Have you ever looked into taking a trip to Pisgah National Forest to shred some knar, summit Mt. Mitchell, or catch an epic sunset on Black Balsam? What are you waiting for? For some the hesitation comes when trying to decide if the trail, mountain or adventure is more than they are physically ready to take on. So why not show up to Pisgah with the confidence to take on the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have spent most of my life living and playing in the mountains of Western North Carolina and I’d love to share what I feel are necessary physical and mental capabilities that would allow individuals to have a enjoyable experience Pisgah instead of getting humbled by her.
I took for granted for many years that I was able to run up the local trails with ease until time and bad movement compensations started to catch up with me. First it was achilles tendonitis then runner’s knee, IT-Band syndrome and many other aches and pains that came with the long miles and epic adventures. Pisgah adventures can be very taxing. “My ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders...hurt” are all too common said by those who visit Pisgah for the first time. It’s not fun to hit your limit too soon on an adventure. Don’t be the tourist that calls it quits just before the summit. Bless ya’ tourist.
So what can you do to prep yourself if you’re a flatlander or city slicker to prep yourself for long miles in the mountains? If accessible at your local gym hit up the stair master with whatever backpack you plan on taking on your trip. That’s right, if you’re prepping for a multi day trip pack your 50L pack with roughly the same weight that you will be rocking for the trip. Even if you’re just taking a short hike I recommend hitting the stair stepper with it containing the water and snacks you plan on taking. If you don’t have access to a gym do you have a tall parking deck or building that you could do repeats on the stairs. Maybe there is a hill you know of that you could hit repeats on?
All of these concepts apply to mountain biking and bikepacking. Don’t lie to yourself and tell yourself that you will be fine loaded down for the first time when you show up. Train for your adventure! Last spring I took on the Arizona Trail Race 750(AZT750) and quickly realized that I had not trained properly for the AZT. Shit got real. Save yourself from slogging away unprepared and cursing the desert gods.
I recommend always combining your training with a mix of mobility with strength and conditioning. For mobility I use yoga asanas(poses) to keep my body balanced. If done right yoga can be a great way to help balance and restore the muscle tissue after intense physical activity. If you live in the Asheville area you’re in luck, we have many great studios such as Asheville Yoga Center (AYC) who offer high quality classes for all levels. Conditioning should be performed 2-3 times per week varying in duration depending on the duration of your adventure. During my peak training seasons I will have 5-6 days of my week designated to conditioning with the other days being recovery days. For a short hike 30-45min of cardio will suffice but overnight, multi day and bigger adventures might consist of more intense training that would require one day of pushing your limits with several high intensity(intervals) for short 3-5min intervals or hill repeats, and two days of long sustained conditioning that may last several hours. On higher intensity days don’t weigh yourself down with gear.
Weekends are for the woods. If you are within a reasonable distance away for getting to a forest or park take your training there. Save at minimum one day a week for a long pedal or trek on the trails.
To complement the conditioning every adventurer should strength train to increase strength and reduce the risk of an injury. I implement strength training helps correct imbalances and increase muscular endurance. The higher your work capacity the more your can enjoy your adventure with minimal struggle.
Why lift heavy things? Lifting heavy loads helps neuromuscular system by preparing the muscle fibers to recruit more fibers faster and more efficiently perform task. If you’re a hiker try adding weighted lunges to your routine:
2-3 sets x 20 alternating reps holding 10-30lb Dumbbell in each hand
Performing weighted strength training 2-3 times per week will pay off as you feel stronger on the climbs and scrambles. As an ultra mountain bike racer I have to be ready to lift my bike fully loaded over trees and push up mountain sides. Be ready for what nature throws your way. When you’re out in Pisgah you will quickly understand what it means to “pay to play”. If you want to ride down the ridges of Pisgah you better be ready to do some hiking first. Some of the classics like Black Mtn Trail, Farlow, Bennett and Pilot will not only test your bike handling skills but also your HAB(hike a bike) skills.