Between the changing seasons and the continuation of COVID-19 restrictions, a lot of Spartans are considering how they can exercise even more outside. Conveniently, fall is the perfect time to hit the trails to go hiking.
Fall hikes are about a lot more than fresh air and leaf peeping, though, especially for Spartans. They can be an excellent way to diversify your training and prepare you for some of our more challenging courses. “Training outside prepares you for unpredictable terrain during races,” says Mackenzie Phillips, founder of MAEVE40 Fitness. A certified personal trainer and Spartan SGX coach, Phillips swears by training on trails, not just in the gym, because it can help build speed and endurance.
Daily hikes are also something Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena swears by. With hundreds of miles of trails on his farm in Pittsfield, Vermont, he relies on early-morning hikes to find some solitude at the beginning of his day. With his phone constantly ringing off the hook and his inbox never slowing down, the hikes give him a respite from the noise. If he wants a challenge, he'll pick up a rock and carry it along the way.
Here’s how you can transform your hiking expeditions into big training wins, so you're even better prepared for the 2021 season:
Integrate Functional Movements into Your Hikes
Some hikes present their own natural obstacles, such as streams to jump over and rocks to climb. Phillips recommends incorporating different types of traditional training movements as you traverse that terrain. (She refers to this as "Spartan-eering.") For example, pick up a rock along the way, like Joe does, and carry it for a portion of the path, to simulate the Atlas Carry. When you come across a fallen tree, hang from a sturdy branch to practice your grip strength.
"I like to spot fallen trees, or large boulders, to jump over while on a hike to simulate obstacles," says Spartan World Champion Robert Killian, who also swears by integrating hikes into his training plan. Phillips also suggests gamifying your hike. For example, sprint to a boulder ahead and then do 10 burpees when you get there, or do 15 squats every time you see a certain type of tree.
"This is a great way to get your mind and body prepared for the different types of conditions you might encounter on a course," she says.
Related: Functional Foundations: 6 Workouts
Practice 'Speed Play' on the Trails
Also known as Fartlek, in Swedish, speed play is otherwise called interval training (something many Spartans are familiar with). It's critical to building your endurance and aerobic capacity. "Running is a critical part of conditioning," says Phillips. "And interval training is essential to improving your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which can help you build speed."
It's also something you can easily incorporate into your regular hikes. She recommends picking a tree in front of you and sprinting towards it, alternating on and off along the trail. This type of training can also help improve your ability to respond better on the course when your legs are fatigued.
"Hiking can definitely help increase your endurance if it's a longer route, or if the duration is one or more hours," Killian says. "Depending on pace, the terrain, or if you add a weighted pack, you can certainly get your heart rate up to a level that will improve it."
Be Mindful of Your Hiking Terrain
Just like on a Spartan course, it's essential to be hyperaware of your surroundings when you hike. "You need to be focused and present, no matter which trail or path you take," says Phillips. "You can't zone out."
For her, that means incorporating meditation into her hikes. Whether at the beginning or the end — or even while you're walking — tune into your breath, take note of the trees you're passing by, and feel your feet grounding into the earth. "Mastering your emotions is a big part of the Spartan code," explains Phillips. And practicing this type of mindfulness — being grateful for your body and the work that it's doing — can go a long way towards building mental toughness. (It can also help prevent you from twisting an ankle on a rogue branch!)
Killian agrees that hiking can help improve your mental focus, especially when "orienteering" through the woods or on a trail. "It's very applicable to racing in the sense that you need to be aware of the course and following it," he says. "I feel more relaxed and there are less stressors in nature, so you can focus on being more in the moment when training."
Just as important, though, is ensuring that you're familiar with the path you set out on. In addition to taking other safety measures, such as studying the trail map and letting someone know where you're going, Killian notes natural markers like bodies of water and large terrain features so he doesn't get lost.
Related: Mental Focus in Five Easy Steps
Wear the Right Hiking Gear
You can implement all of the functional training, speed work, and mindfulness that you want. If you're not outfitted properly for your hike, however, you can easily roll an ankle or overheat and be out of the exercise game entirely. The most important thing to consider is your footwear. Navigating unknown terrain while doing speedwork can be downright dangerous if you're wearing flimsy shoes.
The Spartan by Craft RD Pro, the only shoe that's designed to handle an obstacle course race, is also perfectly built to handle unpredictable trails to give you the traction you need. "Grip, responsiveness, comfort, breathability, water resistance, and ankle coverage are a few of the things to consider, and the Craft RD Pro meets all of those demands," says Killian.
Another non-negotiable: Preparing for whatever lies ahead of you on your hike. For Phillips, that means always carrying a hydration pack so you don't get dehydrated. (She also uses salt tabs in case her muscles start cramping.) Also make sure to wear moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating clothing. As the weather gets cooler, our pros like to head out in layers, throwing the Lumen SubZ Body Warmer on over their gear to provide warmth on the trails.
Killian recommends wearing durable fabrics that will help shield you against scrapes, covering your arms and wearing pants, and investing in a quality jacket like the Spartan by Craft Beast jacket, which is lightweight and waterproof. Phillips also recommends wearing compression gear where possible, like our Pro Series Compression tights. Finally, it's always important to protect your eyes, wear sunscreen, bring a headlamp if it will get dark, and keep track of where you are with GPS or Strava. (Always have a means of communication in case of emergency, advises Killian.) And, of course, wear a mask if you'll be encountering other people on your hike!