Train Insane or Fail the Trail: Appalachian Trail Preparation

5,000,000 Steps

Yep, that’s six zeros. That’s the estimated amount of steps taken on the Appalachian Trail. 2,200 miles or 3,500km (for those in Australia) will do that. And I’m aiming to complete every single last mile. This is no easy feat and will require a large amount of training. I once participated in a Melbourne 10km charity run with little to no training. Safe to say walking was a challenge for the following three days. So for an adventure like this, I wasn’t going to let that happen.


I’m a physiotherapist. My bread and butter is injury prevention and management. For cases like this it’s a simple rehab or “prehab” approach. Progressively work harder and harder, applying slightly more stimulus/stress on the body leading up to departure date. I’ve seen my fair share of stress fractures or stress-related injuries in my time, so I know what’s expected. I need to prepare my tissues; my muscles, tendons, joints, and bones for five to six months of walking up and down hills with a 15 kg pack. Fun, right!?

Only 25% of People Will Finish the AT Thru-Hike

I want to ensure I stay injury-free to join that statistic and get my 2,000-mile patch and make it to Springier Mountain.

So below is a guide I have thrown together to start preparing for the trail. I’m now four months out, which is ample time to get my training loads and volume up to the point where I can hit the trail slightly more comfortably. I plan to also go on a series of overnight hikes locally over a few weekends to get some “sports specific” training under my belt.

Gym resistance loading: 3x per week
– Leg Press 3 x 12-15 reps
– Barbell Squats 3 x 10 reps
– Calf Raises 3 x 15
– Barbell Elevated Glute Bridges 3 x 10
– Walking Lunges/ Mid bench step ups: 3 x 10
– Stiff Legged Deadlifts: 3 x 8

Cardiovascular Base:
– Walking every 1-2 days ~ 4km 5/10 rate of perceived exertion (RPE).
– Running: 1-2x per week 2-3km run @ 5:50 min Kms.

Sports Specific Loading:
– Weekend hike or scramble locally. Aiming for 7-10km hike through the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast Hinterland.

I will aim to hike with increasing pack weight to closely replicate my weight on the AT. I’ll start at 5kg base weight and progressively build to 15kg. Rest days are crucial for training. It’s important for laying down new osseous tissue in bone and help with collagen regeneration for tendons. Often training errors where you’ve done too much too soon will results in breakdown before you even make the first white blaze.

This plan will change with increasing weights so I can be pushing harder loads and increasing my intensity to better prepare for my trek. I’ll be tracking and monitoring all of my training loads in an Excel spreadsheet tracking variability, strain, and total volumes for you exercise science nerds out there (feel free to reach out if you would like the spreadsheet emailed to you).

If you have have any advice for training preparation, I’d love to hear from you.

– Jacob

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Comments 12

  • Bill Markunasi li : Feb 26th

    I like the nerdy stuff especially as relates to injury free. See you at my Hut (Hightop) in Shenandoah National Park. mm sobo 1177

    • Jacob Payne : Feb 26th

      Thanks Bill! I’ll be sure to pop in and say Hey! – Jacob

  • Bruce Offord : Feb 26th

    You probably know this, but don’t forget to mention stretching. Especially foot, Achilles, IT, and sciatic nerve. I had plantar fasciitis on the PCT, and met others that had it too.

    • Jacob Payne : Feb 26th

      Yeah, thanks Bruce! Those apart from sciatica tend to be overuse issues which stretching has been shown to reduce some of the pain and symptoms!

  • Brian M. Adams : Feb 26th

    I have a similar plan. I am walking every day, averaging over 6 miles/day. Once I got to the pace I was happy with (roughly twice what I plan to hike) I started adding weights. Fortunately, I still have 13 months before I hit the AT. My “off days” are between 1-1.5 miles. I am just about ready to add some weight training in addition to walking, so I am interested in the plan & spreadsheet you are using. My goal is to be capable of at least 12 miles/day on day one on the trail.

    Good luck on your trek and perhaps our paths may cross on one of my workup treks.

    • Jacob Payne : Feb 27th

      That’s a good way to be building up Brian! If you would like to reply with your email I’d be happy to send them through 🙂
      Thanks mate, I’ll keep an eye out for you!

  • Jason : Feb 27th

    unfortunately for me my hike starts in just under two weeks, so I don’t have time to ramp up. I have done weekend hikes several times and I intend to take the first two weeks on trail with low miles to build my trail legs.

    • Jacob Payne : Feb 27th

      Yeah that’s a good idea Jason. You can almost use the first few weeks on the trail as your training right?

  • Twiddlesticks : Mar 4th

    Hey Jacob,

    I’m also an Aussie hoping to go SOBO this year. I’m currently walking ~10km a day, thinking about ramping it up to 15km and adding some squats at home and maybe some laps in the pool. Do you reckon that’d be okay prep? Defo wanna stay injury free too, especially as I have a weak knee from ACL tear – that I went hiking on too early post-op years ago 🙁

    • Jacob Payne : Mar 4th

      Oh awesome! It would be a good idea to try and progressively load. You could alternatively walk the 10km but add some weight in a pack to increase your work load.
      With your history I think it would be wise to do a lot of strength work for your legs as well as some balance and control exercises! Hope that helps!!

  • Shannon Ryker : Mar 4th

    Such a great topic! Your plan addresses lower body and cardio vascular. i’m curious what are you doing for core stability and shoulder and back strength? Anything besides gradually increasing pack weight? I ask because I had a shoulder injury that required surgery and lots of PT several years ago. My plan has been to pull out my old PT routine and perform those exercises and wear a pack on training hikes gradually increasing weight. Curious to see what at PT does to prepare for that load on back and shoulders.

    • Jacob Payne : Mar 4th

      I’m also doing some upper body strength work in the gym I just left out so I could be specific for lower limb so the blog post wasn’t to clunky haha. But back exercises like a lat pull down, seated row, dead lifts are great exercises for your back and surprisingly your core as well. Increasing your pack weight with shake down hikes is a clever alternative. It also helps build your tolerance to carrying your weight as well! Without seeing your shoulder it’s hard to give real specifics but it seems like at least a smart start. Otherwise no harm in going back to see you PT with the idea saying you’re off for a hike and you want to prepare!


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