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 really have to have any fitness, you can risk getting fit as you walk – 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 set out.  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 kill you.  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, feed it well and takes rests when required.

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

Posted in Camino Articles
23 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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

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