Why Fitness is Important for Your High Altitude Trek

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Why Fitness is Important for Your High Altitude Trek

Category Easy-moderate;moderate;moderate-difficult;difficult;fitness;trekfit

By Swathi Chatrapathy


It’s a serious mistake to not prepare for your trek after signing up for it. Unfortunately, 30-40% of trekkers make this mistake every year.

Three years ago, we even faced a ‘fitness faking epidemic,’ where trekkers who were not fit resorted to faking their fitness screenshots to get approved for the trek. Some trekkers still do it. 

In such a scenario, there is a simple thing that trekkers don’t understand. 

You sacrifice a lot to sign up for a trek —money, time, and so much thought and planning. You do it to enjoy trekking and being in nature.

But just putting thought, money, and time into registering is not enough. The reality is — YOU WON'T ENJOY THE TREK IF YOU ARE NOT FIT.

Trekking is very different from going on walks. Walking long distances on a road or in a garden cannot be compared to climbing a mountain or a pass. On treks, you are continuously ascending and descending on uneven terrain. This takes strength and endurance. It becomes more difficult when you are doing it at a high altitude (above 9000 ft). 

Click on the image to view the Video

Three things happen when you are not fit:

  1. You do not enjoy the trek
  2. You struggle to be a part of the team
  3. You miss out on a deep transformative experience that trekking can offer

This is why it’s important to be fit for a trek. Good part is, it’s not difficult. All you need to do is  start following a fitness routine 30-45 days before the trek begins. 

A common question —  I have no trek experience. Will I be able to trek just by following the fitness routine?

Yes. Trekking is a sport that primarily uses your lungs, your core, and your lower body. Prior experience matters only for difficult treks. For all other treks, good fitness is key.

To reach this fitness, there are just two things to work on — your cardiovascular endurance and your muscle strength. 

Click on the image to view the Video

Running works your lungs and lower body, while basic strength training using your own body weight like planks and push-ups makes your core stronger.

These exercises when done consistently over a period of time will yield tremendous results and make your trek ready by the end of the training plan. Thousands of trekkers have benefited from this simple routine.

How fit is fit enough?

Before you start on your fitness journey, find out where you stand:

At Indiahikes, we look at it like this - there are four levels of fitness when you’re on a trek.

➤ Level 1 is not preparing for a trek at all. It’s appalling but it is true that there are umpteen trekkers who go to the mountains with zero preparation. Since we at Indiahikes are extremely strict about fitness, we don’t see too many in this category. But in the mountains, there is a discernible difference between our trekkers and others, especially when others are at Level 0.

➤ Level 2 is being just about fit to manage to complete the trek. You struggle a bit, but not much. You make it to the top (from our experience most trekkers achieve this fitness level).

➤ Level 3 is being fit enough to enjoy your trek. You don’t feel exertion or pay attention to your body. You have enough time to absorb the surroundings and make conversations while trekking (around 10% of our trekkers achieve this).

➤ Level 4 is when you are fit enough to comfortably face bad weather conditions, and trek that extra mile through snow and rain. Most trekkers who achieve this level of fitness are stoic about the weather, they accept it and embrace it (very few trekkers achieve this level of fitness).

Are you at Level 1 or 4?

Why Running Is The Best Exercise To Get Fit For A Trek (Vs Swimming and Cycling)

Many trekkers ask us if they can go swimming or cycling instead of running to get fit for a trek.

In this video, Co-Founder of Indiahikes, Sandhya Chandrasekharayya, shares why running is the best exercise to get fit for a trek, especially compared to swimming and cycling.

While both of them are great endurance builders, running / jogging focuses on the same muscles you use while trekking, she says.

Click on the image to view the Video

Guide to plan your fitness routine

In Conclusion

We’ve observed that trekkers going on tough treks like Kedartal, Rupin Pass, Buran Ghati, Warwan Valley, instinctively aim to reach Level 3. These are usually trekkers who have trekked in the Himalayas before. They understand the challenges of trekking in high altitude. 

But most others, especially trekkers who are preparing to go for easy-moderate treks, reach just Level 1. This could happen if you are undermining the challenges on the easy-moderate treks or have not trekked before. In such cases, a common mistake is to think that bad weather and emergencies don’t occur on easier treks.

You must know emergencies can occur even on the easiest treks. We are dealing with the Himalayas at very high altitudes. The weather is never predictable; it could rain or snow at any time.

So no matter what trek you’re going on, target being at the peak of your fitness. Aim at Level 3. 

If you have found this guide helpful or know of any more exercises that could help build the required strength and endurance for Himalayan treks, feel free to drop in your thoughts in the comments section below.

Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers.

A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content.

Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.

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