If you are not used to walking for several hours, day after day, planning ahead to prepare yourself for the Camino de Santiago will make the experience more enjoyable. The terrain is varied and presents some challenges – granite cobblestones, I’m looking at you – and though extremely rewarding, the Camino can be physically demanding.
If you’re thinking of embarking on this incredible adventure, read on for our top tips to help you get fit beforehand and know what to expect while you’re on the Way of St. James.
1. Build up your stamina
If you’re not already fit and active, it’s a good idea to start your training several months ahead if possible. This way, you can gradually increase your fitness levels and the distances you can cover. Set yourself a target of walking an average of 2 hours per day for at least 2 months prior to your Camino.
Once you are able to cope with full day walks, the next step is to try to fit in some multi-day walks to get your body used to the challenge.
2. Consider consulting a specialist
If you haven’t done much physical exercise for a long time or have problems with any part of your body, talk to a health professional or fitness trainer to get specific advice on how to prepare for the Camino de Santiago and protect yourself from injury.
3. Work on your core muscles
Strengthening the core muscles around your abdomen will take pressure off your back, especially when you are tackling hills. It’s a good idea to do some yoga, Pilates or other core strength training exercises before and during your Camino.
4. Learn some stretching exercises
Prime your body before setting off each day to loosen joints and wake up your core muscles by doing a series of simple stretching exercises. When you reach your destination for the day, don’t forget to do some further stretches to unwind and help your body relax and recover.
5. Practice hiking on different terrains
The Portuguese Camino is a mixture of tarmac roads, gravel, grass and dirt tracks, old stone roads, cobbled roads, sandy trails, narrow footpaths, pavements and wooden boardwalks.
Whichever route you take, there will be some hills so practice walking up and downhill to get your muscles used to the strain. Take a look on how to choose your Camino de Santiago.
6. Wear in your walking shoes
Because of these uneven and at times unforgiving surfaces, you will need a decent pair of walking shoes or boots that are ideally well-cushioned, lightweight, waterproof and breathable, as well as good quality walking socks with no seams
If you need to buy new footwear for this journey, make sure you give them plenty of use beforehand to avoid blisters.
7. Practice walking with your gear
Even if you are using a luggage transfer service for the bulk of your belongings, you will need to be careful not to overload your day pack. Water is likely to be the heaviest item you carry and it’s important to stay hydrated but other stuff should be limited to daily essentials.
Test the weight of what you think you need and see what you can do without or put in your transferred luggage.
8. Get a pair of walking poles
Once you’ve mastered the technique of walking with two poles, you will probably never look back! When used correctly, they save you energy by propelling you forward and help distribute the effort more evenly throughout your body. They take a lot of pressure off your back, knees and hips and you can even rest against them when you need a brief pause or stretch.
9. Give yourself plenty of time to do the Camino de Santiago
While you may be able to walk an average of 5 km an hour on a relatively short, flat route at home, many people manage far less than this on the Camino de Santiago. Rest stops and pausing to notice or photograph your surroundings are likely to slow you down to around 3.5 km an hour or even less.
When the days are shorter, you will need to make sure you set off early enough to reach your destination well before dark at a comfortable pace. Otherwise, it may be a better idea to reduce the distance you intend to cover each day so that you stay within your physical limits.
10. Learn some Portuguese and Spanish
The Portuguese Camino takes you through some very rural parts of northern Portugal and Spain. Although local people will be accustomed to seeing pilgrims passing through their villages, they may not speak your language.
The last tip to help you prepare for the Camino de Santiago is learning just the basics of greetings and asking for directions, things in shops and restaurants and help if you need it will make you feel more confident and go a long way towards warming the hearts of the people you meet.
Our tireless team is available to help all those who wish to discover the Camino de Santiago in a calm and comfortable way.