From Couch Potato to Hiker in Just 4 to 6 Weeks

Stephen Mullaney

April 16, 2021

Apparently, I spent three quarters of last year and a quarter of this year mostly sitting on the couch. I held a beverage in one hand, chips, cheese and crackers in the other (and yes, I can hold that much).

Adding new meaning to the term “binge-watching,” I viewed dozens of subtitled, multi-season detective series from every nation in NATO — all of which I wouldn’t have sat through in the years leading up 2020. Sound familiar to you?

OK. Maybe your pandemic parade didn’t include as many snacks, and maybe you were watching adventure films while wearing your climbing harness on the couch, a rack of gear on the floor. That sound more likely?

But it’s possible that in either scenario, you never pulled back your window curtain to notice the outdoors is still there, just waiting for you to emerge. It’s time to get out from under the duvet, lose the pajama bottoms, and be outdoors more than you’ve been indoors and on your couch over the last 12 months or so.

You probably aren’t in as good of shape as you think

It’s also time to come to terms with reality. You’ve been marinating on a couch for more than a year now. If you were climbing 5.10 early last year, chances are you aren’t doing that now. The living room furniture has become a leech of progress and fitness.

The solution? Allow us to help you see how easy it is to get out of the house and onto the trail for a multi-day backpacking trip.

Most couch-to-5k programs are nine weeks long. However, the guide we put together below is only six weeks. And if you’re willing, you can probably knock that down to four weeks. Why? Because training can get boring. And if you get bored while training, you may never make it to the trail. We here at NCOAE want you on the trail.

So, what we’ve put together below is a guide. It’s not a program. It’s not a plan. Because if we can’t make it fun, you might just remain on the couch, reading subtitles and thinking you speak Swedish.

Here’s what we recommend:

Week One:

  • It’s important to remember that in the last year and a quarter, you have lost strength, flexibility and mobility.
  • It’s high time to take a relaxing walk and enjoy being outside.
  • Start working on balance. Stand on a rock, make a balance board.

Week Two:

  • Set time objectives rather than distance goals for the first few weeks. This is an easier pill to swallow and won’t destroy you emotionally (I used to do 15 miles. Now I can only do two.)
  • Switch it up. You can run, bike, swim, walk, climb, or even skateboard. Whatever it takes for you to become motivated to get your motor running. 

Weeks Three and Four:

  • If you walked for 45 minutes a day on Week One, it’s perfectly OK to repeat those guidelines on Weeks Three and Four.
  • Allow your body to recover.
  • Repeating a week or day can reduce the chance for injuries.
  • It makes getting off the couch more enjoyable!

Week Five:

  • Start going for distance.
  • Strap on the backpack and hit rough terrain to work on balance.
  • Enjoy being outdoors.
  • Spend the whole day outdoors. Bring lunch, fire up the stove and make coffee.

Week Six:

  • Mix different aspects from different weeks, keep it interesting while getting ready for some serious trips.

Keep in mind, you’re not training for a thru-hike of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail, the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, or the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. The Triple Crown of long-distance hiking isn’t what this is about!

Solo or with a partner?

So, here’s a great question — keeping in mind that we’re all different: Do you do this training alone or with a friend?

Some of us need a partner, group or coach to get motivated. Others are self-motivated and can come up with a plan and stick to it. Figuring out which category you fit into can help you get off and stay offthe couch.

A word of caution. If you choose to partner with someone with whom you plan to train and eventually travel, make sure you are on the same page. Hold each other accountable and make it fun.

A nightmare scenario would be picking a partner who finds lame excuses not to train or, on the other extreme, takes training to an ultra-runner’s level. One partner going too big and too fast or lagging and making goals impossible is deflating and can ruin the experience.

Personally, I prefer solo training with a hint of occasional companionship. After two weeks by myself, I might invite someone to join me for a couple of days or a week of training.

And while it’s always easier to schedule training times when you’re going solo, you have no one to keep you committed. Solo can be super fun and it adds another level of challenge. A partner can be fun for sharing the failures, successes and goals.

When training fails, you can (cautiously) jump into action

Strap on your pack and start by walking into your local backcountry. Yes, training can help you be safer, more confident and prepared, but training does not work for all people. Some of us just need to go and let the trip be both the training and the adventure. But please, please, please… at least stretch a little before you head off, and make sure people close to you know where’re heading. Promise?

Do you need a push to get you out of the house? Reach out to us at NCOAE, your headquarters for adventure and education.

About the Author: Stephen Mullaney is the Director of School Partnerships at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). He has worked domestically and internationally with schools, organizations, and wilderness programs. His classrooms have ranged from dilapidated trailers at overcrowded, underfunded schools to the Himalayan mountains and everything imaginable in between. His past students include gang members/prisoners, education majors, college and university professors, and pioneers in the field out outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Stephen’s philosophy is to focus on the development of positive working and learning environments. He brings more than a quarter of a century of education experience and understanding of human nature to any organization, whether it is an education institution or a private company. His writing has appeared in adventure sports/education journals, magazines and on the web. Stephen prefers to arrive by bicycle and sit in the dirt.

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