How to Train to Walk the Camino de Santiago

Walking the Camino - Scallop
Walking the Camino - Scallop. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Walkers on the Camino de Santiago (peregrinos) need to prepare for three different conditions, each requiring its own training:

  • Long distance day after day
  • Constant uphill and downhill on dirt paths and asphalt
  • Carrying a pack, traditionally with all of your gear.

Even if you are an experienced walker, you need this specific training to prepare your body for the conditions on the Camino. You may be able to start with longer mileage, but you need to build up time with the gear you will use on the Camino.

Steadily building up time will reduce your risk of injury in training.

I was grateful I followed this training plan before my walk of the Camino de Santiago. The hills, natural surface, and weather conditions require training. Don't just go to Spain and "let the Camino train you."

Training for the Distance

Typical days of walking on the Camino de Santiago are 17 to 30 kilometers - 11 to 19 miles. It is wise to train to walk back-to-back days of 21 kilometers (13.1 miles) - the length of a half marathon.

This level of training will strengthen your muscles and toughen your feet. Training should be done wearing the same footwear, clothing and pack you will be wearing when walking the Camino.

15-Week Camino Training Schedule

• Tuesday, Thursday:  Walk 3-4 miles, with either brisk walking or walking uphill and downhill and on natural trails. If you enjoy running, you could also use running/walking intervals.

Practice your form for walking uphill and walking downhill.

• Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Days off. If you enjoy walking each day, you may do so, but these are not specifically training days.

• Saturday: Mileage-Building Day. This training day primarily builds distance endurance, it does not have to include significant hills and can be done on asphalt/pavement.

It should be at an easy to moderate pace.

• Sunday: Recovery and Hardening Day. This day is shorter to allow some recovery but still get the training effect of back-to-back days. Include hills in the Sunday walks every-other week. This walking day should be at an easy to moderate pace.

Saturday - Sunday Miles Schedule
You can walk any two days of the week back-to-back, we are only using Saturday-Sunday as a suggestion.

Week 1: 4 - 4
Week 2: 5 - 4 with hills
Week 3: 6 - 4
Week 4: 6 - 6 with hills
Week 5: 8 - 6
Week 6: 8 - 6 with hills
Week 7: 8 - 6 with hills
Week 8: 10 - 6
Week 9: 8 - 6 with hills
Week 10: 12 - 6
Week 11: 10 - 8 with hills
Week 12: 12 - 8
Week 13: 14 - 6 with hills
Week 14: 14 - 8
Week 15: 8 - 6 with hills
Week 16: Camino!

Hill Training

Most routes of the Camino have significant hills, both up and down, nearly every day. You need to include hills in your training not only to train your muscles, but also to know how your footwear will perform. Your foot will rub in different places in your shoes/boots going uphill, downhill and on flat ground.

All areas of your foot need to be toughened by training time on hills. This hill training will help prevent blisters on the Camino.

If there are no hills for you to train on, search out any incline such as parking garages, overpass/underpass ramps, stairs, or treadmills with incline. With a treadmill, increase the incline steadily until you are spending an hour using the maximum incline. If you can use a treadmill that also has decline, that is as important to train going downhill. Stairs will also train your muscles, but won't have the same effects on your feet/shoes as inclines do. Stairs could be used if you have no other hill training option. More: Training for a Hilly, High Altitude Walk

Speed

Your Saturday-Sunday training days should be done at an easy pace. You will not need speed to walk the Camino. Walking at a brisk pace on the Tuesday and Thursday training days will help build your aerobic conditioning.

Train in Your Camino Gear

Do as much of your training as possible wearing the pack, clothing and shoes you will be wearing on the Camino.

  • Shoes: The 15 weeks of training will wear out a typical pair of athletic shoes. It  is wise to invest in a fresh pair of the same model and begin to alternate training days in the new pair the month before your Camino. If you develop blisters, practice with different blister-prevention tactics to see what works best for you.
  • Pack: Wear a pack on most of your training walks. You should steadily increase its weight until you are carrying the same load you will carry on the Camino. It's best to train with the pack you will use so you are accustomed to how it rides on your back and how it can be adjusted to distribute the load. You will be able to see whether you experience chafing with your pack and where to apply anti-chafing products
  • Clothing: You will have a very limited wardrobe on the Camino, train wearing it so you know it will perform well. Shirt, pants, underwear, socks, hat, sunglasses - wear every item on your long training walks. Practice handwashing and air drying these clothes between walking days. Then you will know how much you may need to use laundry service on the Camino.
  • Trekking Poles: Most Camino walkers use trekking poles. Use them on your training walks, especially for hills and on natural trails. Learn how to use them and carry them. However, you may not be able to take your poles with you on an airplane unless you check luggage. If you wish to avoid fees, it may be cheaper to buy poles when you arrive in Europe. You may train with different poles from the ones you buy.

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