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Personal Training for Treks: How I Prepared for My Madagascar Trek

Trek Madagascar

Hi there! My name is Nicola Poole and I am a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and keen walker. I have already written a general blog about gym training for treks, which you can read here but I thought it worthwhile to highlight what I did to get ready for my most recent trek. Firstly, it will be very useful to those who have signed up for the next Madagascar Trek but also it will give you an idea of how to approach trek training for any trip.

Couch To Mountains. Online personal trainning for trekkers

Please be aware that my training is unique to me and although insightful it may not be suitable for you. I am an active person already and because of that my preparation for this trek had a head start already. If you believe you are starting out from scratch then you definitely want to consider taking part in my online Inspired Coaching: Couch To Mountains Programme. It's personal training specifically for treks. You can access lots of information and help by joining, much of which is completely free! Go to this link to find out more.

Nicola Poole. Personal trainer.

November last year I took part in an adventure trek to Madagascar, organised by The Different Travel Company. This is my second challenge trek abroad . When I started telling people I was training for this trek they said to me, ‘You’re already fit. Why do you need to train for it?’ Although it’s true that I have a good level of strength, fitness and walking experience, there is more to it than that.

I think the starting point here is the word ‘fitness’. Everyone knows what fitness means. Or do they? The reality is that the term fitness is subjective and means different things to different people. Generally speaking I have found from being a personal trainer the majority of people base how fit someone is on how fit they think they are and which areas of fitness they rank in importance. Which as you can imagine leads to a somewhat distorted perception of fitness.

Experts define physical fitness as:

“One's ability to execute daily activities with optimal performance, endurance, and strength with the management of disease, fatigue, and stress and reduced sedentary behavior.”

So, in other words, ‘are you fit for purpose?’ I prefer to use the word ‘conditioned’ instead of fitness. Do you have the conditioning to perform whatever it is you wish to do? If the answer is no, then work out what you need to do to become conditioned and how to go about that. In a small nut shell this is how I plan training programmes for my clients. And this is exactly what I did for myself to prepare for my trek. If you are planning your own training use the FITT principle as a guide to help as well. It’s a simple but effective way to ensure progress is made.

Frequency – how often you train.

Intensity – how hard you are training.

Time – how long you train for.

Type – what type of training you use.

Online personal training for walkers

I signed up for the trek in the beginning of June so I had 5 months to get ready. At this point it’s important to note that I was already training in the gym 4 times a week (different type of training), going to Yin Yoga once a week, doing short daily walks with my pooch and occasional longer walks at the weekend when I felt like doing so.

The main areas I felt that would need the most work were:

  1. Aerobic fitness.

  2. Strength endurance.

  3. Consistently walking for 15km plus without excessive fatigue and recovering within 24hrs.

With these as my main goals and a few other smaller process goals I set about planning my training. I continued to do my gym based training 4 times a week but altered the training methods used and added in some specific exercises. I also gradually increased the intensity of my walks.

Aerobic fitness

I’m not going to lie, I am not a fan of doing cardio. I find it boring. There is no way you will get me out running or cycling. Hats off to those who do. But it’s not my bag. Unless I enjoy something or have to do it for a specific reason it won’t happen. My attributes lie elsewhere. However, I also recognise that working my heart and lungs is very important so here lies the dilemma!

So, like I do for my personal training clients I hid aerobic conditioning within my gym training. I used conditioning circuits and other particular exercise combinations to test my aerobic capacity. Steady state and interval training on the stair climber, cross trainer and rower as I got closer to the trip and used my walks of course. By the end, I conditioned myself to exercise for various periods of time at different levels of intensity that ranged from comfortable to very uncomfortable. I could also recover from being out of breath between 1-2 minutes depending on what I did.

I think it’s important to say here that your recovery from intense bursts of activity have an equally important role in your training. You need to experience and get used to the feeling of being completely out of breath. Then recovering from that as quickly as possible. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Avoid that feeling at your peril because believe me people panic. Get used to that feeling before you go to a strange country surrounded by people you don’t really know. Otherwise fear and embarrassment will ruin it.

Nicola Poole. Inspired Coaching. Newton Abbot

Strength endurance

Strength endurance means that we want to be as strong as possible for as long as possible. Don’t confuse it with muscular endurance which is using light resistance for lots of reps. There are different methods you can use but essentially you want to be working within your strength percentage at volume with minimum rest.  There’s one thing being strong but some activities like hiking require you to sustain loads for periods of time. For example, carrying a rucksack or climbing steep steps. It’s a myth that muscle hinders endurance type sports. It doesn’t as long as you train those muscles to work longer. My big, old butt, hammies and calves come into their own on those inclines lol. I might be slower but they look after my joints and get me to the top.

Walk conditioning

I needed to get mileage on my feet as I knew if anything was going to hinder me in Madagascar it was going to be my feet. (Turns out I was right!). So, the majority my training walks were distance focused rather than accents. I could already cover around 10-12km comfortably so I either planned my walks for bigger distances or chose similar/shorter distances with more challenging elevations and/or terrains. I knew the furthest distance I would do was about 18km so I made sure I could do 20-22km and the shortest but steepest distance would be about 12km. The worst terrain for me is flat, hard ground. My feet don’t like it. So, again I made sure I did some longer distances on that. Cycle paths are good for this. I also got lucky in that Devon had a heat wave in June/July so I did a few walks in those conditions to help prepare my body and also work out how much fluid I would need to sustain myself. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but I was grateful for this as it got hot in Madagascar. Around 30 degrees most days with next to no shade. This can definitely make or break you.

Nicola Poole. Trek personal training

I mentioned earlier about my feet. I do have issues with my left foot which I can’t do anything about. However, the one thing I didn’t do enough of despite knowing better was back to back walking days. We did 5 consecutive days of walking in dry, hot conditions. Physically and mentally I woke each day feeling positive and recovered but my feet struggled. Swollen from the heat, the hard impact on them along with lots of small rubbing blisters made the thought of putting my boots back on each day tough. I did it of course and the cold water from the rivers helped. The challenge of these trips is not the distance you cover or the hills you climb but the ability to get up over and over again and do it all again. So, please take this into consideration. I know people who have climbed famous landmarks like Ben Nevis etc as part of their training. Doing it once and going home is the easy bit. The question is could you get up the next day and do it again?

Nicola Poole. Online coaching for treks

If you have enjoyed reading this blog please let me know. I work to help people the best I can so all feedback is gratefully received and useful in my business. Equally if you’re now thinking I need some help with this trip I’ve signed up to please get in touch or visit my website to find out how I can help you conquer those mountains.

Nicola Poole. Personal trainer. Strength and conditioning coach

Nicola Poole is the owner of Inspired Coaching. With 10 years of personal training and strength & conditioning coaching behind her. She is also a tutor/assessor for personal training qualifications. Competed in powerlifting at an elite level for many years plus 14 years as a PE teacher. She has extensive knowledge and experience in her field of work. Operating as an inclusive, HAES and body neutral coach helping people achieve the right balance between exercise, health and life. Nicola currently freelances for Performance Training Academy supporting them in their delivery of health and fitness courses and also works with The Different Travel Company providing online training and support to trekkers and adventurers alike.

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