How to Train for Mountaineering

If you are preparing for your first mountaineering trip, you should definitely acquire the necessary technical skills. However, you won’t make it to the top unless your body is also ready for the physical challenge. If your trip is led by a professional guide, the itinerary likely includes a few days of learning basic snow and ice skills. The necessary physical training, however, will take weeks or months of preparation on your part.

To quote the comments section of someone who climbed Mount Shasta on an REI Adventures trip: “Train, train, train”. (Then you should probably practice a bit more.)

This article includes strength training exercises you can do, but covers the elements of a successful mountaineering training program more generally, rather than presenting a detailed plan. Your training approach should be personalized for you and the specific mountain you will be attempting to reach. That said, here are the general steps you will follow for any mountaineering training plan:

  1. Assess your current fitness level. It may even include a medical examination from a physician and/or an evaluation by a certified trainer. If you opt for a reputable guide service, they will advise you on the physical preparation required and ask you to provide a full medical history.
  2. Consider the physical demands of your climb. Mountaineering is essentially an endurance event, like a marathon. Think of it as an extreme hike, where you will be carrying a heavy load, climbing up steep terrain, gaining a lot of elevation, and often doing it at high elevations. That said, doing a winter summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, for example, is very different from an Everest expedition, so carefully assess your needs and plan accordingly. Being able to climb at a constant rate that you can maintain aerobically without stopping, along with having enough energy and strength to descend safely, will be key goals of your training plan.
  3. Decide how you are going to approach your training. Your detailed plan can be something that you prepare yourself with a minimal budget; Whole books cover the subject, but the downside is that you’ll run out of expert commentary and it can be harder to stay motivated. Or you can search for a personal trainer to create a personalized plan with regular recordings. This option will cost you more, but you may decide that the benefits are worth it. You’ll find a range of opinions on training, so work carefully to find the plan that’s right for you.
  4. Develop a personalized training plan. Mountaineering requires several types of training, each focusing on a different need:
    • Cardio workouts to improve the overall fitness of your heart and lungs.
    • Interval sessions to increase your ability to process more oxygen with each breath.
    • Strength and endurance exercise so that you can carry a heavy load and maintain your physical performance for many hours.
    • Balance and flexibility training as you need both for mountaineering.
    • Hiking days to extend your training in real-world situations.

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Mountaineering Training Timeline

When should you start training for a mountaineering trip? Depending on your initial fitness level, you should start training at least 16 weeks before your trip. For example, if your travel date is scheduled for July 1, you might want to start no later than mid-March. earlier is even better – to prepare for this kind of endeavor, you just can’t start too early.

How do you integrate rest and recovery into your training plan? A good training plan is built gradually. It also includes plenty of rest days – at least one day a week in all phases of training. Additionally, every 4-6 weeks you should have a week where the training load drops 25% to 50% to allow your body to fully recover. It’s also important to avoid overtraining injuries, which will delay you. So, while you are training, you need to adjust your schedule (add extra rest days) or change the type of workout to give painful body parts a break.

When should peak training take place? Your training plan should reach its peak about two weeks before your trip. The week immediately before your trip should be particularly light to allow your body to recover. Your most important goal the week before you leave is to get enough sleep.

Example of a mountaineering training plan

Cardio Workouts :

Weight-bearing activities, such as trail running, hiking, or snowshoeing, are ideal because they also help build overall strength and endurance. Options like cardio equipment in a gym or cycling and swimming can be used to modify your workout on days when you need to take a break from your musculoskeletal system.

Read How to Train Using Heart Rate Zones for more details on how to monitor your cardio workouts. Your personalized training plan should include details of the time spent in each training zone.


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Interval Sessions :

As altitude increases, air pressure decreases and you get less oxygen with each breath; interval training improves your ability to use oxygen. Intervals are a set of repetitions of high-intensity aerobic exercise at a much faster pace than usual, with low-intensity recovery exercise in between.

For example, you can perform four 1-mile repetitions at a brisk pace, with 5 minutes of slow jogging or even walking between mile repetitions. You can also run up a set of bleachers and then slowly run back down, repeating this four times. You can choose whatever mode of exercise you prefer, such as a treadmill, bicycle, or elliptical machine, as long as you are pushing yourself to a high-intensity level.

