This is a question that many people ask when they first consider walking the Camino de Santiago, and it’s a good question.
If you find yourself asking:
Should I train for the Camino de Santiago?
Then the answer is probably yes!
Before I walked my first Camino back in 2012 I asked myself this very question – and although deep down I knew the answer, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have.
The result? I injured my knee on the first day and struggled for the first couple of weeks.
When I boarded the flight from Stansted to Biarritz I was confident that the 3 miles a day I had been walking in my lunch break for the last month had been plenty of training. That’s less than 5km and was on a flat level airfield. I was in for a shock! By comparison the first day out of St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles is around 25km with a total climb of 1390m (4560ft)!
If you usually get little or no exercise or you only walk to the shops and back then you are going to want to do some form of training. Do not listen to those who say “it’s really not that hard”, “it’s just a walk”. Some of the days are long, and along the whole Camino you always seem to be going up a really big hill!
This time round I will be getting in plenty of training. I already know that I am far less fit than I was 4 and a half years ago and the only exercise I get is short walks with my dog and yoga every other day for my back.
Starting next week I will be going on long walks as often as possible – hopefully everyday. It is 19.8km from my front door to my children’s front door, so my goal is to be able to walk comfortably to their house before I leave for the Camino. Why next week and not this week I hear you ask! I have some appointments this week which will make it difficult for me to get started but once they are done and out of the way I’m going to get out there and start training proper! I will also up my yoga practice – so far I have only been using the basics to help with my back problem. I spent around £100 on my yoga DVD set and am still not even halfway through the first DVD!
You may ask, should I go to the Gym?
This is a personal choice but depending on your current level of fitness it is certainly something you might consider. We’re not talking 6 sessions a week of heavy weight lifting here – but if you already know that you are extremely unfit and unprepared then some cardio workouts might just help get you in shape before you go. For me personally I would not use a gym. I am not grossly overweight and I think that by walking LOTS ahead of my start date that I will gradually become fit enough to comfortably walk the Camino de Santiago. Only you know your own physical state.
How Should I Train?
Any type of training is better than no training. You might choose to swim as not only is swimming great for building strength and stamina, it is also a zero impact activity meaning you are not putting undue stress on your joints. You might prefer to cycle or run. Everybody will have their own preferred training method but it is important to remember what you are training for – a long walk over varying terrain carrying a backpack. It’s all very well getting in shape but if you are not doing any walking as part of your training you might find that you still struggle when you start the Camino. Are your feet hardened? Are your boots properly broken in or will they give you painful blisters on day one. Have you actually walked any distance with your backpack yet? You don’t want to get all the way out to start the Camino only to realise that your backpack does not fit properly and bruises your hips or shoulders.
So in short – yes, you should train. You should walk as much as possible. Make sure you are wearing whatever footwear you plan on taking from as early as possible – you don’t want to wait until you are halfway across the Pyrenees before you realise they hurt your feet. The same goes for your backpack unless you are planning on using one of the many backpack transport services.
What about me? I already go to the gym regularly and am already really fit.
If you are already fit and healthy and usually take regular exercise you may well not need to train as much or even at all. However it might still benefit you to get out walking if your usual form of exercise is, for example, weight lifting.
Don’t forget to properly break in the footwear that you intend on using for the Camino!