Developing a Training Program
September 13th, 2010

If you’re thinking about an active vacation or have already booked one, a key component – and sometimes a daunting one – is the training. The first and most important piece is this: you have to commit to training! Unless you are truly an experienced athlete that takes these types of trips on a regular basis, and possibly even then, most active vacations require preparation. Several years ago, I participated in a 3-day walk for charity. The organization created a training schedule which included walks of up to 18 miles some days. I overheard several people during the walk say that they’d only trained up to 8 or 10 miles. Many of these people ended up with severe blisters, muscle injuries, heat exhaustion and other health issues. And this was only three days – imagine if it was a week or more.

If your vacation involves primarily one type of activity this simplifies the training – you primarily have to focus on biking, walking, hiking, canoeing, etc. Generally, tour companies or private guides will provide details on the distance, intensity and terrain scheduled for each day of the trip. This allows you to tailor your practice to include these features. For instance, if you know part of your biking trip is through the mountains where you may not have pavement the whole way, practice on hills with this type of terrain. Practice in the heat of the day, early morning, dusk, rain, wind and other potential weather conditions. Your tour company or guide should also be able to provide you information on typical weather patterns during the season you’ll be traveling. If not, this is relatively easy to research online.

Once you have this basic information, it’s time to create an actual training schedule. If you aren’t used to this type of training or the particular activity, this might be a good time to enlist a personal trainer, even if just to get you up and running (literally or figuratively). When fine tuning your schedule, start with your final training goal and work backward. This way you know that you can gradually work up to the goal and not have to overtrain in the last few weeks to reach it. Your schedule should range anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the intensity of the trip, your experience level and your overall starting activity level. Your toughest week should not be the week before your trip. Instead, this should be a few weeks before, with slightly less intense weeks following. While you want to still be ready to take on the vacation, you don’t want to be completely burnt out after the first day or two of your travels due to strenuous workouts just before leaving.

Finally, it’s critical to build both cross-training and rest days into your program. Cross-training should involve alternative types of cardiovascular exercise as well as strength training and flexibility. Cardiovascular coss-training allows your body to keep training but work different muscles than those used in the primary activity. If your primary activity is high-impact, for instance, you might choose swimming to take the weight off the joints, or the elliptical machine to lower the impact.  Strength training helps build the muscles supporting the joints, which can help prevent joint injuries from overuse or misuse (though avoiding misuse should be a focus in your training). Rest days give your body total rest from intense activity. You can use these days to stretch or do light yoga if you choose, but nothing that requires high cardiovascular activity or intense impact on the joints. Ideally you should have at least one rest day and one cross-training day per week, even at the most intense training level.

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