How to train like a middle aged mom

The truth of training in middle age is that you know you can’t just jump off the couch and do 10 miles. When Amber and I decided to take a backpacking trip last summer, we were both in what I kindly call a “fitness lull.” Though we’ve both had active times in our lives, COVID spring after a lazy holiday was definitely one of the least active ever.

So how to start training if you are out of shape and full of middle aged aches and pains? Gently. Remember that all movement is progress, and we are in no way looking for perfection. The goal is simply to acclimate our bodies to movement and added pack weight over time so that we have the highest chance of successfully completing our trip without injury.

I developed this plan using the old google machine and modeled it after the half marathon training plans that I used in the past (C25k is one I used as a runner). It is as simple as incrementally increasing hike distance and pack weight, with strength training to build muscle and yoga to help ease our aches and pains.

Wendy and Rebel during the middle of last year’s training plan. Notice the sweaty, red face!

Last year we started at zero and had 12 weeks to train. This year, we have nearly 15 weeks to prepare for a 20 mile looped hike, that we will be doing in 3 days. We’ve also stayed active through most of the year, starting ahead of the game. This is definitely a bigger endeavor than last year, but despite that, I have only tweaked the training plan a little bit to reflect additional time and higher mile totals. Our plan is outlined below.

**Disclaimer** I am not a personal trainer or in any way certified to create fitness plans. I am sharing what has worked for Amber and I, and strongly advise that if you are considering starting backpacking or any other sport, you seek guidance from a medical professional.

Sunset in Dishman Hills Natural Area, Spokane WA

The Two Middle-aged Moms’ bad ass backpacking training plan 

Weeks 1-3: May 29-June 18

Focus early on building endurance. Choose easy to moderate hikes, with a 10 lb pack during each hike. We have been consistently hiking over the winter, so the hikes should not be as challenging, but the addition of strength training may make muscles more tender. 

1 long hike (3-5 mi)

2 short hikes/walks (1-3 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Legs 1 x week 

Core 1 x week 

Weeks 4 & 5: June 19-July 2

Continue to build on the endurance gained in the first two weeks. Increase pack to 12-14 lb and increase distance. You can choose more challenging terrain for your shorter hikes, but keep the long hike focused on distance and endurance for now. 

1 long hike (4-6 mi)

2 short hikes/walks (2-4 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Full body conditioning 1 x week

Legs 1 x per week

Week 6: Take a break! It’s the 4th of July week, and Wendy is in Alaska anyway, so she’s not following the training plan… get out on the water, play in your garden, and stay active, but don’t stress about training this week. 

Weeks 7 & 8: July 10-23

You should be feeling an increased ability to handle longer hikes. You can start to challenge yourself with more technical terrain and elevation gains if you feel ready. Pack weight should be over 15 lb.

1 long hike (5-8 mi)

2 short hikes/walks (2-5 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Legs 1 x week

Core or Full body 1 x week 

Weeks 9 & 10: July 24-August 6
Shit’s getting real now! Your long hikes are going to be for several hours from here until the trip. Increase your pack to 18-20 lb, and at this point, you should be using the pack you will be carrying for the trip. 

1 long hike (6-9 mi)

2 short hikes/walks (2-5 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Legs 1 x week (start to focus on real movements- do squats with the pack on! If your neighbors didn’t already think you were crazy wandering the neighborhood with your pack on, they definitely will now!) 

Core 1 week, full body 1 week

Weeks 11 & 12: August 7-20

From here, it is mostly about adding weight to the pack and managing pain issues that crop up, to mitigate as much as possible before the trip. Your pack should be over 20 lbs and you should be carrying most of the items you will be carrying on the trip.

1 long hike (try to get over 10 mi if you can)

2 short walks/hikes (up to 5 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Cardio (your choice-bike, elliptical, belly dance, country line dance, do the macarena-just something other than walking/jogging) 1 x week

Full body conditioning 1 x week

Week 13: August 21-27

Keep upping your weight towards the final pack weight (not more than 20% of your body weight), keep hiking, just keep going! 

Long hike (up to 10 mi)

2 short hikes (up to 5 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Cardio 1 x week

Full body conditioning 1 x week

Week 14: August 28- Sept 3

Home stretch! You need to be hiking with your full gear in your pack: tent, sleeping bag, cooking items, water, all the essentials you are planning to bring. Try to do short and long hikes back to back, if you have time, as this will best mimic what we will be doing on the trip. This is your chance to work out any kinks before the big trip!

Long hike (over 10 mi)

2 short hikes (up to 5 mi)

Yoga 1 x week

Cardio 1 x week

Legs 1 x week

Week 15: Sept 4-9

This is our taper week. Take it easy between now and the trip. You can do some short hikes with your day pack, but don’t push yourself. Still do the yoga if it helps those sore muscles! 

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