How do you prepare physically for the GR20?

Insider Tips

The GR20 is renowned for its high level of difficulty, characterised by rugged terrain, a significant difference in altitude, and several variations on alpine routes. It also includes passages at high altitude, particularly through gaps. Preparing physically for this demanding and technical trek requires a methodical and comprehensive approach. Here are the key stages in preparing for the GR20!

Gradual increase in endurance

Cardiovascular training:

To prepare your body effectively for the demands of the GR20, it's essential to start by building up your cardiovascular endurance.

This involves activities such as :

  • Running: Start with short runs and gradually increase the distance and intensity. Running not only improves your cardiovascular endurance, but also strengthens the muscles used for hiking.
  • Cycling: Cycling is excellent for building endurance and is gentler on the joints than running. It strengthens the leg muscles, which are crucial for long mountain walks.
  • Swimming: This is a complete exercise that improves lung capacity and strengthens the upper body, important for carrying a rucksack.
  • Brisk walking: Ideal for those who prefer a less intense approach, brisk walking is an excellent way of building endurance while simulating the activity of hiking.

It is recommended that you engage in these activities at least 3 to 4 times a week, gradually increasing the duration and intensity to significantly improve your endurance.

Long-distance walks: 

As well as cardiovascular training, it's crucial to practise hiking itself, particularly over long distances. This not only increases your endurance, but also allows you to familiarise yourself with the real conditions of the hike:

  • Varied terrain: choose routes that offer a mix of hilly and mountainous terrain. This will help simulate the conditions of the GR20 and strengthen the specific muscles needed to navigate rugged terrain.
  • Duration and distance: start with shorter hikes, then gradually increase the distance. Aim for long hikes lasting several hours, or even a whole day.
  • Loaded rucksack: on these hikes, carry a loaded rucksack to get used to the weight you'll be carrying on the GR20. This helps to strengthen your back and shoulders, while improving your balance and endurance.

Strengthening muscles

Targeted exercises

Strength training is crucial to prepare your body for the physical challenges of the GR20. The following exercises target the main muscles used when hiking:

  • Squats: this versatile exercise strengthens the thighs, hips and glutes, essential muscles for walking uphill and downhill. Start with bodyweight squats, then gradually increase the resistance using free weights or resistance bands.
  • Lunges: lunges work the legs and glutes and help improve balance. Vary the lunges (front, back, side) to target different muscle groups.
  • Step-Ups: use a bench or step for this exercise, which mimics the action of climbing stairs or steep inclines. It strengthens the thighs and glutes while improving balance.
  • Core stability exercises: exercises such as planks, trunk rotations and leg raises strengthen the core muscles, which are crucial for carrying a rucksack and stabilising the body on uneven ground.

We recommend incorporating these exercises into your training routine at least 2-3 times a week, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of the sessions.

Walking with a rucksack

Walking with a loaded rucksack is a practical training method that prepares your body to carry your equipment during the trek:

  • Start light: begin with a lightly loaded pack and gradually increase the weight over time. This avoids injury and allows you to get used to the load gradually.
  • Simulate real conditions: do your training hikes with the rucksack, imitating GR20 conditions as far as possible. Include varied terrain and gradients.
  • Duration and frequency: make these walks part of your regular training programme, increasing the duration and difficulty of the routes over time.

Improving balance and flexibility

Yoga or Pilates

These two disciplines are ideal for improving balance and flexibility, as well as core strength, which is particularly beneficial when walking on uneven terrain such as the GR20 :

  • Yoga: Yoga helps to improve flexibility, muscle strength and balance. Postures (asanas) such as warrior, downward facing dog and tree strengthen and stretch the muscles of the legs, hips and back while improving balance. Regular yoga practice can also help with stress management and concentration, two important assets for a long hike.
  • Pilates: Pilates focuses on core strength, body alignment and movement awareness. This can be a great help in stabilising the body on varied terrain and when carrying a rucksack. Pilates exercises also strengthen the stabilising muscles around the joints, reducing the risk of injury.
    It is advisable to practise yoga or Pilates at least 2-3 times a week for optimum benefits.

Balance exercises

Practising specific balance exercises is crucial to navigating the uneven, rocky paths of the GR20 with confidence:

  • One-legged exercises: standing on one leg, possibly with your eyes closed, strengthens the stabilising muscles of the ankle and knee. Vary the exercises by adding arm movements or using a balance cushion.
  • Balance ball exercises: using a balance ball for exercises such as squats or planks improves not only balance, but also coordination and core strength.
  • Slacklining: if possible, slacklining is an excellent way of developing superior balance, useful for crossing uneven terrain.

Incorporating these exercises into your training routine will help you to better manage technical terrain and prevent falls or injuries.

Other preparations for the GR20: acclimatisation, equipment, nutrition and mental strategies

Acclimatisation to different conditions

  • Training at altitude: if possible, train at altitude to acclimatise to conditions similar to those of the GR20.
  • Walking in different weather conditions: be prepared to walk in the rain, wind or sun to adapt to all types of weather.

Practical equipment

  • Choosing your footwear: Make sure your hiking boots are well broken in and comfortable.
  • Testing your equipment: Use your hiking equipment (rucksack, walking poles, etc.) during your training sessions.

Nutrition and hydration

  • Balanced diet: Eat a nutrient-rich diet to support your training.
  • Hydration: Learn how to stay well hydrated before, during and after your training sessions.

Rest and Recovery

  • Rest Management: Give yourself rest days to allow your body to recover.
  • Quality sleep: Make sure you get enough sleep for optimal recovery.

Planning and Mental Preparation

  • Learn about the route: Study the route of the GR20, its different stages and its specific characteristics.
  • Mental preparation: Develop your resilience and your ability to deal with stress and fatigue.

By following these steps, you'll increase your chances of succeeding and getting the most out of this demanding and rewarding adventure that is the GR20. It is also advisable to consult a health professional or sports coach for a personalised training programme tailored to your physical condition.