Hikes to Machu Picchu vary in difficulty and length, but all require a basic level of fitness.
In general you will be trekking anywhere between 10-15km a day, for up to six days on the longer routes (i.e. Choquequirao or Salkantay / Inca Trail Combo).
On the Classic 4D/3N Inca trail you will average 12km (7 miles) a day, and will need the endurance to trek over 4,000m passes where the altitude makes the going tough, and Inca stone stairs take a battering on your legs.
In this training for Machu Picchu article we outline the four things you can do to be perfectly prepared for your trek.
TRAINING FOR MACHU PICCHU – AEROBIC TRAINING
Aerobic training, or cardiovascular training, refers to activities that use oxygen to adequately meet the demands of exercise through aerobic metabolism, and should be the focus of your training programme for Machu Picchu.
The types of aerobic exercises include light-to-moderate intensity activities like long-distance running, swimming, cycling and brisk long-distance walking. These activities help build your cardiovascular system, which is key for treks to Machu Picchu, as a strong cardiovascular system is much better at processing oxygen.
Aerobic activities differ from anaerobic training that focuses on high-intensity exercises like heavy weightlifting and sprinting. High-intensity training uses anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen) to supplement the energy demands on the aerobic system, and only puts strain on the cardiovascular system.
In terms of an aerobic training programme we recommend keeping it simple. If you are relatively unfit we suggest starting a training regime 3-6 months before your trek where you focus on one or two cardiovascular exercises like running or swimming. The intensity of your work out should be light-to-moderate, but the duration should be relatively prolonged.
For example, if you choose to focus on jogging, then you should aim to run 3-4 times a week, covering 5km-10km at a time. Intensity should be consistent so that you feel like you have had a proper workout, but you should not be completely out of breath. If you find you are out of breath you are pushing yourself too hard, reduce distance and intensity until you get to a comfortable pace and slowly build up your endurance.
For really fit individuals we recommend you just maintain your training regime. One month before your trek you can increase duration of your exercise but not intensity.
Please note, there is a flip side to having a strong cardiovascular system, as the fitter you are the harder you can push yourself on your Machu Picchu trek. This is a mistake as exertion at high altitude is a key driver of altitude sickness. Make sure you go slowly on your trek, particularly on the ascents up and over passes. Breathe deep into your lungs and do not over exert yourself. You want your strong cardiovascular system to support you at high altitude, you do not want to strain the system.
TRAINING FOR MACHU PICCHU – LEG AND UPPER BODY TRAINING
Along with aerobic exercises it is important to do strength training for your legs and upper body. In terms of legs we suggest you focus on four exercises:
Lying leg curls
Step aerobics – this is particularly helpful for the Inca Trail that consists of 1,000s of steps!
With regards to your upper body, you should focus on strengthening your core (stomach and back muscles) and your shoulders. You are not trying to get ripped muscle, but instead build strength. This is important as you will be carrying a pack throughout the trek, so you will need the upper body strength.
Here are a few light to mid weight exercises to focus on:
Kettle-bell rows and swings
Back and shoulder flies
TRAINING FOR MACHU PICCHU – PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
In the best interest of personal safety, success and team compatibility, adequate training and physical conditioning is required. Prior climbing experience of carrying a heavy pack for multiple days serves as an excellent preparation for this course; Climbers must be able to carry an average of 15kg to 20kg. Good cardio will serve you well for attaining proper acclimatization in good time.
TRAINING FOR MACHU PICCHU – MENTAL PREPAREDNESS
We feel our Machu Picchu Training climbs are the best there is. After taking this course one should feel mentally prepared and experience “WISE” for high altitude or any other mountaineering expedition or climb. For aspiring Machu Picchu climbers this serves as an excellent opportunity to meet your leader and Sherpas while focusing on the world’s largest mountaineering objective “Machu Picchu” which will be standing directly in front of you the entire time. Visualization IS a powerful tool!
On Machu Picchu, when your body is no longer working for you like it used to, it is your mind that will get you there and back down again safely. Participants who learn on Andes peaks have proven to be more successful on Machu Picchu Treks.
TRAINING FOR MACHU PICCHU – PRACTICE HIKING
Hiking is a unique activity that is difficult to train for properly if you don’t do any practice hikes. A long walk along a beach or a river path, is very different to high altitude trekking that traverses big passes and rocky terrain that constantly undulates.
We recommend doing at least two long-distance (10km) mountain hikes in your home country before you undertake your Machu Picchu trek. On these hikes you will want to find terrain that is rocky and undulates. You will also want to carry a light pack.
If you are planning to do an unsupported trek we recommend you do a number of backcountry camping excursions, carrying all your gear, including tent, sleeping bag and food.
This will give you a good sense of what to expect in Peru as well as help in breaking in your hiking boots.
The latter point is very important. Do not arrive in Cusco with brand new boots. You will undoubtedly get sore feet, blisters and potentially lost nails. Your feet are what gets you to Machu Picchu so make sure your boots are good quality and well broken in. See our Ultimate Packing List for advice on what to look for in a pair of hiking boots.
Top tip: If you have long toe-nails make sure you cut them as far back as you can. This will help prevent bruising, painful toes and lost toe-nails.