It is hard to imagine how we can get ourselves ready for trekking trips in the mountains on our flat little island. If you didn’t know this, we have produced several Everest summiteers and many other experienced climbers and trekkers. So if there’s a will, there’s a way.
From experience, you can never get your body fully ready but you can prepare yourself as much as you can. The more effort (consistency and intensity) you put into your training, the higher chance you will be in a better physique to enjoy the trek.
To get your body into the best possible shape for your next climb, we recommend doing a mixture of Trails, Stairs Climbing, Active Recovery and Holistic Training.
Top Tip: Make your Training as Realistic as Possible
The goal of your training is to get your body used to the demands you will place on it during the trip. This includes wearing the same hiking boots and socks, using trekking poles and carrying the items you will be carrying in your day pack. You will be expected to go uphill and downhill on the trek and you can find out the elevation gain or loss by subtracting the destination altitude by the starting point altitude. Work that into your training by climbing up hills or stairs. If you know the distances that you will be expecting that’s great, if not the hours spend hiking will be a good indicator. If you are going with a group, hike with them.
Back to back training will help your body to adjust to actual trekking demands. So include a mixture of training over 2 or more days such as Stairs Training on Friday night, a long hike on Saturday and some form of active recovery on Sunday.
Hiking/Trekking Trails in Singapore
It might seem obvious but the best way to train is to do the same thing you will actually be doing on your trekking trip. Start small and work your way up to what you will be doing on the actual trip.
If you have never ever hiked on trails and with a backpack, start with a small bag that is just enough to carry your belongings and water. Gradually increase the distance and the weight you are carrying until it is exactly (or close enough) what you will have to do, i.e. you are going on a trek that has its longest day at 7 hours of hiking and you carrying a day pack of 8 kg; that’s what you have to do at least once some point during your training).
There are many places you can train in Singapore. As a never-ever hiker, it is better to start with distance-focused hikes to get your body ready to be actually walking and moving over many hours (window-shopping doesn’t really count). From here, you can progress with elevation-focused hikes that are targeted to get your heart rate up and your muscles burning. Eventually, your training should be a mixture of both distance and elevation which you can do over 2 consecutive days or pack it into a long training session.
Distance Focused Hikes
- Southern Ridges (Mt Faber Park to Kent Ridge Park) – 10km
- MacRitchie Reservoir car park to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (Route 5) – 11km
- Around MacRitchie Reservoir (Route 4) – 11km
(Route Numbers can be found on the individual park maps from NParks)
You can take public transport by walking one way or do a return trip and double the distance.
Elevation Focused Hikes
- Bukit Timah Summit from Visitor Centre (~130m elevation gain)
- Mt Faber from HarbourFront MRT (~100m elevation gain)
- MacRitchie TreeTop Walk from Venus Drive (~90m elevation gain) or from MacRitchie Reservoir car park (~100m elevation gain) *repeat the TreeTop Walk section only
Work towards comfortably (not panting or in pain) hiking a minimum of 4 rounds of these hikes carrying your day pack
Distance and Elevation Hikes
- MacRitchie Reservoir car park to Bukit Timah summit – 13km
- Labarador Nature Reserve to Mt Faber – 10km
- Rail Corridor (start from Woodlands Road heading south) to Bukit Timah summit – 15km
- Bukit Timah to MacRitchie Reservoir and back, via TreeTop walk – 26km
These hikes can be done in the reverse. To maximise your training, include a few rounds of the elevation-focused hikes before/after your long hike.
For elevation training, i.e. Climbing stairs, these are some HDB blocks you can check out:
- [email protected], 50 stories
- Strathmore Avenue Blocks 48 to 52, 40 stories
- Tanglin Halt Road Blocks 89 to 91, 40 stories
- Lorong 2 Toa Payoh Blocks 145 to 147 & 152, 40 stories
- Toa Payoh Central 79A to E, 40 stories
A good way to start stairs training is to take a single step each time. Once you reach the top of the block, take the lift down and start over again. 3 rounds is a good start.
Over time, you can increase intensity by:
- Carrying a pack
- Increasing the weight of your pack
- Increase the number of rounds you climb
- Uusing a mixture of single and double steps as you are climbing
- Setting a time limit to complete each round
- Include rounds walking back down
A easy way to get to your day pack weight is to fill it with water, it’s easy to figure out how heavy it is and you are sure to have enough water to keep yourself hydrated. The pack gets lighter as your training goes on.
On top of clocking in your hiking hours, during your recovery days, you can better prepare your body by doing active recovery. This depends on your current fitness level and it should be relatively easier compared to your training. This can include cycling, swimming, or even just a shorter distance walk. The important thing about active recovery is to keep it simple and low intensity, and not to overtrain.
I recommend doing yoga. It gives your body a good stretch and allows you to increase your mobility and flexibility over time. You can also learn poses that allow you to stretch specific muscle groups that you are feeling tightness. For these stretches I recommend doing it on a daily basis preferably just before sleep.
To keep your training leading up to your trip all rounded consider including the following to your training above. Strength training involves exercises targeting specific muscle groups. The easiest and free way of doing it is to do it with your body weight (and gradually with a pack). Leg exercises such as lunges, squats, calf raises, mountain climbers are simple and effective. Core exercises include crunches, flutter kicks and plank. Doing multiple sets of 10 with a short rest in between each set can be a good form of warm up to include before your hike or stairs training.
Another area that helps is cardiovascular training. Exercises that get you breathing hard increases your lung capacity and creates muscle endurance. Running, swimming, cycling, skipping and aerobic classes. When you can do the exercise and still feel comfortable talking it’s too easy for you, you have to increase the intensity to reap the benefit for your heart and lungs.
Final Tips – the 5 “F”s
Fitting: the training you do should fit your current fitness level and be progressive. Overtraining can lead to injuries. Your boots and pack should be fitting.
Footcare: Our main vehicles (our legs) have to be well taken care to allow them to keep performing. This can be simple thing as putting moisturiser, stretching it or going for the occasional foot massage. The better they feel, the stronger they can work. It’s not just the foot we should care about but our overall body.
Frequent: The more frequent you train, the higher demands you are subjecting your body to. You can do simple exercise such as walking up stairs to your apartment or office frequently to condition your body.
Friends: Having a workout buddy or a group that you are training with provides you with accountability as well as company to keep you going when the going gets tough.
Fun: Why do any training if you cannot find the fun out of it? This could be the makan after training, gossiping with your friends, seeing different parts of Singapore or just simply the fun of feeling you are getting stronger.
Training for a trekking trip requires commitment and perseverance. The benefit of being better able to enjoy the trip is hard to appreciate – until you are actually on the trip and wish you had train more. Train hard and don’t forget to smile when you see others who are training too!