So you’ve decided to finally take that trip to Peru you’ve been dreaming about. You’ve chosen your travels dates, booked your flight and you have the perfect pack for all your hikes.
But with all this preparation, have you thought about preparing your body? Getting to many of the sacred sites in Peru involves moderate to rigorous hiking. The enjoyment of your trip will be greatly enhanced if you take some time to condition muscles in your body that you will be calling upon during these hikes.
Peru is a mountainous country where travel to the most rewarding destinations involves going over uneven ground, steep ascents and descents and sometimes thousands of rocky steps. If you are not a regular hiker who relishes a day on the trail when given the opportunity, putting in 3-4 days a week of training will give you the best chance of enjoying your journey. Hiking or walking in the hills, over rocky terrain or just up and down steps are good preparatory activities specific to reaping the most spectacular rewards of a Peruvian adventure
Here are a few tips and exercises to get you started:
High Altitude training– ideally, spending time at high altitude is the best way to prepare for it. Cusco sits just over 11,000 feet while Machu Picchu is close to 8000 ft above sea level. If nothing else, plan to arrive a day or two before you start any serious hiking to get acclimatized. If you are flying in from sea level, this is quite a large jump to take, and most likely, you are going to feel the lack of oxygen and possibly feel the signs of altitude sickness from your arrival.
Balance exercises – balance is the ability to control the body’s position, either stationary or while moving. Balance training can improve your body awareness. When moving over uneven terrain, especially with a backpack, have good balance can mean the difference between a fall and sailing over rocky ground with ease. Improving joint stability can prevent a whole array of injuries including sprained ankles and knee problems.
Aerobic exercise- Get your heart pumping! Do cardio exercises that work the major muscle groups in the lower body since the legs are predominately used in hiking. Shoot for 4-5 days a week for 30-60 mins per session. If you use a treadmill, consider gradually increasing the grade to prepare the heart and lungs as well as the legs.
Here are some exercises for strength training tailored to hikers:
–Step ups – Gluts and hamstrings are the power muscles used most in climbing. Stepping up onto a high box or the second step of a staircase will work this muscle group in ways that will prepare you for climbing among the terraces and on the trails of the Peruvian landscape. Start by standing on the step, then reach back with one foot towards the floor behind you. Graze the floor with your toe without putting weight on that foot. Then return to a full upright position on the step. Begin from a height at which you can do 10-20 repetitions, 3 sets without holding on if possible. This works your balance as well as your climbing strength. Increase the height as you gain strength and control.
–Step downs – What goes up must come down! Descending puts more emphasis on the quadriceps – the front of the thigh. To work these muscles without overdoing the knees, start by standing on one foot, sideways on a step 4-6” in height. Your other leg should be hanging freely beside the step. Keep your hips level as you raise and lower your body until your heel grazes the floor, then again returning to a full upright position. Just as in the other step exercise, performing this without holding on can greatly improve your balance.
–Squats – stand with feet shoulder width apart, sit hips back as if you are going to sit in a chair. Make sure knees are aligned over the front of your feet, but not in front of your toes. Full Range of motion then can add some pulses.
–Lunges – step back with one foot a comfortable distance. Lower your back knee towards the floor as low and as smoothly as you can, allowing the back heel to be off the floor, again, keep the front knee from going in front of your toes. Return to standing, repeat to fatigue, then after resting, repeat with the other leg forward. Use a wider stance if you are having difficulty balancing. As your balance improves you can bring your feet more directly in line like on a tightrope.
-Ankle/calf raises – Stand on one foot; raise and lower your heel slowly 20x each side. If you can do this without holding on your balance is quite good!
You can add a back pack to any of the above exercises, increasing the weight until you get to the amount that you will be carrying on your trip.
Flexibility training- Do yoga or some other stretching routine to keep your muscles limber and flexible. Sun salutations are excellent for starting out.
Drink, drink, drink-Water is your best friend at altitude! Your body dehydrates 4 times quicker at altitude, therefore you need to replenish your fluids and drink a lot more than you might at home. A good rule of thumb is 4-5 liters a day when at altitude. This can help combat altitude sickness and keep yourself feeling good throughout the trip.
There are dozens of exercises that will help you get in shape for hiking to ultimately make your trip more enjoyable. Find a routine that that works for you and stick with it! See you on the trail!
Christina Russell is a massage therapist in Winter Park, Colorado and has been doing bodywork since 1991. She has been involved with Womens Quest since 1996. She teaches nordic, telemark skiing, mountain biking, bellydancing, Gyrokinesis and PIYO.
Jeff Russell is a Physical Therapist and free-lance photographer based out of Winter Park Colorado.