Once you have made the decision to walk the Camino de Santiago and have started making travel plans, the next step is to start training to ensure you are prepared for the physical demands.
How should you prepare yourself to walk the Camino? You should develop a walking training schedule which includes walking regularly and for longer periods of time, using the same gear (including shoes and socks) you intend to use, and wearing your backpack, ensuring that the backpack weighs approximately what it will weigh when you travel.
Determine Your Walking Schedule
Physically, all you are doing is walking, which means that the Camino is doable for those of all ages who can walk. This is a good thing - no special training is needed. The challenge is that you will be walking for several hours, or for some, most of the day. So, you need to prepare your body to endure the long, continuous hours of walking. The best way to prepare is simply to walk before you arrive on your Camino. The more you walk, and the longer you walk, the better.
One recommendation is to start small: one possibility would be to start off with walking 30 minutes twice a week, then slowly build up to longer periods of time and more days per week. Ultimately, the frequency and length of time you decide to start with will depend on your current physical abilities and available time. The sooner you start, the better, because this means your body will have more time to prepare.
We suggest figuring out your schedule and sticking with it. We walked 5-7 days each week, for at least one hour. Walking for longer than two hours would have been ideal, but we were unable to do that due to our work schedules. Also, we started doing this regularly about 6-8 weeks before our Camino. Starting earlier would have been nice, but we felt that the 6-8 weeks of preparation ended up working well for us.
When determining your walking route, we suggest the following: (1) Make sure you spend some time walking on pavement. While walking through towns on the Camino, you will spend a lot of time walking on hard, paved roads. This should be easy enough if you live in a city. (2) Make sure you spend some time walking uphill and downhill. This is something we didn’t do, and the uphill climbs were what we felt most unprepared for. (3) Make sure you spend some time walking on non-paved roads. In addition to walking on paved roads, you will also be walking through uneven dirt or stone roads, and having that experience will be useful. If you live in the country, you’ll find plenty of spots to do this; if you live in the city, you can consider going to a park or other recreational area.
Ultimately, though, the important thing is to walk. If you can’t find the different types of roads, don’t worry about it. Walk where you are, but be sure to do it consistently and ideally for at least an hour. We are glad that we walked regularly leading up to our Camino, but we were still a bit surprised at how much effort was needed (and how tired we were) while walking long distances day after day.
Use the Shoes and Socks You Will Be Taking With You
While walking, use the same walking shoes you intend to walk with. Also, use the same type of socks you will be taking with you. Using the same shoes and socks will be beneficial because you will be able to see if they are comfortable enough to walk in for longer periods of time. If you are able to walk on different types of roads, as suggested above, you will be able to determine if the type of shoe is appropriate. For example, some people decide to use hiking boots, but are then uncomfortable with them due to having to frequently walk on pavement, where sneakers would have been more comfortable. For us, we practiced with our sneakers and used the same pair when walking the Camino. They worked out great regardless of the type of road we were in.
In addition to practicing with the shoes you plan to bring, use the same socks you plan to bring. This is something we learned the hard way. We had trained using regular socks, but so many people had recommended a (supposedly) more comfortable pair, that we at the last minute wore the newer socks on the Camino. While the new socks felt comfortable, we ended up getting a blister because the socks’ seam fell on a part of our toes that was different from what our feet were used to. We ended up switching back to our own usual type of sock and had no more problems after that.
Wear Your Backpack
As mentioned above, the challenge with the Camino is not the walking aspect, but the fact that walking happens continuously for so many hours...while carrying a backpack. So while walking is not very demanding, the long hours and the heavy load make it more so. We suggest determining how many pounds (or kilograms) you intend to carry, then filling up your backpack to meet that weight. You don’t necessarily have to pack all your Camino belongings - we just filled our backpack with textbooks until we met the weight we planned to carry. When doing your regular walks, wear your backpack. This will make your training more effective, in addition to letting you know if your backpack will be a comfortable one to carry and if you need to find a way to pack lighter.
Practicing with your backpack beforehand will also put strain on different parts of your body than you are used to from normal walking. You will feel it in your shoulders, neck, feet and legs the most. We found that it is better to build up endurance in these areas before arriving in Europe. We know several people who did not do much training before leaving (because they felt they didn’t need it), who ended up having to alter their plans due to physical problems (one had to stop the Camino altogether due to a leg injury from walking). It’s ok if you don’t have much time to practice before, but we highly recommend taking a test walk at least a couple of times.
Another note worth mentioning about injuries sustained during walking the Camino. Before we walked the Camino, we were worried about what to do in case of an injury. What if one of us gets injured and can’t keep walking the Camino? What if we get injured in the middle of the day? We were pleasantly surprised when we walked our Camino to see taxi services in every town we visited. This was a great relief, knowing that if something happened, we could call a taxi, or have someone else go up to the next town and call a taxi. We knew several people who made use of the taxi service due to exhaustion from walking, and it was very easy to coordinate.
Try Out the Clothes You Plan to Wear
On several of your walks, try using the shorts, jeans, pants, or whatever you intend to wear on the Camino. That way, you will be able to determine if it is comfortable to walk in, and comfortable while wearing a backpack.
While our main tips of this post revolved around practicing walking beforehand with your gear, an additional suggestion to prepare for your Camino is to ensure that you are eating a healthy diet that will provide you with the nutrients you need to meet the physical demands of the pilgrimage. Also, the Camino is a spiritual as well as a physical journey, so taking some time to journal and reflect on what you hope to learn and accomplish on your journey will be helpful. Take a moment to write down how you are feeling before taking your trip, and what you hope your journey will hold in store for you. Finally, one last thing we would suggest is if you are unsure of your physical health and/or have not been exercising regularly, you might want to see a doctor (schedule a routine checkup) to make sure your body can handle it.
We hope these preparation tips are useful to you as you plan your Camino. A little preparation will go a long way, and it will give you peace of mind knowing your body can handle the demands of walking the way to St. James.