Hiking: a leisurely stroll in stiff boots and anorak, or a vigorous form of interval training? We sent Caroline Sandry to Switzerland to find out….

Equilibrium “conditions of a system in which competing influences are balanced” according to the dictionary. Or mountain health retreat in Switzerland, not for the faint-hearted!

The Experience

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The only sounds to be heard were my heart drumming in my chest, my breath amplified by the quiet and a cuckoo calling from above as I methodically placed one foot in front of the other in a vain attempt to keep up with ‘Unbreakable’ Angus Morison on our 2000 metre vertical mountain hike! (Angus won Channel 5’s ‘Unbreakable’ series, which tested individual’s ability to endure hellish, extreme SAS style challenges).

Equilibrium retreat nestles against the mountains above the beautiful resort of Verbier in Switzerland. Their ‘mission statement’ claims to rejuvenate and reenergise with bespoke programmes to fit the needs of individuals requiring weight loss, endurance training, stress management, toning or detoxing.

The chalet can take 6 – 8 guests, there were 8 of us – and our requirements ranged from weight loss to diet overhauls and detoxing for a severe stomach disorder. Me? I simply wanted to enjoy the fabulous mountains, push my endurance and de-stress my mind.

My daily diary:

*Wake up call 6am – feeling amazingly fresh in-spite of the hour

*Cup of warm water or herb tea

*6.30am – Yoga. Iyengar yoga which uses props (blocks, straps and bolsters) to help ease the body into stretches

*7.30am – breakfast, a bowl of fruit and porridge with water and honey. By day 3 I hated porridge so much that I wanted to fight with it!

* 8.15am – depart for mountain hike

*12am – 1pm – return for lunch, or stop for packed lunch up a mountain

*2.30pm – one hour of physical activity (Pilates, circuits, military style work-out in the woods etc)

*4pm – 7pm – massage. Aaaahhhhhhh!!!! Fantastic! (and time for a snooze too!)

*7pm – second yoga class of the day. We all looked forward to stretching out our aching bodies.

*8pm – dinner

*9pm – we attempt to socialise and chat after dinner, but the fear of being tired the following day sends us all scuttling to our beds before the sun has left the sky! Having a life long love affair with mountains, I was in seventh heaven surrounded by their beauty, spending all day exercising and enjoying the sun. Unfortunately I had injured my quads on both legs the week before, so was treading very carefully for the first few days, however with icing, daily yoga and massage they were feeling much better by day 3.

I was surprised that I was so physically challenged by the hikes – at times my heart was literally beating out of my chest and I was unable to get it under control (day 3 was worst – see box below). Knowing my body pretty well, I asked for more food as exercising each morning for 3- 5 hours on a bowl of porridge and an apple meant I was all out of energy reserves very quickly.

“The challenging ascents are a great form of interval training and the altitude enhances this effect”

After adding a mid-morning banana, almonds and raisins, plus a portion of rice with my evening meal (which was also a little larger than those wishing to lose weight, but still uberhealthy) I felt more normal and my training response was as I would have expected. This was my first time walking with poles and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Hiking time for a great ascent_2

Over the first few days, suffering from my quad injury, they really helped as they reduced the effort and impact through my legs and on some really steep, slippery terrain helped with stability and grip. Also, as you are using your upper body (I mostly felt lats and triceps) you get an additional positive training effect.

Results

In spite of asking for more food, I still lost a couple of kilos and I definitely felt fitter by the final day. Others in our team had great results – one girl lost 9 kilos and the ‘weight-loss shocker’, a young man who lost 17 kilos! Everybody felt more toned, and relaxed and we all had a good time. A previous client on the retreat also shaved significant time off his marathon time following the training.

Final verdict

Hiking is much more than a ramble: the challenging ascents are a great form of interval training and the altitude enhances this effect. This combined with the circuit sessions really torches calories, but the physical hardness is softened by the massage and yoga.

If you are looking to enhance your training (and not lose weight) be very clear about this or you will be given the same diet as others, which although healthy, is not enough to support that amount of training. The week is expensive £2500 inclusive. I stayed in a shared room and the bathrooms are also shared, but once there you do not need any further cash.

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