I got a lovely and terrifying email from Wildland Trekking yesterday with the gentle suggestion that I might want to make sure I’m training enough to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Here’s a representative section:
This trip demands a high level of fitness and you must be capable of vigorous exercise (extended runs, swims, bike rides, hikes, etc.). We cannot stress enough the fitter you are the more fun you’ll have. As such, please use the attached training recommendations to help you prepare for your trip.
The emphasis there is theirs. What are their training recommendations, you wonder? The simple answer is this: Hike. A lot. Now, I love to hike, obviously–I signed on to hike the Grand Canyon–and I live in a region with almost embarrassingly plentiful hiking trails of all descriptions. Eight of the top 15 highest-rated trails in New York State are in easy driving distance from my home. So no problem with desire or destination.
Unfortunately, it gets dark pretty early here in the winter, which makes weekday after-work hikes almost impossible. I waited patiently for daylight saving time to start on March 12 only to have my hopes to get out there any time soon dashed by The Blizzard of 2017. The storm dumped 20 inches of snow on the ground (Wildland Trekking’s training guidelines say nothing about the merits of snow shoveling!) and to add insult to injury it’s been cold and rainy ever since. I don’t strictly mind getting rained on when I’m hiking, but I prefer to the temperature to be further above freezing than anything we’ve had around here lately.
I’m going to document my training hikes here on this blog once the weather doesn’t suck, but today I’ll lay out my current gym routine. Wildland Trekking doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about gym training. I’m not really that hot on in myself. But until I can get outside it’s the only option I’ve got. So here goes.
That machine to the left there is the current object of my affection/aversion: the Matrix C5x Climb Mill. I can’t really say whether I love to hate this thing or if I hate to love it. This particular machine is my favorite of the three at my gym because it’s tucked in a little corner slightly away from the other cardio machines next to a wall that’s painted a soothing shade of my very favorite color. I throw on a podcast (usually Oh No, Ross and Carrie, BackStory, History on Fire, Sword and Scale or Our Fake History) and rock 30 minutes on the machine’s “Rolling Hills” training workout (which sounds a lot nicer than it is), stretch for 10 minutes, then repeat. I use the stepmill every day for obvious reasons: it’s as close to hilly hiking as I’m going to get indoors, and it’s unbeatable for cardio training. It’s also way less boring to me than any other cardio machine except the rower (more on that below). Now that I’m just 12 weeks out from my hike it’s time to do this part of my workout in my hiking boots and throw an increasingly heavy pack into the mix. I might also need to add a third or fourth 30 minute set in the weeks ahead if the weather doesn’t begin to cooperate, but hopefully the sun will come out and the temperature will get over 50 degrees soon enough that it won’t be necessary.
Once I’m nice and sweaty, I head over to the only other cardio machine I like: the Concept 2 Model E Rower. This machine, too, is tucked away in a corner at my gym, and it has a nice northwesterly view that adds some drama for my sunset workouts. I do intervals for 20 minutes (here’s the workout I use) and I love that I can work cardio and my shoulders and back simultaneously. I know if I have strength issues on my hike it’s going to manifest in my shoulders so I need all the help I can get in that area.
In addition to my solo training, I attend group fitness classes five days a week, alternating between strength and cardio. My gym partners with MOSSA to provide group classes (this organization popularized step aerobics when it produced The Original STEP in the late 80s; their equipment and choreography is still pretty much the industry standard). I currently take two programs: Group Blast [pdf], a cardio step aerobics class, on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; and Group Power [pdf], a strength training class, on Saturdays and Tuesdays. I really love my gym’s group fitness studio. It’s huge, beautifully lit and has a lovely view of the Hudson River and the mountains beyond even in the cold gray rain (as you’d see if I weren’t such an awful photographer).
I’ve always enjoyed step aerobics and Group Blast doesn’t disappoint at all. It’s a tough 55-minute workout set to motivational music with a pretty serious cardio and leg focus that also takes time for core conditioning, agility and balance, and a nice long stretch at the end. Each instructor brings her own flair; they have some leeway and switch up the program from week to week so it’s never boring. I’d do this class every day if my schedule permitted it.
Group Power was my first foray into weight training since I took a school quarter of weight lifting in 12th grade gym, a class I should more truthfully call “weight lifting,” because my time in it was spent mainly sitting on the weight bench agonizing over boys with my best friend (and current hiking buddy!) and studying for our Civil War class, which took place the following period. I don’t recall ever actually lifting any weights. I was surprised to find I really enjoy it. I started with teeny-tiny weights and I add weight every class, so that bar is starting to get pretty darn heavy. This one also features motivational music, which I like. And, again, each instructor makes the class her own.
There is one other group fitness class I’m interested in trying, but my schedule hasn’t permitted it so far: Group Ride[pdf]. My friends who spin swear by it and I bet I would like it a lot, it’s just that my gym only offers this class four times a week outside my regular work hours and two of those times overlap with Blast or Power. The other two times are super early in the morning: 6:00 am. I am not a morning person. We’ll see if I get it together enough I drag myself out of bed in time for that class one of these days. I’m hopeful!