As you may well gather from this post, my planned 5 day hike hasn’t kicked off yet. My employer cannot release me until later on in the month. So whilst waiting around I thought I’d put up this post about fitness and my approach to it.
18 months ago I had no approach to fitness – period. Fitness and I were not something most people would utter in the same sentence. In fact it was something that tended to happen to other people.
At the time I weighed in at around 90 Kg (14 Stone) and was the proverbial couch potato.
With my burgeoning weight and waist size I decided that enough was enough and that I had to do something about it.
The thought of visiting a gym just didn’t appeal at all.
I had to think of something else that was active that I could take up and more importantly enjoy. I then remembered how much I had enjoyed hiking in my younger days and decided to take it up!
At the time I had no idea that it would lead on to multiday backpacking. If someone had told me 18 months ago that in the near future I would have walked across Dartmoor for 4.5 days solo, climbed Mount Snowdon and Scafell Pike, cleared 44 km in one day, I would have laughed at them.
There is no way this could be possible! Not for an overweight sedentary type person that I had become.
Yet it happened.
My first walks were single day walks of around 20km with hardly no loads and no hills. I found that by doing these once a month the weight started to fly off.
As a side effect I soon became relatively fit and was finding that my clothes no longer fitted me! My weight had dropped and stabilised to around 66 Kg (10.5 stone). This new weight seemed to stay with me no matter what I ate – as long as I kept hiking at least once a month!
Eventually once I started backpacking properly, I had found that it was genuinely difficult lugging around 18 Kg’s of kit. The kit seemed to buckle my knees – I guess this was to be expected given that I was effectively lugging around 27% of my body weight.
I had also found that hill climbing with this kind of load was very demanding and wondered if there was a way of making it easier?
It hadn’t occurred to me to do the most obvious thing, which is to lighten my load. This didn’t come until much later and is described here at: https://ukbackpacker.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/lightening-the-load/
So instead, I plumped for enhancing my personal fitness.
I’m too anti-social and self-conscious to go to a gym, plus I didn’t want to be another gym statistic – one of those people that take out an annual membership but only ever turn up once or twice ever!
I needed something that I could do without having to change my daily routine too much, something that would just naturally slot in with what I did during the working week.
This last bit is important.
I decided early on that the weekends are sacrosanct and that no exercise would take place during the weekend – after all weekends are for chilling out!
I was going to make it a five day program, but given that at work we tended to go down the pub most Friday lunchtimes, I decided to make it a 4 day routine instead.
So what was I doing during these 4 ‘exercise’ days?
The first thing I decided to do was take advantage of the 1 hour lunch break I got at work. I decided that I would use half of that time for training. This lunchtime training would involve walking a 3.5 Km route over 30 minutes for an effective speed of around 7 Kph.
To add value to the training I decided that I would carry a rucksack load of around 19 Kg.
Initially I tried using old milk bottles filled with water – but these leaked. So I needed another solution. In the end I realised that as a fully paid up geek and software developer I had access to many old and more importantly heavy tech books.
Stuffing the rucksack with these books soon took it up to the required target weight!
I should point out right now that when I’m out backpacking I do not race around at 7Kph! My normal hiking speeds are much less than this – after all the whole point is to enjoy the scenery and have fun.
These lunchtime walks also had one unexpected side affect – seemingly intractable software problems of the morning became illuminated and solved during the walks. It seemed that the walks were literally giving my concentration a breath of fresh air!
To supplement the daily walk I also elected to do additional exercise at home as soon as I got in from work. This additional exercise is aimed at increasing my all around body strength.
I initially started with a small program of doing just 5 press ups and 5 sit-ups every working week day. It doesn’t sound like much, but at the time I found it quite difficult!
However, as I trained I found these exercises were getting easier. As a result I started incrementing the repetitions and added new exercises to the routine. I decided that the only limit I would ultimately impose is that these exercises should take at the most around 10 minutes.
I thought that 10 minutes was a small price to pay to achieve an above average level of fitness – by thinking of it in these terms I considered it a small sacrifice to my daily routine.
At the time of writing this, my daily 4 times a week exercise routine now consists of:
- 40 Press ups
- 35 Sit ups
- 10 Slow crunches
- 10 Slow leg raises (with 2 Kg hiking boots on)
- 5 Reverse back stretches
- 5 Very slow wide armed press ups
It seems a lot, but it doesn’t take too long to do and more importantly is something that I can do at home with no specialist equipment. There is no need to pop out to a gym, so there are no excuses!
The result of this regular exercise has become apparent in both my everyday life and when I’m out on the hills. My rucksack no longer seems heavy – in fact I normally completely forget that I’m wearing one most of the time!
Hills that used to cause big problems also became much easier. Don’t get me wrong, I still need rest stops on the way up a hill, but these are fewer and I find that I recover a lot more quickly.
As another side benefit, my overall physique has become more defined. I’m not into body building and actually think that it would be counter-productive to hiking, but never the less the effects of this exercise have become very apparent in a positive way.
As I type this, I cannot believe the turnaround in my body and fitness over the last 18 months. Back then I had consigned myself to the scrap heap of the mid forties and had thought that getting unfit and overweight was part and parcel of growing old.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way!
All it takes is a small sacrifice of 10-50 minutes every working day – after a few weeks you will be amazed at the results!