It’s just walking, how does the gym help?

One of the most common questions between walking event participants is often “How did your training go?” usually asked tentatively in the fear they themselves didn’t do enough. When I’m volunteering as route support it’s also one of my ice breaker questions when chatting with participants. I ask it not just in polite conversation, the answer will give me a clue as to if this person may need my help later in the day.

Much of what I’m about to say will ring true for most any physical challenges. For me my chosen activity of walking and hiking came about because, at the time, I thought it would be the cheapest options available and more realistic for me to achieve in given I could already… well.. walk! Looking back at the amount I’ve spent on footwear and socks alone shows how naive I was when it came to the cost.

When training for a chosen discipline you shouldn’t fall into the trap of only training that specific discipline to the detriment of all else. For my first 100km event I actually had a tendonitis injury wipe out the peak of my walking training, and had to rely on my fitness training alone to get me through. The longest walk I managed I before the event was a

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Given I have shorter legs I’ve always felt I work harder at box jumps then others…

 mere 25km! Just a quarter of the overall distance. Mentally that was tough to take. What kept me going through the injury period was the other training I was able to do in the gym. I was still able to train squats and upper body, still able to keep my pulse and breathing high doing other exercises. All this kept my body developing muscle, training it to fat burn, to use oxygen more efficiently. My core was going from strength to strength. All of these things that I gained from the gym, not walking, helped get me to that first finish.

Moving on to present day and my training now mainly consists of a blend of core gymnastic exercises, mobility, CrossFit, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and a whole mix of general gym classes to keep things interesting and mix with the friends I’ve made. I actually train long distance walking very little now. This is because I’m strengthening and conditioning everything that contributes to walking. The walking is the end result, the culmination of everything I do at the gym.

I’m not out of breath when I climb a steep incline not because I climb that steep incline regularly but because I’ve been working on my lunges and squats. I’ve been pushing my heart rate and breathing through the roof in spinning classes to get my body used to that sort of exertion. My core is getting stronger so my posture as I walk is easier to hold and that backpack is less of an issue to carry.

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From 2015 when I was wondering what on earth I was doing in a gym at 7am in the morning.

For me, my initial long walks for training were more about working out what it felt like to walk that far. If my shoes were right, as often what works for a 10km walk will be different to what works for 100km. I was working out if my backpack was large enough or too small, what I kept taking with me and not using (layers, it was always too many layers, and I still sometimes take too many now, old habits…). Those walks did little to actually improve my physical ability, that growth in strength, stamina and constitution all came from the work I put in in the gym.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m by no means a complete gym addict. It’s hard to make the time (And we do need to MAKE the time, it’s rare to simply ‘find’ time laying around). Some days I can’t bear the thought of dragging myself in there, although it’s those days I feel the best when I walk out afterwards, and not just because I’m leaving! That said the real thing that drags me there on those days is the ‘why’ I’m training. Be it to raise money for a chosen charity, to do my sponsors proud, to support others, or simply to remember I will leave that place better then when I walked in… well figuratively speaking – I often smell and am exhausted, but you get what I mean.

My point being I enjoy being up a mountain infinitely more then down the gym, but it’s the work in the gym that helps me to the top of the mountain.