Getting Walking Fit for the Camino

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How fit do I have to be to walk the Camino de Santiago?  This is one of the questions I am most asked.  The answer to this has a lot to do with other issues.

  1. How long do you want to take?
  2. Are you walking the whole way?

If you have a lot of time say 40 days or more you don’t need to have good fitness, you can risk getting fit as you walk, this is what most people do – this however is not a good or advisable strategy for looking after you body, finishing, or reducing the inevitable pain that come along after walking everyday.

The last time I was fit was towards the end of the Camino Frances.

The last time I was fit was towards the end of the Camino Frances.

If you are only walking for 5 or 7 days and you are walking with a tour company that moves your bags for you each day, then fitness is not a big worry.  Even if you are walking the last 112km from Sarria, as many do, then fitness is not a big issue.

For the rest of us I suggest the following.  It is much more enjoyable to walking the Camino Frances or any of the Caminos if you have some level of fitness before you set out, however this is not an Iron Man competition and should not be approached as such.

It is a good idea to start training at least 3 months before you start your Camino.  Training, like life, is about steady effort – not trying to make big jumps in intensity every time you train.  Bear in mind for a lot of us walking the Camino comes a long time after our teens and twenties when we were once fit – it is not helpful to compare against that previous fitness – you are starting from where you are, I was 40+ the first time I walked.

Fit yourself anywhere into the following program.  I am not a qualified doctor or training instructor, this program has been adapted from my half marathon training from a zero running fitness start.

Note: from week 4 all walks should include walking up and down hills, if you cannot do this perhaps try a treadmill.

Week 1 – walk three days for between 45min and 60 min, Tue Fri and Sun

Week 2 – walk 4 days, 45 to 60 min, Tue, Fri, Sat, Sun

Week 3 – walk 4 days 3 at 60 min Tue, Fri, Sat, and Sun walk for 2 hrs

Week 4 -Walk 3 days up and down hills 60 min, Tue, Fri, and Sun

Week  5 – 4 days walking. Tue 60 min fast 6km hr, Wed 45 easy, Fri 60 moderate, Sun 2.5 hrs in hills

Week 6 – try to add in a Pilates or yoga class once a week, this will help your back and core.  4 days walking. Tue 60 min fast 6km hr, Wed easy 60 min, Fri fast 60 min 6km hr, Sun 3 hrs in hills with light backpack, less than 4kg.

Week 7 – Same as week 6 with 60 or 120 min easy on Wed.

Week 8 – 4 days walking. Tue moderate 70 min, Thur fast 60 min 6km hr, Sat 2 hrs in hills, Sun 3 hrs in hills with light backpack, less than 4kg

Week 9 – 4 days walking. Tue and Thu easy 60 min, Sat 2 hrs in hills aim for 4km hr total of 8km, Sun 4 hrs in hills 16km with light backpack, less than 4kg

Week 10 – Tue easy 60 min, Thu fast 60 min 6 km, Sat 2.5 hrs in hills 10 km, Sunday 5 hrs in hills 20km with light backpack, less than 5kg

Week 11- Tue easy 45 min, Thu moderate 60 min, Sat easy 3 hrs with backpack aim for 10km, Sun 5hrs with backpack of about 5/6 kg – aim for 20km.

Week 12 – Take it easy, Tue fast 60 min, Thu moderate 30 min, Sat 2hrs in hills, Sun 90 min easy in hills – both sat and sun with backpack about 6 kg.

This program is meant for beginners to get you to a point where the first few days on the Camino will not be a blur of pain.  However nothing can really prepare us for walking about 20km every day with a 6 to 8 kg pack – the first week is going to be tough, though it gets better very quickly – after about a week or so.

Once on the Camino there is one main point to remember DO NOT RUSH, muscle strain is more likely when you are pushing your body too fast, listen to your body, water and feed it well, and takes rests when required. I ate very well while on the Camino and still lost about 18lbs – a great side benefit.

