7 myths about training for a trek

Having trained thousands of people for treks throughout the world, we hear alot of incorrect advice and information getting circulated. Here are the top 7 myths about training for a trek.

#1 Altitude Training will prevent altitude sickness
As a certified Altitude Trainer I’ve used this type of training for myself and clients, but have since removed it as a viable option. In terms of fitness, it may provide some slight benefit in your ability to do physical work at altitude, via increase red blood cell count, but personally I believe that I am better off training hard, outside of the altitude room, rather that training less hard and relying on the altitude room to do its job.

In order for altitude training to make a noticeable difference to your performance you would virtually have to sleep in the room, or use it 5-6 hours every day for weeks on end to get any results. Very few people have the time or money to do that, but there are many willing to pay big bucks for the chance that this shortcut might work, unfortunately I think the evidence would show that it doesn’t.

#2 Ankle weights will build leg strength
Ankle weights are designed to make our legs strong at hip flexion, that is, picking up the leg to a certain height under resistance. Whilst this could be useful if you are a high altitude climber and your boots weigh a tonne, there are certainly higher priorities on the list like solid core strength and leg strength in the pushing range, that is, using free weights or a loaded backpack to increase your bodyweight on exercises like step ups. I’m calling this one a fad.

#3 The fittest people always get altitude sickness
This is something I hear regularly on trek reports. There is a ‘super fit’ over-achiever, such as a marathon runner or dedicated triathlete who ends up getting sick. They start out hard and fast, and this early exertion results in altitude sickness. It’s hard to say that there is a relationship between going too hard and getting sick, the evidence is obviously colloquial. But it’s worth noting that your training should be specific to the trekking environment, and that past experience in running marathons and triathlons does not in any way relate to your fitness in the mountains.

#4 The most effective training is just hiking
Not from my experience. I’ve recorded a significant performance increase in trekkers who have come to me because they felt they have reached a plateau in their training which solely involved hiking. There is only so much strength and cardio vascular adaption that you can gain from just walking or hiking. To build strength, prevent injury and really see cardio vascular adaptions, you need to have the right balance of gym based strength work, running and sport specific training that a well written training program provides. Plus, you need to train 5-6 days a week and not many people can squeeze in that much worth-while hiking.

#5 Swimming is good training for a trek
Swimming is great for cardio vascular fitness, core and upper strength and a low impact option for those with bad knees, but it doesn’t place gravitational forces on the body. Instead, utilise cardio vascular exercises that have the increased benefit of building trekking specific strength, like running or trail running.

#6 Using machine weights will build leg strength
Machines were designed in the 80’s to help bodybuilders isolate muscles, they are meant for building muscle size, which has no real relationship to strength. The only reason that machines are in every big box gym is that they are unlikely to be used incorrectly and provide solo gym goers some ideas on what to do. Machine weights allow you to isolate muscles without the hassle of dealing with core strength, balance and stability. When training for an unpredictable environment, we want to do the exact opposite. Use free weights or your own bodyweight to train. By doing this, you are utilising your core strength and improving your balance and stability, whilst simultaneously getting strong in full and free ranges of motion.

#7 You can’t train for the mountains in the gym
I hear this a lot, and to be honest, there is some truth in it. You will absolutely need to get out into the natural environment as much as possible, every weekend if you can. But the strength work in the gym is something that is necessary to build adequate strength, prevent injury and muscle soreness on your trek. Work with 30% in the gym, 30% tempo training and 40% out in the mountains.

Good training is all about having a plan and having a mentor or a team to help you stay on track. At Base Camp we can help you with all three!

Learn how to train for your trek the right way with a free week of our Trek Starter Program.

You may also be interested in:
Mountain Fitness Test
How to analyse the demands of your trek


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