How fit do I have to be to walk the Camino de Santiago or what kind of training do I have to do? This is one of the questions I am asked most often.
The answer depends on your Camino plan.
- How long do you want to take?
- 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 – however, this is not a good or advisable strategy for looking after your body, finishing, or reducing the inevitable pain that comes with walking every day and carrying a backpack, even though you will likely lose a lot of weight.
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 section of the Camino, (112km from Sarria, as many do), then fitness is not a big issue.
For the rest of us, I suggest the following training plan. It is much more enjoyable to walk the Camino Frances or any of the longer 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.
12 Week Training Schedule
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 fitness start. If you are going to be wearing hiking boots, this is a good time to break them in. Usually, lightweight hiking shoes don’t need to be broken in. (See my full Camino packing list here)
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 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 a 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 your 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 your backpack about 6 kg.
This program is designed 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 20+ km every day with a 6 to 8 kg backpack, (14 to 20 lbs). The first week is going to be tough, though it gets better very quickly – after about a week or so.
Once on the Camino de Santiago, there is one main point to remember DO NOT RUSH. Muscle strain is more likely when you are pushing your body by moving too fast, listen to your body, water it and feed it well, and take rests when required. I ate very well while on the Camino and still lost about 18lbs – a great side-benefit.
Please bear in mind that I am not a doctor or a fitness adviser – I am just a guy who likes hiking, cycling, and a bit of jogging.
My last point is no pain no gain is rubbish. If your fitness is going to be a habit then pain is the last thing you want.
If something is difficult for me every time I do it, I will stop doing that thing – whatever it is. Making it easy for yourself and you have more chance of developing a habit. Start out by doing less than you know you can do.
What was your training like before setting out on the Camino? Let us know in the comments below.