Exercise! - The Inca Trail

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01-17-2012, 06:53 PM
I have decided to hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu in Peru this September. I've never really been hiking before but I am excited to try, and I love to camp so that aspect is exciting. I am just very nervous about the fitness levels required to undertake the trek.

A bit of background - last year I travelled to Fiji with my boyfriend and family and we decided to go on a zipline tour over the rainforest. I didnt fit within their normal harness, they has to go searching for a special big harness for me to use, which was awful since I didnt think I was that big. Then on the steep walk up to the first zipline point I was so out of breath and red that I started crying with embarrassment. On the same trip, a guy at our resort told me he thought I was related to my brothers girlfriend because we "are both fat". That was the turning point for me, and when I returned to Australia I quit smoking, joined Weight Watchers and have been on the way to better health ever since.

This year I have been getting into exercise slowly. Once a week I get on the gym treadmill and go for 20 minutes on the "hill" incline setting. I also swim for half an hour once a week. Orignally I thought a good goal would be to walk on the treadmill the distance of a single day on the trail. However, the biggest day on the trail is 16km, which at the pace I walk would take me 3.5 hours!
I would like to hear from anyone who has walked the trail as to what fitness level you need to be at to make it. Also if anyone has any good tips about specific exercises that would be beneficial, or a good goal to aim for - that would be fantastic.

01-17-2012, 11:16 PM
I know what you mean by ziplines. When I got married, I was within the guy range under the ziplines but not girls. Since average men are 5'8"-5'9", I thought that'd be cool since I'm 5'8". I argued with one girl who said, "You are a girl and can't use the guy zipline harnesses. Men are taller and this accounts for it. I found only one zipline place that accepted me at 234 (I think that was my weight then). I would have had to be under 200 or lower to hit girls at most places.

01-18-2012, 09:27 AM
Hi LaurenBelle! I haven't done the Inca Trail but I did want to cheer you on with your idea to train for it! I would love to do this someday in the future; I went to Machu Picchu without doing the trail, and I hiked up Wyna Picchu on a separate day (which was hard for me, but I hadn't been exercising very much around that time).

I think your approach to exercising slowly is a great one, though you will want to increase the number of sessions you do in order to get the most benefit. It's perfect that you swim too, because you can do that in between treadmill sessions in order to give your joints a break but still work your CV system.

Make sure you book a few days in Cusco before embarking on your trek! I remember getting to Cusco and getting winded after climbing one set of stairs. You have to take it easy the first couple of days. Plus Cusco is a beautiful city, definitely worth at least 2 days of touring (much better than Aguas Calientes, which is more of a tourist trap for people coming to visit M.P.). Machu Picchu I believe is somewhat lower elevation than Cusco so it is not quite as bad, but you still want to make sure your body is acclimated before you start.

01-18-2012, 03:00 PM
I can't say that I've walked the Inca Trail (but I would LOVE to), but I do some hiking during the summer months. The longest I've hiked in one day was about 11 miles (about 17.7 km), and it was in somewhat mountainous terrain. When I did that hike, I was in significantly better shape than I am now (and I was a bit lighter), but at the time, I would say I walked three days a week for over an hour each time outside on variable terrain (some flat areas, some hills, etc).

If I wanted to prepare for the same hike now, for about two months beforehand, I would probably focus on working up to going on hilly hikes three days per week and go three to five miles, or alternatively go on the treadmill on the hill setting for an hour four days per week.

In your case, since your hike will be in September, I would start with the hill setting for 30 minutes maybe twice per week, and gradually increase the length of time to 60 minutes. Then I would gradually increase the number of days to 4 or 5. Once I was used to walking several days per week, I would increase the length of the walk to 90 minutes or more. but I would vary the incline... maybe do 20 minutes at a steep grade, then 15 at a flatter one, then increase the incline again. If the gym has an expensive treadmill, you can probably program a nice variable walk for yourself.

I would also suggest finding some local hiking trail and going out for the day once you work up to walking on the treadmill for several days per week. Walking on the treadmill is nothing compared to actually walking on the ground. Try a weekend hiking/camping trip on a hilly trail if you can find one. You need to be able to walk 16 km day after day, so a weekend trip is a good test run of your stamina.

On another note, don't ever be discouraged by your weight when it comes to outdoor recreation. I was never under 200 pounds in my adult life, and I have been able to do all sorts of things. So if anyone suggests that you won't be able to complete the trail because you're not the ideal weight, ignore them. I was probably 260 pounds when I went on that weekend hike, and I had a 30 pound pack on, and I did perfectly fine. What's important is being fit and ready to do it... and between now and then, you will have plenty of time to get fit.

01-19-2012, 01:48 AM
I'm defintiely going to spend a few days in Cusco beforehand acclimatising. I've read that adjusting to the altitude is the single most important factor on whether you will succeed at finishing the trail, they've seen marathon runners and super-fit military guys turn back due to altitude sickness.

I've found a couple of local hiking trails within an hour driving distance to my house, so I will aim to walk those for practice. In particular there is a track called the 1000 Steps that looks challenging and beautiful, so I might set it as a goal to complete that for the first time by May.

