The amount of training and preparation you need before attempting the Camino de Santiago will depend on how fit you are. You’re going to need a high level of fitness to attempt this thru-hike, as no matter your chosen route, you’ll be walking every day for at least a month.
If you already practice some type of sport, such as cycling, running or mountain biking, you’re already ahead of non-athletes, but you need to understand that a different sort of athletic ability is required for hiking, and you need to train for walking long distances.
Runners and health cyclists are sometimes surprised to see how walking places different demands on the body, and how hard it can be. Don’t assume your athleticism has already prepared you to hike long distances; make sure you take the time to prepare your body for long distance walking well before you hit the Camino.
Completing the Camino de Santiago is hard and energy-draining, but mental and physical preparation can help you make that experience lots more enjoyable. If you’re not sufficiently ready to embark on this journey, you could end up miserable and feel as if you’ve wasted your time, so we’ve put together the following suggestions for the kind of general preparation and training you can embark on to get started.
As advised by doctors everywhere, it’s best to get a good bill of health from a physician before embarking on any fitness journey. If they find any serious health issues, then postpone your training and your trip until you’re given the all clear. Remember that while you will mostly be traveling through populated routes and trails, there will be some long stretches of nothingness, and a medical emergency could be fatal.
There have been a few recorded deaths on the Camino, such as those caused by heart attacks, and while they could not always have been avoided, it’s best if you make sure you’re in good health. As a former spiritual journey, most other hikers and locals will help you should you fall ill, but access to hospitals can be difficult.
Start a healthy diet
A healthy diet is vital when you’re starting a new training regiment, and this is no exception. Everyone has different nutritional needs, so it’s best if you consult with your doctor and dietitian about the best diet for you. Your aim should be to improve your health, so your body is equipped to walking long distances for a long period of time.
Your healthy diet can be changed and adjusted as your body gains muscle mass. You don’t necessarily have to be focused on losing weight, but strengthening your body and increasing your energy levels.
Gain physical strength by walking
You can never fully anticipate the impact hiking the Camino will have on your body, as it will always find ways to surprise you. To avoid any nasty surprises, prepare your body with cardio training at least three months before your start date.
If you’ve never walked before, start by walking around 5km a day, either in the gym or around your neighborhood, at least five or six times a week. After a week, increase your distance by a couple of kilometers, and keep on increasing the distance once you start to feel your body get stronger and fitter.
Gain upper body strength
Unless you’re hiking the Camino with a tour guide that takes care of your bags, you will be carrying a heavy pack for several kilometers daily. As your body gets used to the weight, your posture will adjust to accommodate this extra baggage, and different muscles in your body will strengthen.
When you begin to carry your bag, you can experience an aching back, shoulders, neck, and stiff arms while your body adjusts to the new posture shift and extra weight. Therefore, to avoid these aches and pains hampering the beginning of your journey, you should incorporate your backpack into your last month of training.
You should fill your bag with a similar weight to the one you’ll be carrying on the Camino, and we recommend adding some upper-body strength exercises to your routine, such as weights.
Purchase your footwear three months in advance
Unless you already have a trusty and well-worn pair of hiking boots or running shoes, it’s best to purchase a good pair of shoes or boots around three months before you leave and use them during your whole training period.
Your shoes should be a bit big on your foot, which leaves a bit of room to accommodate your swelling feet, as they will swell when you’re walking long distances daily. Another good tip is to train wearing the same or a similar pair of socks that you’ll be taking on your journey, and make sure they don’t rub. Our preferred socks are seamless, as the seams can cause you some discomfort when they rub against your toes. A good recommendation is to find a pair of socks you feel comfortable in and buy loads of them, then take the unused ones with you.
As you may already know, walking for long distances on terrain that’s continuously changing can wreak havoc on your feet. The roads in the Camino de Santiago can be rocky, full of shale, muddy, slippery, extraordinarily uneven, and sandy. Even if you walk a relatively short distance that day, if you do it along uncompromising roads, your ankles and feet are going to feel it at the end of the day. The constant adjusting of your posture will then become stiff muscles and sore feet.
During the Camino, you will be walking through lots of types of terrains, some days you will walk on tarmac, and other days you’ll be walking on sloped pavements. No matter which road you choose, you will encounter very steep inclines and slopes, which can take its toll on your knees. Therefore, your footwear must be tied correctly to avoid your toes bashing into the tips of your shoes as they slide forward during the descents. Training on the footwear that you will use on your hike will undoubtedly be rewarding in the long term. Your shoes will mold to your feet, something you’ll be thankful for by the end of your first week.
Blisters are a common problem amongst hikers of Camino de Santiago, as well as muscle problems. To avoid these issues as much as possible, always train in your shoes and aim for different terrains and try and get up and down hills. There’s no way of getting around the fact that your ankles and shin will suffer, and your legs will hurt, but this will help minimize the aches and pains.
Training regularly and for long periods of time will prepare your feet and your body for the demanding hike in front of you. And again, we can’t stress enough that you do your training in the same shoes you’re planning to take, as wearing different footwear than the one you trained in could lead to problems in your foot adjustment, and you will at least double the number of callouses and blisters your feet will suffer from.
Walking the Camino de Santiago is a marvelous experience, no matter if you’re doing a recreational or spiritual quest, or you just want to go out there and enjoy the scenery. Once on the Camino, make the most out of this adventure, pack wisely and leave your laptop behind. Happy walking!