Physical + Mental Preparation
According to The Trek, physical injury and mental fatigue are major factors that drive hikers to leave the trail. Four months remain until I begin hiking and I thought I’d share ways I’ve been physically and mentally preparing to successfully thru-hike the AT:
I’ve never put my body through an activity as strenuous as a 2,194.3-mile hike. With the distance, I’d walk through rugged terrain, unpredictable weather, and varying elevation gain. Needless to say, developing an exercise routine was essential. I began with a rigorous workout plan, but there were days I lost track of the program, ultimately losing motivation. I got back on track by reminding myself to not be strict and to just keep moving.
Strength + Conditioning: This isn’t my favorite form of exercise, but is necessary for strengthening muscles, joint protection, and injury prevention. My workout plan consisted of three circuits; a combination of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises in a circuit; and three sets of 8-10 reps. If that’s a bunch of gibberish to you like it was for me, a trainer (if feasible), free exercise apps, or YouTube videos could be helpful starting guides.
Running: I’d rather run 10 miles than pick up a set of weights, but I noticed an increasing strain on my knees and hips due to the years of constant pounding. I still incorporate running, but modify by running short distances (2-3 miles) to keep my joints in good shape for the trail.
Stairs + Incline: The Midwest lacks significant elevation gain, so I simulate the elevation gain throughout the AT on the treadmill at an incline and stairs anywhere from 1-3 hours. I’ll sometimes wear my pack to get used to the feel and weight.
Stretching: I think this is the most important part of training. The benefits of stretching include lowering the risk of injury, improving physical performance, and relieving muscle tension; Plus, it helps increase serotonin levels, leading me to the next topic — mental preparation.
Despite how happy and excited I am to begin my hike, I’m also getting increasingly sad and nervous. I’m committed to this goal, but the conflicting emotions can make it challenging to focus on it. There are a few ways I’ve been coping:
Feel the feelings: Allowing the mix of emotions and feelings to show up has been helpful for me. After managing my body responses and automatic thoughts, I link them to reasons why they’re showing up in the first place. This helps identify and clarify the emotions and feelings, bringing me back to my “why” — the purpose of doing this hike.
Knowledge is power: Helpful tools include blogs, videos, and podcasts. I searched for answers and advice to many questions: Where will I sleep? What gear will I need? Who are the Twelve Tribes? What is Leave No Trace? It was also helpful to reach out to accomplished thru-hikers on social media groups to pick their brains on what life was like on the AT.
Enjoy the journey: Attempting this hike is my version of a fun and exhilarating adventure. I do my best to keep from stressing about minor details and being outcome-oriented because it defeats the purpose of escaping the confines of a rigid and regimented lifestyle and, frankly, takes the fun out of it.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.