Fitness Training for the Grand Canyon: 3 Things You Need to Know for a Rim-to-Rim Hike

Fitness training for a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon is a must-have to make your trip an unforgettable experience. Many first-time rim-to-rim, or R2R, hikers choose the North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Trail route, which is a 24-mile trek that includes a 6,000 foot descent from the North Rim, runs along the Colorado River and through ancient rock formations, and is followed by 4,500 foot ascent that exits out to the South Rim. While the North Kaibab to Bright Angel hike is generally considered to be perfect for beginners, that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.

Bright Angel Trail sign in the Grand Canyon.

The North Kaibab to Bright Angel hike is great for rim-to-rim beginners.

Many rim-to-rim veterans could tell you how strenuous the hike is and why you absolutely need to get fit for your adventure in the weeks leading up to it. We spoke to some of our clients who successfully completed the the rim-to-rim hike.  They were happy to share their keys to success: 

Start a Fitness Training Program to Get in Shape for Your Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike

This might sound a little obvious, but it pays to get into shape before you do your hike. “I did my rim-to-rim hike while I was 30 pounds heavier than I am now,” said Melissa. “I would recommend a healthy weight loss program to anyone who is overweight. I think the ascent would have been exponentially easier if I weighed what I weigh now.”

Evaluate your diet and initiate a healthy weight loss program.  Start by eating two large meals or three smaller meals a day that contain three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs).  Additionally eat raw food choices like fruit, vegetables, or raw almonds. Stick to this diet – and nothing else – unless you have a medical condition that requires special food choices.

Group of women on a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon.

Melissa’s fitness training allowed her to successfully complete the rim-to-rim hike.

The next step is easier said than done but is arguably the most important aspect of your healthy weight loss program: Identify times and activities during the day when you tend to overeat or eat the wrong things. Then replace those times and activities with something fun or productive that can serve as a distraction.  Author, James Clear wrote a book titled Atomic Habits.  This empowering read provides powerful strategies to replace bad eating habits with good eating habits.

Fitness training programs for a rim-to-rim hike will not only get you into shape and give you an easier time completing your trek, but also teach you skills that will help you in your day to day life.

“All of the hiking training was key,” continued Melissa, who went on to say that just getting used to walking for hours in a row was very beneficial for her hike. Part of her get-fit program also included stair walking.  She noted that climbing two stairs at a time to be the most valuable aspect of her training.

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Shirley also completed our fitness training program for the Grand Canyon and found much success during her hike. She was able to carry a 30 pound backpack throughout the trip, which she noted would otherwise have been difficult for her because of her small frame. However, she credits her ability to closely follow her fitness training as the reason she was able to complete the hike. “Don’t expect the same results,” she said, “if you do not get yourself into rim-to-rim shape.”

It’s critical to train with the same amount of weight in your pack that you’ll carry on your trip (training with pack weight slightly heavier than required for your trip is optimal), but keep in mind that you will have to work up to the full weight. Your training regimen should start on your weekend hikes with about 1/3 of total pack weight.  The final phase of your program should include at least 3 weeks of carrying the full pack weight.  The final week – before you depart – requires tapering down in the volume and intensity of your workouts.

Identify Your Biggest Rim-to-Rim Hiking Concern – Then Train for It

Alice, who was 58 years old when she planned her rim-to-rim trip, had some reservations about the hike, so she explored different fitness training programs for her Grand Canyon hike. “My biggest concern was the ascent out of the canyon,” she said, noting that walking uphill has traditionally posed challenges for her. However, after completing her fitness program, Alice was able to turn that weakness into a strength. “I found that I was well-prepared for the hike after the exercise program.”

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Alice also noted that even though she had concerns, they didn’t turn out to be much of anything due to the 2-3 months she spent training to get ready for her hike. “Really, as I recall, none of it was all that difficult.” Alice stayed consistent with her training regimen, which included:

  • Walking with a backpack heavier than R2R trip weight
  • Stair climbing a 20-story building, working up to 45-60 minutes as she reached departure day
  • Hiking on weekends, working up to 5-hour hikes towards the end of her training regimen
  • Strength training twice a week

*(Editor’s note: Unless you have orthopedic issues, you should insert a lunge into your program. Less experienced exercisers can perform this simple Modified Reverse Lunge.  More experienced exercisers can perform the Alternating Reverse Lunge Hop

“It was a real challenge,” she said, “but it made such a difference.”

Listen to Your Grand Canyon Hiking Guides

It’s advised that you don’t undertake such a strenuous hike by yourself. Many groups, including K2 Adventure Travel offer backpacking tours of the Grand Canyon that are guided by expert hikers. The guides’ knowledge is invaluable during a rim-to-rim hike, according to our client Amy.

“Our guides recommended that we do not rest for too long, make sure to hydrate, and eat often – even if we’re not feeling hungry – because our bodies burn the calories faster than we can digest them during the hike.” Amy said this advice was critical to ensuring completion of the hike. You should experiment with a hydration drink, like Skratch Labs Sport Hydration Drink Mix, during your long training hikes to see which formula and flavor is best for you.

Shirley also told us about the importance of working with a guide during her trip. “My advice is do not try to do this without guides,” she said. “They get your permits, they cook your food, and help you pitch your tent. They also can get permits for the dates you want to travel.”

Woman resting during a Grand Canyone hike.

Shirley took her guide’s advice to rest during the hike.

Choosing the right guide is an integral part of your rim-to-rim hike. Pick a guide group that can accommodate your goals and is knowledgeable about the different ways you can experience the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim. For instance, there are one-day rim-to-rim hikes without the need for a permit, two-day hikes that require lodging, or multi-day, fully guided backpacking trips. The right tour guide can help you choose the hike that’s best for you to ensure you have the best experience possible.

Are you planning a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon and want to get in shape for your adventure? Book a free consultation today to learn more about how you can get fit for any adventure.

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