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The handy, dandy, patented get-in-shape page

Here's a tip: I have never, never had anyone tell me that they overtrained to hike in the Grand Canyon!

Everyone should work out every day. You may quote me. This will lead to increased lean body mass and less fat. It will lower your blood pressure and improve your outlook on life. The benefits to working out are without end.
However, if you have not worked out lately, check with your doctor before you start. Remember what happened to Jim Fixx -- he was a world-class runner and collapsed from a heart attack because he had undiagnosed heart trouble.

There is an unpleasant truth to being in shape. To wit: if you are not tired after your workout, you are not getting stronger. If you come home from a walk around the block and are not winded, you are not working hard enough. You need to pep up your workout, either by adding speed, elevation, or weight (carry a pack: don't gain weight yourself!).

Here are three components to being in good shape:

  1. Cardiovascular
  2. Strength
  3. Flexibility

Cardiovascularis the most important aspect for the hiker. This is what lets you keep your breath under control and your heart from pounding out your ears while you climb out of the Canyon.

You should do a minimum 45 minute cardiovascular workout, three to five times a week. The good news is, you can break this down into pieces: that is, you can do twenty minutes in the morning and twenty-five in the afternoon. The bad news is, if you split it, you are not increasing your endurance. One workout a week needs to be longer than one hour to build your endurance.

You will need to learn how to take your pulse. Place two fingers on the side of your neck. You should feel a pulse there (if not, better speed up that call to the doctor). Once you have warmed up for five minutes, then start doing your cardio workout. Take your pulse regularly. You should be working out between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum pulse rate. This is called your "training range".
What is your maximum pulse? Subtract your age from 220.

Keep cardioing with your pulse in the training range for 45 minutes, then cool down. You can increase your benefits by doing "wind sprints" or "intervals". In this case you work out for three minutes at the lower end of your range, increase to the upper end for three minutes, then fall back down to the lower end. This has great benefits in fitness without adding to your odds of injury

And what, you may ask, is a cardio workout? Anything that uses the large body muscles and makes you sweat and breathe hard. Walking, running, bicycling, treadmills, step machines, swimming, power walking -- you get the idea. Walking up or down hill is the best workout for the Canyon, but any cardio workout will increase your strength and endurance. If walking on the flat around your house doesn't get the pulse up, add a pack or a pair of walking sticks and push off with each step.

Runners who train for races say that you should be able to do twice your weekly workout in one push. In other words, if you do three miles of running a week, you should be able to complete a six mile race. Most people who work out at the gym do a 20 minute cardio workout, three days a week. That is one hour of cardio a week. That means they would be fairly comfortable walking for two hours at a time on a hike. And on most hikes I have led, many people are pretty well off for the first two or three hours, and then they start to flounder.

Therefore, if you are going to hike out the Bright Angel, which is 10 miles, you should be doing at least five miles of training each week, preferably on steep, nasty hills. Let your conscience be your guide.

Strength is a measure of muscular strength. This is the kind of workout body builders get. This also has benefits to your lifestyle, but it is of secondary importance for the hiker. It is important to the hiker in that the stronger your muscles, the less likely you are to injure yourself on the trail.

Concentrate on working up the muscles that support the ankles, the knees, the back, and the shoulders. You should get professional guidance from a person at the gym before you start this. It is very easy to hurt oneself by weight training improperly. You may also rent a video dealing with calisthenics, or workouts without weights. It is more difficult to injure yourself in this way.

Flexibility is, obviously, how flexible you are. Workouts that emphasize flexibility are those such as Yoga, the martial arts, dance, and stretching. Stretching should be an integral part of any workout. Always stretch when you are fully warmed up. Many athletes stretch after their workout, when the muscles are nice and loose and warm. It behooves the hiker to stretch at each rest stop and at the end of the day's hike to reduce soreness and stiffness the following day. Flexible people are more comfortable on the trail, because they are less likely to sprain an ankle or pull out their back.

This is a typical workout schedule for someone training for a Canyon hike:

Day one: 45 minutes cardiovascular workout* 15 to 20 minutes lower body strength training.
Day two: 15 minute cardiovascular warm up. 15 to 20 minutes upper body training.
Day three: 45 minutes cardiovascular workout. 15 to 20 minutes lower body strength training.
Day four: 15 minute cardiovascular warm up. 15 to 20 minutes upper body training.
Day five: 45 minutes cardiovascular workout. 15 to 20 minutes lower body strength training.
Day six: Day hike at least one hour in duration: more is better. Try to get some good, steep hills in there, and wear the boots and pack you will carry on the Big Day.
Day seven: And ye shall rest.  

* Hiking up and down hills is the best cardio workout to train for a hike, but this is not always available.

I don't have time for this!

That's what they all say. But the average American watches four hours of television a day. Since I don't have a TV, that means someone is watching eight hours a day to make up my average! So cut back one hour of that and use it to work out. Or if you can concentrate on two things at once, work out while you watch. Most gyms have big TV's set up over the cardio machines. If all else fails, run in place in front of your own TV.