Read How to Measure and Improve Your VO2 Max for more details on how you can train to process oxygen more effectively.

Hiking days :
The goal is to create a hike that reflects your most tiring day of climbing in terms of pack weight, hours of effort, and anticipated elevation gain. If you can do this at high altitudes as well, that’s even better.

Hiking once a week is important to transition from your training to the conditions you will experience in the mountains. Start with an easier hike and a lighter pack at a lower elevation, then increase the intensity on subsequent hikes by adding distance and pack weight.

You’ll want to add other hikes closer to your climb date, but step back a week or two in advance to allow your body to fully recover.

Altitude and training: Adapting to altitude is a process that can only truly be accomplished by arriving several days in advance and spending time at a higher altitude. Your body needs this time to undergo the physiological changes produced by altitude. If you are also able to train at high altitude in advance, this is a bonus, but not many people have access to a high mountain area or a facility with a specialized high altitude training chamber.

Exercises for strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility
Exercises that target area that carries the weight of a heavy load on the mountain are essential. You need to increase the strength of the main muscles of the legs and your abdominal muscles and increase the endurance of these same muscle groups.

Basic exercises will also help with balance. Flexibility can be increased by warming up through a full range of motion before other types of training and stretching during cool-down sessions. Some climbers also like to add yoga sessions to their training plans.

You can follow the exercise plan below or use it as a starting point to develop your own routine. You ultimately need to choose a set of exercises that you (or your trainer) think will work best for you.


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Training exercises for mountaineering

Keep the following points in mind when working out:

  • Tailor the exercises to your body, not the other way around.
  • If something hurts you, modify the exercise or skip it and take extra days off if you feel the need to.
  • Move at your own pace, slowly at first.
  • Increase the reps or add more resistance or weight as your workout progresses.
  • Warm-up with an easy 5-10 minute jog. Then follow the instructions below as you progress through the exercises in this article:
  • Inhale during the initial effort, then exhale while returning to the starting position; when exercising faster, just be sure to breathe regularly.
  • Rest for 30 to 45 seconds at the end of each exercise (unless otherwise specified).
  • Do each of the exercises below once in a row, then rest for two minutes and repeat another set of all the exercises (if you have time for the third set of exercises, even better).

Jump squats :
Squats are found in many workout plans because they provide a great all-around workout for all the muscles in your lower body and legs, the mountaineering engine of your body. Adding a jump helps build power in the lower legs.

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, then squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your chest up, your feet flat, and your knees above your toes.
  • Coming out of the squat, push off your heels, explode and jump a few inches off the ground.
  • Land softly and quietly, and immediately step into another squat.
  • Do 15-20 times.

Step Up Exercise:

Going up a snowy slope while carrying a heavy backpack requires you to be able to do a series of seemingly endless uphill steps. This exercise builds the strength and endurance of your glutes and quadriceps so you can keep climbing the mountain hour after hour.

Accessories: A stable surface, approximately 8 inches from the ground. If you have a workout box or an aerobic stage at home, you can use it. Otherwise, the bottom step of a staircase can also work.

Wear your weighted backpack when doing this exercise. Start with around 10 pounds, then add a few more pounds each week until you reach around 80% of your expected pack weight.

  • Start with your left foot on the ground and your right foot at the top of the step; your right knee will be bent.
  • Climb up until you are standing with your right leg almost straight and balanced over the stop; your left leg should be slightly bent and your left foot placed about an inch above the step.
  • Pause in a balanced position, then step back down, bringing your left leg and right foot back to the starting position.
  • Do this 15 times; then repeat the exercise 15 times on the other side.

Heel Down Exercise :

Mountaineers also need to be able to lower their bodies and keep their weight under control. This is the key to preventing knee injuries and trips. This exercise works your glutes and quads so that you have the strength and balance to do it smoothly and efficiently.

Accessories: A stable surface, approximately 8 inches from the ground. If you have a workout box or an aerobic stage at home, you can use it. Otherwise, the bottom step of a staircase can also work.

Wear your weighted backpack when doing this exercise. Start with around 10 pounds, then add a few more pounds each week until you reach around 80% of your intended bag weight.

