Health & Fitness
Expedition members will be provided with pre-trip medical advice and a medical questionnaire and asked to visit their family physician to receive a full medical examination. This information will be sighted only by the expedition leader and our medical adviser and treated with full confidentiality.
Team members will require previous backcountry winter experience on skis and the ability to work well within a team environment. The nature of this expedition demands strong team cohesion and commitment. An essential ingredient for participants is physical fortitude for working hard in a cold weather environment hence each member must be strong and healthy.
Like the pioneering explorers we must carry or drag on sleds all the team equipment and food. This reinforces the need to take just the right amount of equipment with you for the trip and to ensure you are fit before you arrive on the expedition.
At the beginning of the expedition, each member should expect to haul a sledge weighing about 75kgs (165 pounds). This is the total weight of both personal and communal gear. Towards the end, your sledge will be closer to 50kgs (110 pounds).
Your guide will help with your equipment check in Iceland, but you will need to arrive fit and ready to tackle the challenges ahead!
Effective work at high latitudes requires a good (specific) physiology for the activity and a solid outdoors background. When it comes down to it, the main attributes one needs are a very good work ethic, lots of strength and an ability to pace one’s self for a long duration project and avoid injury, and probably most of all one needs a strength of character and the ability to get on with others.
For all the effort that goes into training the body, it must be realised that the mental attributes are worth some analysis and attention also. If you are not a ‘team player’ or find that you often come into conflict with others (even if you do think it is their fault) then you should not consider taking part in Polar Expeditions, unless you do it solo!
Of course there is much we can do to enhance the physical attributes we have and these are best achieved by specific training.
The physical issues endured by Polar travellers are the sheer amount of physical output required on a daily basis, and repetitive strain injuries incurred from said activity.
Weight loss often occurs through the sheer inability to eat the amount of calories you burn up in a day. There are ways to try to minimise this through diet, pace and regular snacks throughout each working day.
However, on the longer trips, the result of all the effort is a lower level of performance and consequently the muscular system deteriorates through a calorific deficit. It is worth anticipating muscle loss and therefore you should train to ensure you have a bit extra before you leave.
Being generally fit and healthy and strong is paramount to doing well on these travels. Training should focus on developing cardiovascular capability and strength training for specific muscle groups. Being overweight places more stress on your system so ensure that you are not putting yourself at a disadvantage before you start.
It is recommended that you focus on strength development and stamina training as your body is constantly stressed through sled hauling and dealing with the cold. Lots of gym work is recommended and a physical trainer will assist in working on any areas of weakness you may have. Additionally, a lot of long-duration exercise like hill walking (with a pack), mountain biking on hills and swimming are beneficial. Over all, it is important to ensure long duration anaerobic exercise to simulate the strain of polar travel.
However, aerobic exercise should not be ignored either as you do not want to turn up fully bulked, but not able to perform short duration bursts of energy expenditure where necessary, like when you set out and are feeling cold. During aerobic training it is necessary to monitor your heart rate to ensure you are training your cardiovascular system. This can be achieved by using a heart rate monitor or by manually measuring heart rate during exertion. A basic formula is 220-Age=heart rate (HR) maximum. Operating at 70-85% of your HR max will ensure you are exercising to enhance cardiovascular fitness.
There is no training for pulling sleds like pulling sleds! Sport specific training will ensure your ligaments and tendons are conditioned for the stresses of expedition work so if you can get an old tractor tyre out and drag it around behind you in a field then that will ultimately be of some benefit. However, this can be difficult to do and many polar travellers have focused on other ways to simulate the strains to be experienced in the polar regions.
Following are some recommendations for training. Depending on your level of fitness and training regime you may wish to incorporate some or all of the suggestions. Working with a personal or athletic trainer will enhance your progress. Be careful not to over-train just prior to the trip as you will need all your reserves and you don’t want to ‘peak’ too early. The fact that you are looking at losing (sometimes) considerable body mass indicates the need to be quite heavy at the start of the trip so do not over-do it prior to the expedition.
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