Do you think its worthwhile putting in some weight sessions for my legs? I'm guessing those are the muscles I would use the most, but maybe I should just focus on cardio fitness?

01-22-2012, 12:43 PM
Do you think its worthwhile putting in some weight sessions for my legs? I'm guessing those are the muscles I would use the most, but maybe I should just focus on cardio fitness?

Squats and lunges, squats and lunges, squats and lunges. You can start with bodyweight and add hand weights later (or a backpack with a couple bottles of water). I hike a lot, but seasonally, and after the first couple of mountain hikes I am always SO SORE in my hams and quads I can hardly go up and down stairs or sit on the toilet for a week. Because what you're basically doing on the ups and especially the downhills, when you're hiking any kind of changes in terrain, is 8 bazillion squats and lunges in a row. And from that you will inevitably get DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), because it's eccentric contraction, which is another name in this case for training your muscles to "brake" your own bodyweight against the pull of gravity. Get that process over with as much as possible before you're on the mountain! I would say repetition is even more useful here than lots of weight.

For the uphills you can also practice step-ups in your house on rainy days, on any kind of sturdy platform up to knee height. Planks and side planks will strengthen your hip flexors, which are important for uneven terrain, so it doesn't hurt to throw in some of those.

You could look at the Two Hundred Squats (http://www.twohundredsquats.com/) program, which is a paced weekly increase in the number of squats (I do the 100 Pushups version), or just start with like 20 a day and increase from there. The 200 Squats program is handy if apps are good motivators for you.

The Inca Trail is basically a dream of mine. Although I have friends who have been trekking in Tibet and that sounds neat too.

01-24-2012, 07:41 PM
Thank you! That is excellent physiological advice, I'm very interested in that 200 squat program. Looks like a new goal to add to the list!

01-31-2012, 12:08 AM
I did the Inca trail a few years ago. I was 27 or 28. I'm not going to lie, it was hard. My friend and I are both a normal weight but we were half-hearted exercisers. I ran a mile or two every once in a while and she played tennis occasionally. We were the last two in our group. They put us with other young people who had no trouble whatsoever. They just sped right through. One girl did it in flipflops because her boots were bothering her. My friend and I, however, loped along and we both suffered a little.

Do train for this. They say the first day is flat but they clarified later that it was "Inca flat" which means uphill. The second day is lots of steps up, lots of hills, and difficult. The 3rd day is worse because it's all downhill and kills your knees. On the fourth day, it's a dash to Machu Piccu. Dont bother running. I did because everyone else took off and when we got to the overlook really early I just wondered what all the rush was for.

Make sure you buy a walking stick! So worth it on Day 3 when you're walking downhill all day.

Consider paying the extra money to have a porter carry your bag. It makes a huge difference!

Enjoy Cusco. There's plenty to do there. My friend and I got a little bit of altitude sickness when we first arrived but we were both ok by the time we did the hike. We spent 3 days in Cusco.

Bring spf1000 sunblock. I'm part native american with a yearlong tan and I still burned with spf 50. I'm talking blisters on my lips and shoulders. The sun is so intense there.

The Inca trail is gorgeous. A wonderful experience. So glad I did it (and my friend is too though she was a little peeved at me when we were suffering up the hill. Apparently I told her it would be easy). It's difficult if you dont exercise regularly, though.

Let me know if you have more questions.

05-08-2012, 12:01 AM
I know this is an old thread but I just wanted to post an update on how I'm going and again put out the request for anyone else who has undertaken this trek to share stories!
Over Easter we went to the alpine region (although what is considered alpine in Australia is probably just a few hills compared to other parts of the world) and I had plans to undertake a strenuous 2 hour hike. It turns out that the road was closed to get to the starting point so instead we went for a quick 20 minute return hike to a waterfall. It was mostly uneven steps, and although it wasn't far at all I was out of breath almost immediately. I don't know if I would've survived the longer hike, and it showed me that my twice-a-week treadmill routine was pathetically inadequate.
For the past few weeks I have been getting up at 6am most mornings and going for a 25 minute jog/walk or doing a workout video in cases of bad weather. If I miss a morning session I go to the gym at night and hit the elliptical.
Last Saturday I ticked off the first goal on my list, I complete the 1000 Steps trail. It was awful weather and I was soaked, but I am proud to say I made it to the top. One kilometer of stairs and another half of a steep trail leading to it. I did take quite a few rest stops but none longer than a minute and I didn't need to sit down or anything. Now I want to do it again!
So I'm hopeful that in the next four months my fitness will be up to speed to tackle the Inca Trail. Any advice is welcomed!

05-08-2012, 10:18 AM
You might want to start incorporating a work out on a stair climbing machine - preferably one where you have to actually pick your feet up, not just move your legs up and down. This will more accurately train your body for hiking. But the best thing would be to find hills or mountains in your area and train on those, with a back pack on. You'll need to work on your climbing, scrambling, uneven surfaces, and proprioception skills in addition to strength and cardio.

Keep doing that trail! Put on a back pack and do it twice in a row. Then go back the next day and do it again, since you'll be doing that on the inca trail.

05-10-2012, 01:58 PM
I'm so glad to hear your update! Let us know what happens along the way.