Physical Preparation for the Camino - A Comprehensive Fitness Guide

Whether you’re walking a single section or the entire length of one of the Camino de Santiago routes, it’s imperative to be physically prepared.

Few people drop out while walking the Camino, but these are almost exclusively down to injuries.

It would be a stretch to compare the Camino with trekking in the Himalayas or the Andes. It is—most of the time, at least—a very doable walk for most people with a decent level of fitness. However, that doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive fitness guide to make sure you’re in the best possible shape when you step out on Day 1.

Understanding the Physical Demands

The physical demands of the Camino vary widely, influenced by factors such as the chosen route, daily walking distances, weather conditions, and individual fitness levels.

Common challenges include long walking distances, carrying a backpack, varied terrain, and the cumulative fatigue of consecutive walking days. Adequate physical preparation can significantly enhance endurance, strength, and overall enjoyment of the journey.

If you’re walking the Camino with UWalk, you needn’t worry about the backpack. We provide luggage transfers between hotels, meaning you only need to carry what you want—though we do suggest a small backpack with some water and a snack at the very least.

Before you even start training, you need to be clear about the kind of terrain you’ll be tackling. If you’re doing the Camino Frances, Day 1 of Stage 1, the first day is the toughest – which is great as it comes when you are fresh – but you should be prepared for this terrain – and there will be pockets of similar terrain throughout the rest of the journey.

Starting with a Health Check

If you’re young and healthy, most will be able to turn up in Spain and won’t have too many problems, but if you’re on the other end of that spectrum, it’s probably worth consulting with a doctor before you go.

This might seem a little over the top – it’s only a walk, after all – but if you have heart problems, a history of strokes, diabetes, or other serious medical issues, it’s always good to get a medical green light before getting on the plane.

Physical Preparation for the Camino - A Comprehensive Fitness Guide

Cardiovascular Endurance

Given the long distances involved, cardiovascular endurance is vital for the Camino. Begin with moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, gradually increasing the duration and intensity.

As recommended by health authorities, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. As you approach departure, you’ll also want to start incorporating longer walks that mimic the daily distances of the Camino.

Strength Training

Strength training enhances muscular endurance, which is vital for tackling the Camino’s varied terrains and elevations. Focus on exercises that strengthen the legs, core, and back, as these muscle groups play a crucial role in walking and carrying a backpack. Squats, lunges, planks, and deadlifts are practical exercises that can be done anywhere and really make a difference.

Try to incorporate strength training into your routine at least twice weekly, and don’t forget about your post-gym recovery. A good-quality protein shake, or simply a protein-heavy meal when you get home, will dramatically help with muscle recovery. Just remember, ideally, you need to flood your system with protein within 20 minutes of the end of your workout.

Hiking Practice

There’s no substitute for the real thing. Regular hiking, especially on terrain that simulates the Camino’s conditions, is invaluable. Practice with the backpack you intend to carry, gradually increasing the weight to match what you’ll be carrying on the Camino. Pay attention to your body’s response to different terrains and distances, adjusting your training accordingly.

Of course, how much you train will also depend on how long you’ll be walking. A typical stage with U Walk lasts 5-7 days and extends over a distance of at least 100 km. This means the body needs to get used to walking around 20 to 25 km daily for 5 to 7 days. Try to double up on the weekends as you get closer to departure, but don’t overdo it. It’s better to do 2 days of 15 km rather than pushing yourself too hard and injuring yourself.

Physical Preparation for the Camino - A Comprehensive Fitness Guide

Flexibility and Balance

Flexibility and balance exercises like yoga or pilates can enhance muscle elasticity, prevent injuries, and improve overall balance. These practices are particularly beneficial for navigating uneven terrains and reducing the risk of falls, especially when fatigued.

Foot Care and Footwear

Proper footwear is critical to prevent blisters, discomfort, and injuries. Choose well-fitted, broken-in walking shoes or boots with good support and cushioning. Practice walking in your chosen footwear as part of your training – ideally around a month before you leave – and consider using moisture-wicking socks to reduce the risk of blisters further.

Nutrition and Hydration

Optimal nutrition and hydration play a crucial role in your physical preparation. Focus on a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to fuel your training and recovery. Practise maintaining hydration during long walks and familiarising yourself with carrying and accessing water.

Mental Preparation

The physical battle is one thing, but the war is often won in the mind. Cultivating a positive mindset, setting realistic goals, and developing resilience can significantly enhance your experience and chances of success. The bottom line is you don’t want to have to drag yourself along the Camino, hating every second of it. This is an experience of a lifetime, and you want to be able to enjoy it.

Mindfulness practices, visualisation techniques, and stress-reduction strategies can be valuable tools in your preparation.

Rest and Recovery

As much as the training is vital, so is the rest. When we push ourselves too hard, it’s only a matter of time until our bodies break down. Adequate rest is essential for your body to recover and adapt to the increased physical demands. Ensure you get enough sleep, incorporate rest days into your training schedule, and listen to your body’s signals to prevent overtraining.

Building a Support Network

Joining a community of fellow walkers or engaging with online forums can provide motivation, advice, and emotional support. Sharing experiences, tips, and challenges with others on the same journey can be incredibly uplifting and informative.

Buen Camino!

Preparing for the Camino de Santiago is an integral part of the whole experience, laying the foundation for a physically and mentally demanding journey. As we’ve already mentioned, the idea is not simply to prepare the body for the ordeals to come but to get to a place where the ordeals remain in the background.

There will undoubtedly be difficult days, but when you train correctly, you can develop your body and mind in such a way that you become impervious to the difficulties. By implementing a comprehensive fitness regimen that includes cardiovascular training, strength exercises, hiking practice, and attention to nutrition, footwear, and mental well-being, pilgrims can set themselves up for a successful and memorable journey. It won’t always be easy, but overcoming adversity is what makes it all the more worthwhile.

Physical Preparation for the Camino - A Comprehensive Fitness Guide