Once I made the decision to travel the world, one of the first things I did was join a gym. For me, the pros definitely weighed out the cons.

In terms of physical strength, I was pathetic. At 5’1” and under 100 lbs, I had zero strength and  lugging a backpack around the world was a serious concern of mine. Whenever I had to stack shelves at work, I’d have to carry things one by one because carrying everything in bulk would cause me to drop it all, which has happened on more than one occasion!

Exercise is great for releasing endorphins and boosting your immune system, so there are even more reasons to get ready for backpacking. In this article, I’ll talk about the best machines to use at a gym, and then discuss exercises you can do at home if you don’t have a membership.

Lauren with her backpack

I may look confident, but I’m incredibly nervous about carrying this around the world!

The Treadmill

To warm up and to help improve your general level of fitness and stamina, start by running on a completely flat 0% incline, and run for a distance you feel comfortable with. I run for 30 minutes. Instead of increasing your time, gradually increase your speed. I do so by 0.5km/h each week. After a month of this, increase your time by 5-10 minutes and lower your speed. Again, gradually increase your speed on a weekly basis.

After your warm up, set the treadmill to a sharp incline, as sharp as you can manage and then aim to walk for around 10 minutes to begin with. I set the inclination at 10%. You’ll feel the burn in your calves and they’ll ache like hell the next morning, but you’ll get used to it.

The Leg Press

The leg press works all of the muscles in your legs, from your hips to your knees to your ankles, all of which are important for carrying a heavy backpack for any amount of time.  You should aim to use this machine three or four times a week. Choose a weight where you can perform 12 repetitions. If you can do eight repetitions and no more, then the weight is too heavy, and if you can manage 15 repetitions, you should increase the weight. When it gets to the point where you can complete 15 repetitions with this weight, then increase the weight by 5kg and repeat.

The Lat Pull Down

This machine mainly focuses on the muscles in your back, but works the shoulders and arms as well. Increase the weights in a similar way to that of the leg press mentioned above.

Try to keep your back completely straight, and pull the bar until it is level with your chin. Don’t pull the bar any further below where your shoulders are. Slowly return the bar back upwards until your arms are completely straight, before repeating. Do this for 2 sets of 12 repetitions.

The Chest Press

If the back is not trained with the same intensity and frequency of the chest, then muscular imbalances will occur and you will be more prone to injury.  The chest press strengthens the main muscles in the chest, shoulders and triceps. Make sure you keep your back pressed against the back pad at all times and make sure that you keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Exhale and slowly push the bar out in front of you until your arms are fully extended in front of you (but not so that your elbows lock), and then slowly return your arms back in line with your chest. As before, do this for 12 repetitions, and do 2 sets of these.

 

And for those of you who don’t have a gym membership, here are a few quick and easy exercises you can carry out at home:

One-Leg Squats

This exercise works the front and back of your thighs.

Place your left hand on a wall and bend your right leg behind you so that you are just balancing on your left leg. Bend your left knee slowly so that your body lowers towards the floor. Hold this position and then slowly stand back up. Repeat with the other leg.

Step-Ups/Step-Downs

This works the front and back of your thighs and your calves.

Find a suitable step, the kerb, or stairs in your house. This is pretty self explanatory. Place one foot on the step, and then bring the other foot up to join it. Lower one foot back to the floor, and then the other. Repeat for as long as you want!

Shrugs

This works your shoulders and upper back.

Find two water bottles and hold them in your hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms by your side and without moving them, lift your shoulders toward your ears. Hold, then slowly lower.

Figure-4 Stretch

This works the  back of your thighs and back.

Start by sitting on the floor, and extend your right leg in front of you. Bend your left knee, and rest the bottom of your left foot against the inner thigh of your right leg. Lean forward, reaching toward the ankle of your right foot, as far as you can go. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. Do one to three stretches on each side.

 

And most importantly…

Hiking

That’s right, there is no better way to prepare for a backpacking trip than to actually go out and practice! Find a park near to you, or a hilly area, and go for long walks. Take a backpack and fill it with lots of water bottles to make it heavy, and practise walking whilst carrying something heavy on your back. Start off easy and then gradually add more weight as you improve

Do you have any more exercises that are beneficial in preparing for a backpacking trip? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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