Interval training – the next step up in hiking fitness

How to get fit for hiking - interval trainingHow is your exercise routine coming along?

In this article Georgie Bull continues her getting fit for a multi-day hike series.

If you are new here, we suggest  you read the three previous articles which will give you some background about how we got to this point.

– Getting fit for a multi day walking trip – some personal experience
– A hiking fitness program – 16 weeks to get fit for a trip
– Getting fit for hiking – a 12 week program

Over to Georgie:

If  you have followed either closely or loosely my pounding the pavement, week by week, build up programme, or added some weight training as Amanda suggested, you will now be feeling fitter and stronger for those multi day walks.

In preparation for the hills and slush of Tasmania’s Overland Track in September, I have increased the resistance exercises in my gym workouts, and done a couple of good long up and downhill walks, and can definitely feel a big difference in my cardio ability and core strength.

So now it is time for me to get serious about adding some interval training into my routine.  I can do this, as I know I don’t have heart problems, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or joint problems and am not on any medication.  If you answer Yes, to any of these, you should check with a medical practitioner before adding interval training to your own routine.

OK, so after the first 4 weeks of gentle exercise, I gradually added some strength and resistance training – adding some hills, climbing stairs and weight training.  This slowly but steadily improved my cardio and aerobic systems and my muscles for the long slogs on the OT.  But now I need to push those systems a bit further with interval training, to get me easily up Marion’s steps, and Pelion and Du Cane Gaps – those short, lung bursting exertions I had found so difficult on my previous OT walks.

Interval training demands 90+% of your maximum heart rate, so it can only be done in VERY SHORT bursts, and only every second day.  Interval training hurts and has the potential for damage, so the slow build up to this stage is important, it should not be undertaken too early in your routine, and make sure you have a rest day in between.

Interval training involves an equal time mix of hard, fast exertion and recovery.  The length of time should be determined by your cardiac fitness.  It is important it be long enough that the hard and fast exertion gets you out of breath, but not so long that your heart rate goes back to resting rate in the recovery.  I will start with 3 sets of 30 seconds hard / 30 seconds rest, and build up to my goal of 5 sets of 3 minutes of each before I set out on the OT.

I am excited about starting my first sets of interval training exertion.  I plan to start with three sets of fast 30 second uphill power walk and cruisey 30 second downhill walk on my local hill.  I will increase the length and number of sets until I get bored, then switch to my stationary bike on the verandah at home, and use the gears and speed  to crank up the intensity, and freewheel as recovery.  I am not sure yet what I will do when I get bored with that – maybe swimming laps at the local, heated, pool.

This all sounds great, but I will let you know how successful I am in keeping it up and adding more each week.

Good luck with your own endeavours.

Image: Vern and Skeet via Flickr


  1. john says

    Hi Georgie,

    Sounds like you are going well. I will probably plan at doing the OT later in the season I am still struggling with my knees and ankles.

    I have been working with the shuffle you suggested for uphill climbs and the joints are doing better. I will definitely try some of the interval training even though I do something similar with my cycle training.

    I am presently doing a longer walk once a week with a heavier pack, ranging in weight between 17 and 20 kg’s. At the moment these take about 2 ½ hrs I would like to work up to times similar to those times taken between huts on the OT though I don’t know how long that would be. That way I know if I can manage let’s say a 5 hr walk with 20kgs without my legs giving me trouble then I can manage the OT. Can you tell me what sort of time I should be training for?

  2. Georgie says

    Hi John
    Great to hear you have mastered the shuffle, as it will definitely be taking pressure off your knee and ankle joints when you walk.

    I have organised my own training so that I can comfortably walk for about 2 to 4 hours with a weighted pack, which will do me nicely for the OT, as I am happy to take the whole day to do the distance between huts. I stop for snack breaks and lunch, during which time I take off my pack and sit down or stroll around to stretch my legs and back. But I know that others prefer to walk more quickly and not stop much until they get to the hut.

    How you like to do it will determine your training. Because I do rest my joints regularly, I have concentrated on improving my cardio vascular and leg muscle strenghts. But if you are going to ask your joints to work for long distances without rest periods for recovery, you will need advice on techniques to build up the strength of the supporting anatomy and reduce inflammation in the joints themselves. A consult with a physio or specialist remedial massage therapist might be well worth the dollars.

    Hopefully OHB readers with chronic knees will respond with their experiences.


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