Training for the AT

Most people have to ‘get in shape’ to some extent before tackling the AT in order to make reasonable progress, minimize the risk of injury and enhance enjoyment of the experience. My case was complicated though because I was also rehabbing two post-surgery legs and would soon suffer a bad tear of a shoulder rotator cuff. Such specific circumstances should be kept in mind by anyone reading this with an eye on borrowing any of the routines.

I worked out with a personal trainer, a former Royal Marines Commando called Nick for two one-hour sessions most weeks for about 18 months, starting in October 2012. At first it was ‘just’ to recover from the muscular atrophy that had set in after knee surgeries, the last of which was in Jan 2012.

When I started with Nick my left thigh was a mere 16″ (41cm) in circumference. To give away the ending, my CALVES are now 15″ and my thighs are 22″ (56cm) of solid muscle.

Throughout the training period we maintained a consistent pattern of alternating 1 session focused on building leg strength and a second focused on fitness and endurance. Earlier on in fact we were also doing 20 minutes of upper body strength but a torn shoulder stopped that and we concentrated on leg endurance in the second session after that.

 

Rundown of a typical leg strength session

Crosstrainer

Crosstrainer

1. Warm up (15 minutes). A mix of cross-trainer, fixed bike, spin bike. Several 1-minute intervals to get the heart going.

2. Stretch (5 minutes). Quads, hamstrings, calves, shoulders. About 5 minutes.

3. Weight lifting (25 minutes). Initially we mostly did barbell squats and then deadlifts. After the shoulder injury we used the incline leg press machine and “super setted” with step-ups. The aim with the squats and deadlifts was to get to being able to lift my bodyweight (70kg, 155lb) on sets 3 and 4 (10 reps) which we did actually accomplish before being forced to switch to the leg press. With the leg press I was lifting 3 or 4 sets of 12 reps getting up to 122kg (269lb) for the final set.

The incline leg press is a good machine for developing the quads and glutes while developing good knee support and taking stress away from the lower back.

Incline Leg Press

Incline Leg Press – push weight against gravity

To “super set” means to move onto a second exercise between sets of the first exercise. In my case this meant stepping up onto a box whose height is about a third to halfway up your thigh. I step up all the way (both feet on top, standing straight up) and then back down again 15 times when leading with the left leg and 15 times leading with the right leg. After my shoulder pain eased up I carried 6kg and then 8kg dumb-bells in each hand. A pause to catch your breath (this section is as much cardio as it is leg strength) and then sit down to the next leg press set. Repeat 3 or 4 times.

Step Up Preparation

Step Up Preparation

Step Up midpoint

Step Up – the hard part

Step Up on top - still have get back down

On top, still have get back down

No rest for the wicked - back to the leg press

No rest for the wicked – back to the leg press

 

4. Walking lunges (5-10 minutes). With or without carrying a weight, walk around the gym like a muppet at the very end of your session when you are completed knackered.

Walking Lunges

Walking Lunges

5. Stretch (5 minutes).

 

Session 2 – fitness and endurance

Cycling

Cycling

1. Warm up (15 minutes). A mix of cross-trainer, fixed bike, spin bike. Several 1-minute intervals to get the heart going.

2. Stretch (5 minutes). Quads, hamstrings, calves, shoulders.

 

Running

Running

3. Interval training (15 minutes). Aerobic fitness. At first we used the fixed bike and spin bikes. We did a little rowing when the knees got better but stopped after the shoulder injury. Later on running became the main activity here – my least favourite 15 minutes of the week! I would warm up for 5 minutes at 10kph (6.2mph) and then on a good week do 10 minutes consisting of 1 minute at 15kph (9.3mph) followed by 1 at 10kph, then repeat. On a bad week it would be fast walking on the off minutes at 6kph. On other weeks it might involve running on an incline.

 

Training12a4. Stairs of Doom (15 minutes). Warm up by trotting up and down a flight of 18 stairs ten times. Always go down one step at a time but on the ascents alternate between taking a flight one step at a time and the next flight two at a time. Now carry a 10kg (22lb) sack on your shoulders (in my case, until the very last session, on one shoulder only) in a similar fashion – down one step at a time, up one, then two, and then three. In a session I probably scale 600-800 steps. The 10kg weight represents my pack weight btw when fully loaded with water and 5 days of food.

Stairs of Doom

Stairs of Doom

5. Walking lunges (5 minutes). As session 1, designed to embarrass.

Weighted Walking Lunges

Weighted Walking Lunges

 

6. Core strength (5 minutes). Sit ups, incline sit ups, planks, cable pulls.

7. And rest, while looking slightly resentful at your trainer who is annoyingly cheerful.

Training10

 

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