By Michael Lanza

When three friends and I decided to attempt to thru-hike the John Muir Trail—221 miles through California’s High Sierra, with numerous mountain passes ranging from 11,000 to over 13,000 feet in elevation—in just one week (backpackers traditionally take three weeks)—the plan seemed like a wild dream. Hike 31 miles a day for seven straight days through some of the biggest mountains in the Lower 48? It was an agenda for lunatics. So we started training. Seriously training.

Although it would prove to be one of the physically hardest things any of us had ever done—and one of the most rewarding—three of us made it, and the fourth member of our team was fit enough to finish, but had to bail out because of severe blisters. (Read my story about that crazy adventure.)

Since then, with a small group of very fit and experienced friends, I’ve hiked very long days from the Grand Canyon (including a one-day, 44-mile and 22,000-foot, rim-to-rim-to-rim hike) to the White Mountains, the Tetons and Wind River Range, and a 50-mile dayhike across Zion National Park. And I’ve climbed numerous peaks via technical and non-technical routes, including the Mountaineers Route on 14,505-foot Mount Whitney in California’s Sequoia National Park with my 15-year-old son, who was also motivated to train hard for that.

If you’re planning to climb a big mountain or take a challenging backpacking trip or long dayhike, you may be wondering how to train properly for it—especially if, like many people, you don’t live in a place with easy access to the mountains and don’t have the freedom to spend endless hours training on trails.

So for regular people with normal lives who aspire to occasionally elevate life, here’s an everyman’s (and woman’s) guide to getting yourself physically ready for the mountains of your dreams.