What was your training like before setting out on the Camino?  Let us know in the comments below.

Posted in Camino Articles
46 comments on “Getting Walking Fit for the Camino
  1. Pauline says:

    Only 7 pounds, but I had been in the gym the whole year leading up to the camino so in all I lost over 20 pounds. I gained it back quickly after my return. I ate good food but too much bread and sugar.

  2. Kerstin says:

    I am used to hiking in mountains, carry heavy back pack and walk long distances. Last year I did about half of Camino Frances.
    I agree that fitness is not a big issue, BUT I learnt a couple of lessons. Walking on a hard surface is a completely different thing, than to walk in nature. Distances and load that are no problems on a soft surface, is killing on a hard one.
    What I learnt was:
    1. Shorter distances than you plan.
    2. Walk slower than usual: when walking fast, you “hit” the ground with more force, than when walking slowly. Your feet start hurting more easily.
    3. Carry less than you plan. The load adds to the force your feet meet the ground with.

    • Marian Brady says:

      I agree with all these observations. We did the whole camino in 2013 and while we didn’t get any significant injuries or blisters, some days we walked way too far and it was hot hot hot! When we go back we are really going to pace ourselves, we are in the 60plus category but didn’t find that an issue.
      We didn’t lose an once of weight though, too much good eat ing and drinking along the way!!!!

  3. Lee Anne says:

    Hi Leslie and all who are planning a Camino – it does not disappoint, in fact what you see and experience will go beyond what any book can prepare you for!
    I walked my Camino last year – June 1 to 28, from Pamplona to Santiago. When it comes to training – I agree completely, at least 3 months of getting yourself ready to WALK every day is essential.
    I would add only a couple of things to your list/training schedule: find your BOOTS, wear your boots (always when doing your training walks – to work – just around). They are your constant companion and can be your best friend….or not! After wearing them (a lot) for 3 months – your feet KNOW them. I picked a pair of Solomon Ultra-lite hiking boots. I have small feet and they were the ones that fit and felt the best – everyone’s feet are different – so only you can know what works for you.
    My one other suggestion to add to your list is – at least one weekend in that final month before you go to Spain – walk 20 km in a stretch and then walk another at least 10 km the following day with your pack and poles if you are taking them (which I strongly suggest). Take your water bottles and snacks – this is going to be at least 5 hours on the 20 km day.
    All the one and two hour walks are great to build a little stamina – but you need to FEEL what 20 km is like and what the next day of 10 – 20 km feels like – you need to know how you and your feet and your shoulders feel. This gives you the chance to make any adjustments BEFORE you are in Spain trying to work out any ‘distance walking’ kinks. For me it was one of the smartest things I did – on the second day of my practice long walk, I took special notice of any red areas on my feet. After all, any spots that were bothersome after 2 days would be even more so after 28 days!!! I started the Camino doing a ‘buddy wrap’ of the little toe and the one beside it on one foot – this small detail saved me untold amounts of agony. I made sure that I had in my med. kit enough of the very thin, very light ‘paper-type’ adhesive tape and I taped those two every morning. Walking 3 hours hadn’t given me the indication that I would need to do that.
    Walking the Saturday 20 km followed by another 20 km on Sunday also made me realize that there was a little adjusting to do on my pack. I added a little extra padding on the front of the straps – at about the shoulder area – easy to do when you are home with all your favorite shops to find stuff at – not so easy to retrofit if you are rubbing the heck out of your shoulders and you are somewhere between Navara and Burgos!
    Buen Camino!!! You will enjoy it all – even the steep parts!

    • Leslie says:

      Thanks Lee Anne, these are great suggestions. Esp finding and fixing things at home rather once away.

    • Claudette Estrada says:

      Dear Lee Anne, All of this information is so helpful. I would also like to know what outer apparel you would suggest to purchase (for June) even though you traveled in the winter. Also the good insert sleeping sheet, lightweight back pack. Also did you carry/use your own sleeping bag?if that is what you would suggest. What about drinking water. How would you suggest is the best way to carry?

