Exercise your vacation option

Holiday: Before joining a tour that requires muscle power, make sure you're in shape.

June 13, 1999|By Kathleen Doheny | Kathleen Doheny,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

When described in brochures and on Internet sites, outdoor vacations planned around physical activity look appealing, especially if you're often deskbound or gridlocked.

Among the most popular options: distance walking, kayaking and mountain climbing trips that range from a few days to a week or more. Participants explore as they exercise, viewing up close the beauty of national parks, historic locales and challenging landscapes.

Most tour operators for these active vacations welcome novices or the newly active, along with the physically adept, but exercise experts caution that these trips aren't always as easy as they look. A bit of preparation, sometimes even beginning two or three months in advance, can go a long way to sparing you a miserable vacation -- not just soreness or impairment but also, perhaps, the wrath of tour mates who expect everyone to pull their own load.

Find out in advance how far or how long you'll be walking, kayaking or climbing each day, suggests Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise of San Diego. Ask if the activity is done in one stretch or broken up. And find out if a support van will be available for participants who become too tired to continue.

Then plan how you will get in shape to make the most of your outing. Medical clearance from a doctor is recommended before starting an exercise program, especially if you've been sedentary and are over age 40.

Here are some pointers:

* Walking

Some of the most popular walking tours average seven to 10 miles a day. That was the distance, for instance, on a ramble in Provence, France, last month by Europeds (800-321-9552, www.europeds.com). That translates to about five hours a day on your feet, walking at a leisurely 2- to 3-mph pace, says Adam Taylor, a Europeds guide.

About the same distance is covered on tours sponsored by Walking Adventures International (800-779-0353, www.walkingadventures .com). "Plan on doing a 10K walk [10 kilometers, about six miles] every day or every other day," says spokesman Lea Robinson. For her group's 18-day tour of Spain and Portugal last month, 10 walking days were planned.

To train for putting in seven miles or more a day, Europeds suggests, its clients should walk three or four times a week, fitting in longer walks on weekends.

If you're sedentary, figure on three months of training before going on a walking vacation, says Bob Hickey, the walking coach for the Los Angeles Marathon.

Start out slowly and add half a mile per session every week or so, Cotton advises. For instance, Week 1 might include one-mile walks; Week 8, four and a half or five-mile walks; and Week 12, seven-mile walks.

If most of the walks on the trip will be done in the morning, train in the morning, Hickey suggests. Ask about the course itself, too, he says, and "try to find a neighborhood course to mimic the vacation course."

And pack the shoes you have trained in. "A good running shoe is the best walking shoe," Hickey says.

* Kayaking

Kayaking trips can involve hours of paddling. For a three-day trip near Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, guides plan three to seven hours of kayaking daily, says Rachel Parks, a spokesman for Spirit Walker Expeditions (800-KAYAKER, www.seakayakalaska.com).

Kayaking requires endurance as well as strength in the back and abdominals, upper-body strength and flexibility for trunk-twisting motions.

The best preparation is to find a body of water and practice the real thing. If that's not possible, Cotton says, concentrate on getting shoulders and arms into shape. General strength training, with weight machines or free weights, can help. Include crunches in your routine to strengthen the abdominals. Consider hiring a personal trainer for a session or two to give you a crash course in weights and strength training, he suggests.

For basic information on strength training and fitness, see the American Council on Exercise's Web site (www.acefitness.org) and click on "Fit Facts."

If you're already in reasonable shape, step up your routine, including the strength training, about a month before leaving, Cotton says. Otherwise, allow three months to prepare.

* Climbing

When travelers contact Gary Bocarde, who runs Mountain Trip (907-345-6499, www.mountaintrip .com), about climbing Alaska's Denali (also known as Mount McKinley, elevation 20,320 feet), he sends them detailed instructions on how to train, providing a daily log of what they should be doing, from strength training and stretching to cardiovascular activities.

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