How do I get in shape to enjoy my vacation?
February 23, 2018 9:16 AM   Subscribe

How do I prepare physically for hiking in mountains in 4 months when I live in a flat, cold place?

I'm going on a roadtrip to Denver and The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks in the end of June/early July. My boyfriend and I would like to hike (to see the views and experience nature) during this trip. I imagine most hiking will be in the Tetons and Glacier (we're staying at Many Glacier Hotel so will be close to potentially awesome hiking trails). I have hiked in the past (Nepal, Peru, Colorado) but living in Chicago means it doesn't happen often and, to be honest, we're more city/museum people than outdoorsy people.

We both do project-based work where we might work intensely for 5 days, one day off, and then another 5 days. Or work for weeks straight and then have a few weeks off. Because of this lack of schedule I gave up my gym membership a few years ago and neither of us is in great shape. However, we live in Chicago and don't own cars so we walk many miles each day, don't have desk jobs/are active are work, and bike (slowly in traffic) for transportation so it's not like we're completely sedentary. And although we may feel okay biking 40 miles in Chicago in a day it's a lot different on inclines and at altitude.

Obstacles/Excuses:
  • Erratic work schedule
  • 12-16 hour work days - often arriving at 6am and not getting back to my hotel/home until 10pm
  • Business travel (I've been out of town for the past 3 weeks - most hotels have a treadmill or two but see above on timing)
  • Last minute travel or job bookings (i.e., 1 week in advance)
  • Closest gym is a Planet Fitness (1 block away when I'm at home) which I don't like but could go to just to get started. There's also lots of boutique yoga/spin/whatever in the city if there's something specialized I should try when I'm in town and not working
  • The boyfriend has asthsma-like issues with his lungs but usually it's in humidity or extreme cold - not sure how the altitude will affect him
What is the best way to prepare for hiking so we can be "in shape" enough to enjoy walking on inclines and at elevation? Is it all about cardio, leg strength/squats, core, focusing on losing weight/diet? Can anyone suggest a short routine I can do (ideally in a hotel room) I could focus for the next few months enough to feel good enough to enjoy the outdoors? I'm a realist about what is possible in this time frame but a little of fitness will be worth the effort.
posted by Bunglegirl to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Every time you use the restroom at work, go up or down a floor. Or go up and down a couple times.

Drink more water, so you have to go more often.
posted by notsnot at 9:23 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Step-ups seem like the obvious exercise. You could pack a step in your suitcase which would take up minimal extra room.

Work yourself up gradually. Once you're comfortable stepping with your own weight, and you're not having any knee or back pains, slowly add a bit of weight - a backpack or a suitcase.

If you are having knee or back pains, don't keep doing what you're doing. Slow down.

Don't be too ambitious in your hiking plans if this is your first one. Plan what seems like a reasonable hike, then cut it in half. Put in lots of stops for rests and snacks.
posted by clawsoon at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Climb stairs. Your building, the hotel, nearby open buildings, parking garages. Include climbing down the stairs, as this strengthens the specific muscles that you will need when walking down inclines. Make a game of it, go for increased repetitions as your strength increases.

If the stairwells in your building are locked, so that you can only exit at the bottom, you can still enter at an upper level, climb down, climb up, climb down again.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


If you haven't done much hiking, you might want to get your ankles ready for bumpy ground, too. Pack something like a roll of 1/2" tape and practise stepping on it with different parts of your shoe.

Dressing up warm and walking through snow or across bumpy ground - anything less smooth than a sidewalk - would be good, too, if you get a chance.
posted by clawsoon at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2018


Yes, echoing stairs! I use stairs with a backpack of water bottles to add some weight. Although I also get to hike in the hills fairly frequently, stairs with weight gives my legs more strength, so I can backpack and keep up with & beat friends half my age. Even walks on the level with a bit of weight helps strengthen my core.
posted by anadem at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've had to do this type of thing before. My recommendation is jumprope. You can do 30 seconds for 5 intervals a day to start and then increase it to a minute and so on. Of all the types of work-outs, jumping rope is actually the best I've experienced for increasing lung capacity, endurance, coordination and strength when time is at a premium (and even when it's not - jumping rope is awesome exercise!).
posted by Toddles at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


In addition to the above, go hiking on the days off you do get! This doesn't have to be intense mountains if that's not accessible, but there are likely to be some hill trails you can get to that will combine the elements you just can't get in the gym (like windy variable inclines, combining inclines with unstable footing, etc.)
posted by DoubleLune at 10:08 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Get trekking poles and take a class about how to use them.
posted by jesourie at 10:18 AM on February 23, 2018


Active transportation is pretty great preparation already. Definitely take the stairs more (especially going down) and try to fit in a bit of extra when you can, like air (unweighted) squats, doable pretty much anywhere and any time. Jumping rope's also a great idea and is extremely portable, though might not be a great fit for hotel rooms during quiet hours.