      • Leslie says:

        Hi,

        you will find the answers to all your questions on the forum – http://www.caminodesantiago.org.uk/

        I hope that helps.

      • Lee Anne says:

        Hi Claudette – My Camino experience started with my first step on June 1 and I arrived in Santiago d’C on June 28 – so, about the same time of year as you will head out. I did take a sleeping bag – but a summer weight one – which was cloth only on the bottom and light fill on the top – very light weight and rolled up very very small – which is always appreciated. For outer wear, I took just a wind breaker zip-up with a hood. I did have one long sleeved fleece with me – for the cooler mornings. Also, the sun can be quite intense, especially in the higher altitudes and by mid- to late-June, so do take with you a ‘light weight’ breathable, looser fitting, long sleeved shirt – otherwise you may end up with sunburn on your arms. It does have to be light weight and breathable – as the camino is work – no two ways about it. Drinking water – I carried a runner’s water bottle (only one) and at every restaurant/bar I stopped at, I asked them to fill it (or filled it myself if the water tap was accessible). Drink a lot – it’s important – but there are so many ‘rest stops’ along the way, refilling is not a problem. Do remember to refill however – you don’t want to be out there on the path and thirsting! One last little tip which was essential to me. I walked with my poles almost every step – even on the flat stuff – so for me it was necessary to have gloves (the kind with the fingers off) just enough protection so that I didn’t get blisters. Worked for me! Do have a WONDERFUL Camino – it is an experience and an accomplishment that you will always treasure. Be kind to yourself along the way and remember, walking/pushing past your comfort threshold only hurts – sometimes more the next 2 days than on the day. If you need a short day every 4 or 5 days – gift yourself a short day – this is your Camino, do it your way.

    • Mae says:

      Am going in Sept. and this is very helpful

    • Micki Jerry says:

      Really great suggestions! I am learning so much just planning and preparing for my Camino. Can you tell me the need for your toe wrap? Was it cramping, rubbing? I am a runner and the whole walking thing is new to me, so thanks in advance for your answer! Buen Camino!

  4. Helen says:

    Thanks Leslie, I am starting my Camino in May and this article will definately help me get stronger and fitter.

  5. Christie says:

    Thank you for all this great info. My mom, two sisters and I will be beginning our Camino in May 2014 and are drinking up every bit if info we can.

  6. Sharon says:

    I am leaving Canada on May 1st, 2014 to start my Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port. I appreciate every bit of information as I have never done anything like this in my life. I like the idea of doing a couple of days back to back long walks. Thanks.

  7. Anne-Bente Fosse says:

    Thank you to Leslie for good advice. I will be 60 years in the end of May 2014, and start The French Camino on the 2. or 3. of June. I want to spend about six weeks from SJPP to Santiago de Compostella. I look forward to it, and of course I am most interested in information and good advice ahead of the long walk.

    I go to Ying/yang : ( A combination of Pilates/ Yoga and Thai Chi) – once or twice a week. I do some exercice / strenght once a week, and in weekends we normally have a walk about 10 km. I will try to follow your advice during the Spring.

    • Marian Brady says:

      Well as I said earlier, my husband and I did the whole camino in 2013 and as 60 year olds we had no more issues than anyone else. Would caution you to pace yourself and if you feel you need a days rest..take it! Enjoy!

    • Coleen Komorowski says:

      Hello Anne – I am the same age as you and will do the same walk/hike this fall. I was wondering now that you’ve done this what advice you might add on? Thanks so much! Coleen

  8. Carla says:

    I am planning to walk from Burgos this July 2014 with one other girl friend. We walk 90 minutes five times a week and plan to walk with our packs from May. All the information on this site is very useful. I am keeping a journal and noting everything down. I will be 64 years old and have been Cancer free for almost four years. What better time to walk then now !

