Most people view conditioning for sports as something that should take place in a gym, in a field, on a track, or in a pool, but there are other, more interesting options. Cross training has become a common practice for most athletes, but most of them think of it as a mix of other conventional sports like running, biking, and swimming. There are more effective and more exciting ways to cross train for any activity, and many options are in the outdoor adventure arena. As a soccer coach, I have used hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, trail running, mountain biking, climbing, cross country skiing, and downhill skiing as training methods that my athletes enjoy, look forward to, and always emerge out on the other side in much better shape. I am going to focus on Grand Canyon hiking, because of its unmatched upper leg building and general conditioning.
There are many ways to use a Grand Canyon hike for team or individual sport training. I’ve taken my entire soccer team into the Canyon on rim-to-rim hikes that strengthened the boys’ teamwork as much as their bodies. The rim-to-rim, which entails 4000 feet of downhill hiking and 4000 feet of uphill hiking, can be done in a single day for the super-fit or as a multi-day hike, which works better for teambuilding. The rim-to-rim-to-rim, which includes 8000 feet of downhill hiking and 8000 feet of uphill hiking can also be finished in a single day or as a multi-day hike, but should only be tried in one day if you’re willing to trail run much of the way. Either way, hiking between the rims is a challenge both physically and emotionally. The trail is steep and sustained and is absolutely perfect for upper leg strengthening. For the rim-to-rim, most people take the South Kaibab Trail down and the North Kaibab Trail back up, and then back the same way for the rim-to-rim-to-rim. Another option though is to take the Bright Angel Trail as a alternative route back to the South Rim.
Another option especially for pre-season trainings is a rafting trip into the canyon and then a hike out. The conditioning isn’t as good with the rafting, but the hike out more than makes up for it. The rafting is one-of-a-kind when it comes to bonding athletes around something outside of their sport.
There are other options that are more and less taxing. The New Hance Trail is a great option for a tougher hike, and a mule-assisted trip down to Phantom Ranch is a great way to make it more moderate. Whichever option you choose, just remember it’s critical to stretch and hydrate frequently, and in the Grand Canyon September is the best month because it’s not too hot, and the Fall sports season is just beginning.