Altitude can take a while to get used to no matter what your fitness level, so be ready to take it slow on your vacation and enjoy the outdoors at whatever pace you find comfortable. There's not much you can do to grow lots of extra red blood cells in advance.
posted by asperity at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


Seconding the advice to be ready for the altitude to possibly whomp you more than you expect. Hiking and backpacking is one of my primary hobbies, and I'm pretty fit generally, and VERY fit hiking-wise, but the first time I got on a trail in Colorado I literally thought I was going to DIE. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't get rested, I felt like I was suffocating even though I was going at a fraction of my normal pace, carrying a fraction of my usual pack weight, and barely a mile from the car. It was incredibly humbling, and totally unexpected. Be prepared to take it a little easier than your ego might allow the first day or two.

Doing a little work on improving your proprioception will help prep you for uneven/rooty/rocky/etc trails.

If you're going to be carrying any type of pack on your hikes - even if it's just a day pack - start getting used to it and to the kind of weight you will be carrying. Make sure you factor water in to the weight you're planning. If you can, use whatever daypack you will be using on your hikes in your everyday life as much as possible so you can dial in fit and weight distribution in the pack.

Doing some incline work on a treadmill when you have the chance might be somewhat useful...but honestly, it's more likely to be the downhills which cause trouble if anything. Any exercises which are weight bearing on one leg and involve knee flexion will help I think.

Make sure your boots fit well and are well and truly broken in.

In conclusion, I am jealous of your trip. Have a blast!
posted by Dorinda at 10:54 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


If you want to do inclines on a treadmill but don't want the gym membership, you could consider renting a treadmill, asking around to see if you can borrow one, or picking one up at a place like Goodwill.
posted by vignettist at 11:04 AM on February 23, 2018


I prepped for a Grand Canyon backpacking trip while living in Chicago. I did a lot of stairs, including with loaded pack, and worked on general fitness by jogging etc.

I was still vastly less fit than the Colorado-dwelling other people on the trip, all of whom were 40 years my senior. So YMMV.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:10 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is more about how to manage things once you're there than prepping, but hopefully it's still helpful:

Give yourself at least a night at elevation before doing anything strenuous. The more time you spend acclimating, the better. Also agree that trekking poles will be vital, especially for the downhills. Stay hydrated and well rested. Familiarize yourselves with the symptoms of elevation sickness, and be ready to bail out on a hike and descend if either of you is feeling it. There are some medications that can help, but obviously talk to your doctor.

Here's a guide about traveling to high altitude from the Mayo Clinic.
posted by natabat at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


You don't need to climb mountains to climb mountains. In addition to your regular walking, add some aerobic exercise to your routine--maybe a challenging spin class a few days a week a few weeks ahead to build lung capacity. Cycling doesn't stress out knees.

Find a set of 10-20 public steps--library, city monuments, etc. A few days a week go up and down them 5-10 times. Do half of the climbs one step at a time, and the other half two steps at a time. Descend slowly to engage the downhill muscles. Those are the ones that can ache on a big trip. You can do this in your hiking boots and with some weight in a pack. Or not. All this said, don't overdue any of this so you don't injure yourself. Slow, steady, regularly is the way to train.

Have a great trip!
posted by Elsie at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


Came in to say stairs. I think that's well covered. But my experience of climbing is that descending is more likely to cause injury, so pack Ace bandages, just in case.
posted by theora55 at 2:02 PM on February 23, 2018


Not to take away from any of the excellent advice here, but one really nice thing about Grand Teton National Park for the unfit hiker is that there are miles of beautiful trails that skirt the edges of its lakes. As outdoor hikes go, they are pretty flat. My wife and I left from the Leigh Lake Trailhead and followed the edge of String Lake to Jenny Lake, and then followed the western shore of Jenny Lake to get to the trailhead for Inspiration Point. The trail to Inspiration Point started with a pretty steep climb and she wanted to murder me for that, but the other elevation changes were minimal and you can definitely plan a lake hike for length without worrying too much about it being strenuous.

For that matter, we also followed the Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake Loop hike in Yellowstone and found the "easy" description to be mostly accurate. We added the spur trail to Point Sublime and we would swear it added more distance than the park service says. My wife ended up peeling off the trail at Artist Point on our return. She waited for me to walk the rest of the way back to Uncle Tom's Point (where we had parked) and drive back to get her in the Artist Point parking lot. Getting away from visitor centers and boardwalks was totally worth it. (Also, an even shorter distance from a parking lot, Black Sand Pool is worth the short hike; stay a few minutes until you feel the whump and then hear the hiss of air bubbles in the pool).
posted by fedward at 2:09 PM on February 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


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