  9. Berenice says:

    I am doing the Camino on June 2014 and taking 45 days to do it. I am a walker, but would like to know what the weather is like during that time of year?
    One more thing, can I buy my walking stick in SJPDP??

    • Leslie says:

      It should be warm/ hot. Always hard to tell this far out, but you can check the BBC for averages.

      Yes, you can buy walking sticks in St Jean.

    • farah says:

      Hi, I walked the Camino France in June 10-July 13 2013. It gets chilly at night time and in the early morning. But from 10-5 it was really scorching. Bring a dry-free long sleeves jacket that would work both ways; for warmth and to protect your arms from the sun. I am planning to walk it again via the Camino Norte or the path that starts from Portugal.

  10. Dianne says:

    Hi everyone, I love the information here! My husband and I will be starting our Camino the middle of May. We are excited and anxious too as we have not done any backpacking before … or long hikes but hope to get into reasonable shape before we leave. We do not think we can walk from St. Jean over the Pyrennes in one shot and so made reservations for a night in Orission. Our question … is there a service that will transport our pack to Orisson and then on to Roncesvalles? I think that will be a tremendous help in getting us started. Thank you!

  11. Niamh says:

    I’ve been wanting to walk the camino for years and a recent change in my life means I can finally do it late March this year but I’m worried between now and then is not enough time to prepare. I’m 23, not exactly fit but I walk a lot among other activities. I feel like this is my chance to do the camino from St jean as I have the time and it feels like a good time in my life to do it but maybe it’s not enough time to prepare

    • Leslie says:

      The first time I walked I was not fit, and in some ways suffered for that – however if I waited till I was fit I wouldn’t have went. If you don’t push yourself too hard you will likely be okay.

  12. Andrew W says:

    I shall be walking the whole Camino from St Jean end May and planning details to Fly into Biarritz and out of Santiago. Hope to have one or two close friends to walk with me to the ‘end of the world’ to feel that special sense of completion.
    I would appreciate any help on equipment listings( already noted comments on boots/sacks) such as required for early summer trek. I shall stay in auberges wherever possible so I guess a good insert sleeping sheet and lightweight bag are essential with a range of simple utensils and, as many have mentioned, a medical kit for the feet!! But is taping toes such a good idea? Many thanks, Andrew.

  13. Donal Corcoran says:

    We are all different so we need to train in different ways. I walked my first Camino at 70 years of age. I walked from Le Puy to Lecture in France. From there I was repatriated home with a herniated disk and had an operation on my back. The backpack I was carrying was too heavy and badly adjusted and I hadn’t trained wearing it.
    But I learned my lesson and my training goes something like this. Starting about 6 or Seven months before my Camino I do a half hour easy walk 3 times a day. This gradually builds up to a one hour walk 3 times a day. After that I build up one of the one hour walks to 2 hours and then to 3 hours. All this is done at a very easy pace but I find that as my strength builds up, I begin to walk at a faster pace. Then I put in long walks every weekends to get used to what Camino walking is all about.
    My main aim is to be able to walk for 6 or 7 hours every day. People that I have seen having problems on the Camino were often caused, because they weren’t used to walking for these length of times.

    Now aged 73, I have completed the Camino from Le Puy to Santiago . Last September/October I walked 4 Caminos and collected my 4 Compostela. I walked The Portuguese Camino from Coimbra to Santiago. Then I went back to Ourense and walked with friends from there to Santiago again. Next day, with a young Spanish girl I started off for Finistera reaching it 3 days later. Next day a one day walk to Muxia, a total of 4 Caminos. I carry my back pack with all my belongings every day and stay mostly in Pilgrim hostels.
    I am in the process of planning my next Caminos which when completed will bring my total distance walked to 1900 miles. I respect to reach the 2000 mile mark before my 75 th birthday.