  • Start by standing at the top of a step, balancing on your right foot with your left foot hovering to the side.
  • Lift the toes of your left foot, then bend your right knee as you slowly lower your left leg until your left heel barely touches the ground or is just above it.
  • Step back with your right leg until you come back to the starting position.
  • Do this 15 times; then repeat the exercise 15 times on the other side.

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Single-Leg Deadlift Exercise :

This exercise engages your hips and abdominal muscles to build strength and balance by centering your weight on either side of your body.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand.
  • Center your weight on your right foot, lean forward at the hips as you extend your left leg back; maintain your balance by lowering the dumbbell back to the floor. Don’t let your hips turn.
  • Return to the starting position by squeezing your glutes; your heart should stay engaged and your back should stay straight.
  • Do this 20 times; then switch to the other side and do 20 repetitions.

Lift Exercise:

Not all mountaineering moves are in a straight line, so this exercise prepares you to hike up a snowfield and all the other twists and turns your route to the summit must follow. It develops core balance and rotational power by strengthening your upper and lower abs and obliques, as well as your glutes and leg muscles.

  • Secure one end of the band at ankle height.
  • Standing to the side where the bracelet is anchored, position yourself so that when you grip the end of the bracelet with both hands, there is tension in the bracelet.
  • Rotate your torso up to the right, pulling the end of the band at an upward angle over the front of your torso; let your feet pivot until you are in the opposite direction with your arms straight out in front of your body. Also, slightly rotate the leg closest to where the band is anchored while pushing on the toe of that foot.
  • Return to the starting position while maintaining even tension in the band.
  • Throughout this movement, your core muscles should be fueling the movement. Your shoulders should be kept square and your hips should be kept in line, and your elbows and wrists should also be kept as straight as possible.
  • Do this 20 times; then do the same on the opposite side for 20 more reps.

Side Plank with a Lateral Pull-Down Exercise :

Mountaineering also requires ropes, and this exercise works the muscles that engage when you pull, including your lats and shoulder muscles. It also works your glutes and obliques to build upper body and core strength to keep you stable.

  • Use a resistance band that you can secure about 1 to 2 feet from the ground.
  • Get into a side plank position with your head facing the door. Lie on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and stack your feet on top of each other.
  • Hold the resistance band in your upper hand and keep your hips, torso, and shoulders perpendicular to the floor as you engage your abs. Squeeze your glutes and lift your torso off the floor.
  • Hold this position while pulling the band from the top down toward your shoulder, stopping when your elbow is near the side of your ribs. Be sure to maintain tension in the band from the extended position to the collapsed position.
  • Do 15 repetitions on each side.

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Side Plank with Overhead Press with Band Exercise :

Another exercise that improves your ability to pull a rope, this one builds the strength of your deltoids, upper trapezius, and triceps.

  • Use a resistance band that you can secure about 2 to 3 feet from the ground.
  • Get into a side plank position with your head facing the door. Lie on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and stack your feet on top of each other.
  • Hold the resistance band in your upper hand and keep your hips, torso, and shoulders perpendicular to the floor as you engage your abs. Squeeze your glutes and lift your torso off the floor.
  • Hold this position while pressing the band from shoulder height above the head, locking the elbow.
  • The group must have tension throughout the movement.
  • Do 15 times on each side. Rest for 30 seconds between sides.

Push-Up with Single-Arm Row Exercise :

This exercise works your arms and shoulders so you can lift heavy mountaineering equipment; it also strengthens the endurance of the upper body for the rope industry. Push-ups strengthen your pecs and triceps while the rows of arms focus on your lats and biceps.

  • Start in a push-up position with dumbbells and feet wide apart.
  • Lower your body in a straight line. After pushing back, bring one elbow back, bringing the dumbbell back towards the rib cage.
  • Return the dumbbell to the floor and do another push-up.
  • Bring the other elbow back, bringing the dumbbell towards the opposite rib cage.
  • Maintain a plank position throughout the exercise, keeping your body straight from head to toe. Don’t let the hips turn; keep your chin tucked in slightly while looking at the ground in front of you.
  • Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each arm.

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