Type A” personality then this is a sure way to over-exercise as you will want to go further, do it faster, to set “personal bests”. Exercise each time on the basis of how you feel.
Third rule: If you are out of breath, you are trying too hard. Ease off. Stop and rest if easing off is not enough. If you can only do very short walks without getting out of breath, do only very short walks.
You should walk at a speed that you can easily talk without gasping for breath.
LSD : Long, Slow, Distance
While you may be tempted to make your walks more energetic and brisk, the greatest training advantage comes from long, slow walks. Over time, stretch your distance so that you can cover the target walking distance you have in mind. Once you can walk the distance you want, you can gradually increase your pace.
Warm up by starting your walk at a more gentle pace than you plan to use during the walk. Then, as your muscles warm up, gradually increase your speed to your normal comfortable walking pace. Research has shown that there is limited usefulness of specific warm-up exercises, and stretching before you exercise will increase your risk of injury.
Similarly, spend the last few minutes of your walk easing off, before finally stopping altogether. If you feel a need to do gentle stretching exercises, immediately after the walk would be at the right time to do them.
Once you have a level of basic fitness you can start including uneven ground in your walking route. Again, do only a small stretch of only slightly uneven ground to start with, and as you build up and avoid injury, you can gradually include rougher terrain.
Once you start including uneven ground your choice of footwear becomes critically important. Running-shoes generally have poor lateral support and expose you to a greater risk of injury.
12-weeks or 3 months, your choice
If you need a more structured programme then look out for a walking for fitness group near you. They come in various guises and names, are available in most major centres, and the better ones use similar principles to the ones we have covered here. They also have trained fitness experts who will assist you with specific training and advice, and remedial exercises where necessary. These groups typically offer a 12-week schedule that will take you from unfit to a basic level of fitness.
Unless you have a particular problem, most people will find that they can get to a fair level of fitness within three months using these principles. It will likely not give you enough fitness to be able to hike the Andes, but you should certainly be able to keep up with your tour group!
A special thank you to HH for reviewing this article prior to publication.