Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1

The exposed rock and scattered trees of Sentinel dome.

Get fit and ready to hike. Photo © Carl & Peggy Backes.

Earlier today, I posted a recent conversation with John DeGrazio, co-founder of YExplore – an adventure tour company that leads an assortment of birding tours, wildflower walks, snowshoeing treks, yoga hikes, overnight backpacking excursions, photo workshops, and other guided tours through Yosemite National Park. As John mentioned during the interview, some tours, such as the 15-mile Clouds Rest hike, are more suitable for avid fitness enthusiasts, but even if you’re not in the best of shape, it’s certainly possible to get more fit before your next adventure and prepare yourself for an array of outdoor activities.

In fact, YExplore has recently teamed up with certified personal trainer Erin Desharnais to offer an outdoor fitness program that might just boost your energy and enable you to meet your fitness goals. “Exercise is an aspect of daily life that doesn’t ever need to be considered a chore, but rather time that is dedicated to personal physical and mental development,” Erin has stated. “YExplore offers people a unique service that pairs both physical and mental fitness in one of the most beautiful locations on Earth. Whether you go on one of YExplore’s lengthier hikes throughout the park or climb Half Dome for the first time, it is important to do some training beforehand to be prepared for any physical challenges that may arise.”

Erin, John, and the rest of the YExplore team believe that routinely exercising outdoors will both inspire people and encourage them to adhere to their fitness goals. The natural world, after all, provides geographical challenges that ensure some of the most exciting, inexpensive ways for travelers to get into shape and prepare for a variety of adventures, and Erin claims that hiking can offer you the same level of health benefits that you might find from running, except with even better scenery. “Hiking on trails is a low-impact way to get in aerobic exercise that won’t put heavy stress on joints. It might not be apparent in the moment, but the constant change in elevations and terrain works great for building cardiovascular health, overall strength, and mental toughness.”

An avid outdoor enthusiast, Erin promotes a flexible fitness schedule: “The first step to any fitness program is to commit to it. Schedule your workouts as part of your daily routine so fitness is part of your lifestyle. Aiming for three to six days a week, at 30-75 minutes is broad enough to fit into any schedule.”

Here’s the back-to-basics approach that she advises for your own fitness program:

Power endurance, strength endurance, mental toughness: Train inside the gym to perform outside the gym. You want to train your muscles to work in harmony with one another!

The best workout routine for the outdoor enthusiast is a blend of strength training, interval training, power endurance, and outdoor endurance training. Stronger, longer is the goal. Developing the ability to stay strong for extended periods of time can be as much a mental task as physical ability and stamina. The following exercises can help people everywhere and of all fitness levels prepare for outdoor hiking and other mountain adventures:

Strength training: Increasing strength is the foundation of athletic ability, increasing performance, and resisting injury.

    • Strength training is not only great for your muscles but does a lot for your bones, tendons, and other connective tissue. Sometimes people overlook the positive changes that cannot be visibly seen. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link!
    • Do a combination of body weight exercises, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettle bells, and battle ropes.
    • For the best “bang for your buck,” do exercises that use your large muscle groups, perform four to six exercises in a row, and alternate between a lower body, upper body push, upper body pull, and core exercise. Repeat three to five times with no rest between exercises, rest one to two minutes between sets. This will challenge your cardiovascular system as well as build strength: squat (front, back, goblet), pull-up, push-up (regular, inverted, diamond, staggered, etc.), row (dumbbell, body weight, TRX), walking lunges, and front plank.

Interval training and power endurance: Interval/power endurance workouts alternate high intensity levels with lower intensity levels and are the key to fat loss and building mental toughness. You can get a full workout in 20 minutes of hard work.

    • Extended bouts of cardio-respiratory and muscular stress at high, but sub-maximal levels perhaps best mirror mountain activities. Muscles burn. Chest heaves. The mind grows weak. Power endurance and strength endurance give you the ability to keep on moving up that mountain, no matter what.
    • You can do interval training any way you want: walking, running, hills, cycling, etc. Start with a three- to five-minute warm-up, alternate between 30-second to one-minute high intensity, and one- to two-minute low intensity for four to six sets. As your fitness level improves, you can increase your speed, time at high intensity, number of sets, and decrease your time at low intensity.
    • Power endurance can be made up of a combination of different body weight/plyometric exercises. Do each of the following exercises for 30 seconds with no rest. As you get more fit, you can add weights and/or increase the time: jump squats, burpees, split squat jumps, mountain climbers, power skipping, and plyometric push-ups.

Outdoor endurance training: Get outside, have fun, and move!

    • Increase your cardiovascular threshold, and before long, you will be able to go farther and harder with more confidence: Hike uphill for as long as you can, hike with a weighted pack on for as long as you can, run up stadiums or stairs, mountain bike, or run.

“The first step to achieving your personal fitness goals,” Erin adds, “can begin with the first step you take out of your front door.”

Hopefully, Erin’s fitness tips have motivated you to get into shape – and better prepare yourself for your next adventure trek, whether you’re headed to Yosemite, Yellowstone, one of America’s other national parks, or somewhere else together. For more fitness advice from Erin, stay tuned for my next post, in which I’ll feature a recent conversation with her.

In the meantime, do you have any fitness tips to share?

Leave a Reply