How fit do I have to be to walk the Camino de Santiago or what kind of training plan 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 your Camino to take?
- Are you walking the whole Camino route?
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 while 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 or training is not a big worry. Even if you are walking the last section of the Camino, (112km from Sarria, as many do), fitness is not a big issue.
Do I Need to Train for the Camino de Santiago?
While the Camino de Santiago is not a highly technical hike, it does involve walking long distances daily for several weeks. To fully enjoy the experience and minimize the risk of injury or discomfort, it is advisable to do some training beforehand.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for the Camino de Santiago:
- Assess your fitness level: Before starting any training program, evaluate your current fitness level and consult with your healthcare provider if necessary.
- Start walking regularly: Begin with shorter walks (30 minutes to 1 hour) several times a week, and gradually increase the duration and distance. Aim to walk at least 3 to 4 times a week.
- Build up endurance: As you become more comfortable walking longer distances, start incorporating longer walks (15-20 km or 9-12 miles) on weekends. This will help your body adapt to the daily walking routine on the Camino.
- Train with a backpack: To get used to carrying the weight you’ll have on the Camino, practice walking with a loaded backpack. Start with a light load and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable.
- Wear the right shoes: Choose comfortable, well-fitting walking or hiking shoes that are broken in before you start the Camino. Train in these shoes to avoid blisters and discomfort during your journey.
- Train on various terrains: The Camino de Santiago includes different types of terrain, such as hills, dirt paths, and paved roads. Incorporate these elements into your training to become familiar with walking on different surfaces.
- Practice self-care: Pay attention to your body’s signals, and take rest days when needed. Stretching, strength training, and cross-training (e.g., swimming, cycling, or yoga) can also help improve your overall fitness and prevent injury.
- Set realistic goals: Depending on the route you choose and your available time, plan to walk a comfortable daily distance, taking into account factors such as terrain, weather, and personal fitness level.
Remember that the Camino de Santiago is not a race, and the most important aspect is to enjoy the journey. Preparation and training will help ensure a positive experience.
I suggest the following Camino training plan below. 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 Plan for the Camino de Santiago
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 training plan 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. If you have problems keeping yourself motivated, then find a coach for training or join a group that meets a few times a week.
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 18 lbs – 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.
How to Look After Yourself on the Camino de Santiago
To ensure a safe and enjoyable journey, it’s essential to look after yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here are some tips for self-care on the Camino de Santiago:
- Preparation: Before embarking on your journey, research the specific route you plan to take and familiarize yourself with the terrain, climate, and accommodations. Make sure you’re in good physical condition, and consider training for several weeks or months before starting the Camino.
- Packing: Pack light and bring only what is necessary. Choose comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing and well-fitting, broken-in footwear. Bring a water bottle, sun protection, a hat, and sunglasses. Don’t forget a lightweight first aid kit, toiletries, and any essential medications.
- Hydration and nutrition: Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Eat a balanced diet with a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carry snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars for quick energy boosts.
- Pace yourself: Start with shorter distances and gradually increase them as your body adapts. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. Avoid overexertion and excessive fatigue.
- Foot care: Prevent blisters by wearing moisture-wicking socks and applying lubricants or blister prevention products to friction-prone areas. Keep your toenails trimmed, and dry your feet thoroughly after washing. If you develop a blister, clean and cover it with a sterile dressing.
- Rest and sleep: Give your body time to recover by getting enough sleep each night. Choose comfortable accommodations, such as albergues, hostels, or hotels, and use earplugs and an eye mask if needed to ensure a good night’s rest.
- Stretching and relaxation: Stretch your muscles regularly, focusing on your legs, back, and shoulders. Consider incorporating yoga or meditation into your routine to help maintain mental and emotional balance.
- Stay connected: Keep in touch with friends and family to share your experiences and receive support. This can also be helpful in case of emergencies.
- Respect your limits: If you experience pain or discomfort, don’t push yourself too hard. It’s okay to take a rest day or seek medical attention if needed.
- Embrace the experience: The Camino de Santiago is a unique opportunity for personal growth and reflection. Be open to meeting new people, engaging in deep conversations, and embracing the cultural and spiritual aspects of the journey. Enjoy the beauty of the landscapes, the camaraderie with fellow pilgrims, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing this extraordinary adventure.
What was your Camino training plan like before setting out on the Camino? Let me know in the comments below.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.