    • To add to what I said above. Since then I have wallked the EUROPEAN PEACE WALK, the Portuguese Camino again from Coinbra and finally I walked the Via Francigena from Gambassi to Rome, My total mileage for 2014 was 800 miles bringing my total now to 2700 miles. I celebrated my 74th. Birthday on the EPW in Slovenia where locals threw a surprise Birthday Party for me.

      • Coleen Komorowski says:

        So impressive Donal!! I was wondering your thoughts on a 60 year old female walking at least part of the whole Camino by myself? No one is interested in the whole thing except me – and I am okay to do it alone but just wondered if there are any safety issues. Thanks! Coleen

  14. Stewart says:

    Hi all, my wife and I are walking the section from sarria to santiago on 29th of June 2014 is it easy to find accomadation along the way as we have not booked any accomadation cheers

    • Leslie says:

      Yes it is. There are pensions and hostels in all the villages along the way from there. Mind take a guide book or something with a list of the hostels.

  15. Robert Pagan says:

    Thank you Leslie for all the tips especially abou taking care of ones feet, I am diabetic and appreciate any and all suggestions. I’ve recently joineda groupof ppl here in Puerto Rico that have done the camino. All in all between them theres about 500 years of experience walking. I suggest that anyone wanting to do the walk look into a local group near home.

  16. Kevin Firth says:

    Don´t use pain killers to keep going! Rest and recover.

    I walked Camino for 10 days in June, with my son, from Rabanal to Santiago. It was a wonderful experience…It was, however, spoilt by the 5 months I have spent recovering from a knee injury.

    Preparation and training for the walk went well for a long distance walk in the mountains, that I am used to, on soft surfaces. That, however, was not enough for the hard surfaces of the Camino. On the 4th day I was offered pain killers to help with a swollen knee by a lady with a similar problem. I took them and then bought my own pills, the next day.

    In hindsight it would have been much better to take a rest and recover, to wait until I was fit enough to continue. I did not want to disappoint my son and to lose that time. It was a big mistake, at my age of 60!

    I hope to walk more of the Camino in September but will only continue walk while I am fit to do so.

    Kevin

  17. Lesley says:

    Walking and boots a couple of tips, one I learned whilst walking the Camino, one a mountain climbing friend told me before I went. Take a spare pair of footbeds for your boots (not insoles but the ones that are made specially for your boots) they take a hammering and I needed to replace mine halfway through as they had flattened considerably. When on a long, hard uphill climb, look down, straight down, the ground appears flat – yes really – when you have gone a distance ( 5/10 mins) turn around without looking up and see how far you have come, do not look up and wonder at how far you have to climb, just take the time looking back to be mindful of what you have achieved and enjoy creation (and the brief rest). It really works, try it. I was 68 when I walked and the tortoise arrived before many of the hares – there is no rush, there is always a bed somewhere and another day to follow. Enjoy:-)

    • Leslie says:

      Great idea, I will try the looking down trick next time I am out walking.

      • Martin says:

        Lesley, …. I’ve used that technique for many years. When I I run or walk up steep inclines I always focus on a point about one meter in front of me. It is amazing how the distance goes by without being concerned on how far it is to the top.

  18. Carl says:

    Hi Leslie. Thank you for your website, it is wonderful reading about everyone’s experiences and getting really excited about my trip in July. Can’t wait!

  19. Diane Peterson says:

    Great website with lots of good information. Hope to make the walk in 2015 n in my late 70’s so need to heed the good advice I have read here n start working at walking the distances. Will check back to learn more.

  20. Donal, you are an inspiration. Thanks Leslie, for your advice. I am just beginning my training but I started with 7 months to go. I am following a 5 day a week half marathon training schedule. The plan is to be able to walk 12 miles easily in 12 weeks. I’ve also started some hiking specific exercises. Thanks everyone for some great tips. Will try back to back hikes with my backpack as suggested. Sounds like a great way of getting the kinks worked out while giving me more confidence that I can indeed do it.

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