How to train for the Appalachian trail

Three Month(12 week) Physical Training Plan for Thru Hiking the Appalachian Trail

I only have about 45 days between when I decided to hike the trail and when I step off from Springer Mountain. Luckily my strength training for the last decade has prepared me well for a long thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. If I had three months to prepare this is how I would do it.

Three Month AT Hike Training

The plan calls for a combination of strength training, calisthenics, and endurance training with long hikes sprinkled in for conditioning the feet.

Strength is KING.

Good athletic trainers recognize that strength trumps all. Strength is protective(the stronger an athlete is the less likely he is to be injured, statistically). Strength is efficient. For any given activity holding all other factors equal the stronger person will perform better at that event. And this principle holds true for long-distance hiking.

When I was in the Army I saw a lot of runner types. Short and skinny they had no trouble acing the 2 mile run but they got absolutely destroyed by our 12 mile ruck marches(45lb ruck with weapon, water, and tactical gear). They had cardiovascular endurance but lacked strength. I can squat around 300lbs and deadlift around 425lbs, so for me a 45lb ruck only strains 10-15% of my maximum strength potential. For those runners who lacked that strength the ruck strained 40-50% of their strength potential. They were literally doing 4-5x more work than I was because they lacked that strength.

This is why strength training is a core of this three month program. Getting stronger will make your pack feel lighter and protect you from injury by strengthening your tendons and ligaments.

Strength is gained slowly and lost slowly, conditioning is gained quickly and lost quickly.

The program has a good amount of endurance training sprinkled in throughout but it can appear to skew heavily on the strength training side. This is intentional because strength is gained slowly and lost slowly while endurance(or conditioning) is gained quickly and lost quickly.

The two resource constraints we have to work with while training up for the AT are time and your body’s ability to recover. With that in mind you can’t get maximum benefits from both strength AND conditioning at the same time. You’ll run out of both time to train, and your body won’t recover.

So we will focus more heavily on strength training in the first 8 weeks and then transition to a hybrid strength/conditioning model for the last four.

If you are a beginner:

Follow the strength portion as written(so the 5×5 squats, 5×5 deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups). Cut the HIIT workouts in half. So on Tuesday of week 1 instead of doing 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 you would instead do 25, 20, 15, 10, 5.

If you feel really tired/sore/unmotivated:

Cut that workout in half and drop the weight. So if that day calls for 5×5 deadlifts then do the workout still but do the weight at 50% of what you would normally do. Similarly if it calls for a HIIT workout just do the workout slowly and reduce the amount of reps. Don’t skip a workout!! Just lower reps/weight.

Week 1:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 at 80% of your 5 rep max. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 of KB Swings and KB Gobblet Squats
  • Wednesday – Hike with 15lbs for 3 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 at 80% of your 5 rep max. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 10, 20, 30, 20, 10 of walking lunges, push-ups, and sit-ups.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 2:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 4 rounds of 25 KB Gobblet Squats, 400m run, 1 minute rest.
  • Wednesday – Hike with 15lbs for 4 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 15 minute AMRAP(as many reps as possible) of 15 box jumps and 5 burpees.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 3:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: For time: 150 KB swings and 20 Turkish Getups
  • Wednesday – Hike with 15lbs for 5 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: For time: 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 air squats
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 4:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 30 Turkish Getups
  • Wednesday – Hike with 15lbs for 6 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 5:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 of KB Swings and KB Gobblet Squats
  • Wednesday – Hike with 25lbs for 5 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 10, 20, 30, 20, 10 of walking lunges, push-ups, and sit-ups.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 6:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 4 rounds of 25 KB Gobblet Squats, 400m run, 1 minute rest.
  • Wednesday – Hike with 25lbs for 6 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 15 minute AMRAP(as many reps as possible) of 15 box jumps and 5 burpees.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 7:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: For time: 150 KB swings and 20 Turkish Getups
  • Wednesday – Hike with 25lbs for 7 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: For time: 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 air squats
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 8:

  • Monday – Squat 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×12 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 30 Turkish Getups
  • Wednesday – Hike with 25lbs for 8 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 5×5 add 5lbs from last week. 2×10 at 40% of your 5 rep max. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 9:

  • Monday – Squat 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Overhead press 5×8. 400m sprint x 4, with 60s rest between sets.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 20, 30 of KB Swings and KB Gobblet Squats
  • Wednesday – Hike with 35lbs for 6 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Pull-ups 5×8. 200m sprint x 8 with 45s rest between sets.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 10, 20, 30, 40, 30, 20, 10 of walking lunges, push-ups, and sit-ups.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 10:

  • Monday – Squat 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Overhead press 5×8. 5 rounds of 20KB Gobblet Squats and 20 push-ups, no rest between sets.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: 5 rounds of 25 KB Gobblet Squats, 400m run, 1 minute rest.
  • Wednesday – Hike with 35lbs for 8 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Pull-ups 5×8. 5 rounds of 20 KB swings and 20 box jumps no rest between sets.
  • Saturday – HIIT workout: 20 minute AMRAP of
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 11:

  • Monday – Squat 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Overhead press 5×8.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: For time: 150 KB swings and 30 Turkish Getups
  • Wednesday – Hike with 35lbs for 10 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Pull-ups 5×8.
  • Saturday – Hike with 25lbs for 10 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

Week 12:

  • Monday – Squat 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Overhead press 5×8. Sprint 400m x 4, 60s rest between sets.
  • Tuesday – HIIT workout: For time: 200 goblet squats, 50 burpees
  • Wednesday – Hike with 35lbs for 10 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Thursday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.
  • Friday – Deadlift 3×5 add 5lbs from last week. Pull-ups 5×8. For time: 100 box jumps, 200 lunges.
  • Saturday – Hike with 25lbs for 12 miles at a comfortable pace.
  • Sunday – Rest day, stretch, hike without weight/walk.

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