I hate "training".
I love integrating "trip preparation" into my lifestyle.
I like simplicity, and like to apply Occam's Razor to this, focusing on five things:
- insulinemic stability
- time constraints
- observable, and measurable results
- no suffering
I've also learned that training is pretty overrated for backpacking, unless you are seriously out of shape. A light pack, low body fat, and a good diet go farther than gym time.
Here's my approach.
1. If you are overweight, lose the weight. This is not training. It's just a prerequisite. Until you lose the weight, forget about training. If you're a man, get your body fat down below 20% (measured w/calipers etc., not BMI). Then you can start training.
2. Don't waste a lot of time. High intensity, short duration, frequent. Think 10 minute workouts to the point of collapse, 3-6 times a day. Much easier to integrate into a normal lifestyle, and high intensity short duration transfers extremely well to backpacking. There is a myth that "to get in shape for backpacking, go backpacking". A fine thought but a huge investment of time if you aren't a thru-hiker, and very painful for the first few weeks.
3. Be simple. Do your workout in the bathroom, or the office, or your house, or on the side of the road. Best ones for backpackers: high repetitions of unweighted full squats, or, to improve your strength as the season gets closer, full squats while wearing a big pack. Squats, and push ups for core development. Do both until you are ready to puke. It takes less than 10 minutes. Repeat 3-6 times a day. No gym membership, no equipment, no fooling around, and it just plain works.
4. Forget aerobic fitness. Once you lose the weight you'll get there soon enough. Mostly, when you're out of breath on the trail, it's because your quads are underdeveloped, your core is sloppy, you are carrying too heavy of a pack, you are carrying too heavy of a gut, or you've screwed up your insulin stability with crappy foods.
5. Eliminate bad foods. Bad foods for backpackers: anything that has a high insulinemic index (ignore glycemic index, you're not a marathon runner), whether it's on the trail, or at home. Don't count calories. Just eat, and eat slowly (so you can better sense when you're full). Ramp up protein significantly so you can build your muscle mass (especially after you lose your weight). Eat lean meats and don't make high fat foods a staple at home while you're "training" and "optimizing your body weight/mass" (see below). Don't fool around with "diet" membership programs (WW et al.). They're only there to take your money, and have no clue what a backpacker needs.
If you are doing a "big trip", target a body fat reserve so that after you do your calorie balance and calculate how much body fat you'll lose on the trip (see here for an example that works well enough), make sure you have 3-5% in reserve. Example: if you're going on a 3 week expedition and you know you are going to lose 15 lbs of body fat to help fuel you in addition to the food you bring, you weigh 160 lbs:
- your 5% body fat reserve = 0.05 * 160 = 8 lbs
- add this to the 15 lbs that you'll burn = 23 lbs
- target body fat % at 160 lbs = 23/160 = 14.4%
In other words, you wouldn't want to take your body fat below 14.4%. If you do, then you better pack more food, etc. etc. But don't take this to an extreme. If you are carrying more than 20% of body fat, this little theory goes sort of goes to pot: lose the weight.
You can use cheap calipers, a buddy to help, the 7-point Jackson-Pollack method, and a bathroom scale to monitor all this.
It's way, way simpler that fooling around with a personal trainer and an expensive gym membership, and in my experience, a whole lot more effective. If it's simple, and you can see the results, you'll believe it, and you'll stick to it.
Plus, it's really easy to maintain, and you'll be fit for the rest of your life because it's that simple.
This allows me to work at a desk all week and then go rip it up with 30 mile days on the weekend, and I sure ain't no Andy Skurka...! After a holiday binge, I returned to the above and since 12/28 have lost 10 lbs and reduced body fat by more than 3%, and I haven't set foot in a gym or done any workout longer than 15 minutes or starved myself or counted calories or do or feel anything else that would indicate that I feel like I'm sacrificing anything.
Caveat: I still eat pizza once a week ;)