What not to do.

Before my very first climbing trip to Mt.Rainier I thought my fitness was going to be the least of my problems. I was in my early 20's, healthy and having been weight lifting since I was 13 I was sure I had this one in the bag. My workouts going into  this climb consisted mostly of cycling everyday for endurance. After all, in my mind all I was doing was putting the finishing touches on a otherwise flawless level of fitness. 

Little did i know, I was about to have a rude awakening. It turns out my fitness level was no where near where it had to be for me to summit this beast of  mountain in a enjoyable manner. Turns out bench presses and dead lifts won't get you to the top of a mountain! In other words it was a long, miserable 4 days where I doubted my self the entire time. Never had I been in a situation where I physically wasn't sure if I could keep going. Nonetheless I did, we summited and I cursed my self all the way back down to Paradise(Mt. Rainier parking lot) for not having been better prepared. Did I enjoy the experience, simply put.. NO, but it did challenge me to be WAY better prepared for my next trip.. and that I did.  

What I did differently. 

One word, RUN. That made all the difference in the world. Well its a little more complicated than that but running had a huge impact on my overall fitness. And not just any kind of running, specifically Zone 1-2, low intensity, long, boring running. Aside from a 5 mile daily run I also started to implement mountain specific work outs tailored for the kind of dynamic movements you will be performing uphill as well as down hill. Below you can find a complete break down of the work outs that made me a more efficient climber and how I took my fitness to the next level in order to start enjoying my climbs. 


The more experience I gained the more I realized the importance of "real world training". Running and weight lifting will only get you so far, but its the hiking with a 60lb pack for 4-6 hours that will really beat your legs into mountain shape. Given that I don't live in a place where there are mountains to climb, Ive had to improvise. This consisted of traveling to other states to do training climbs, putting on a 60lb pack and climbing up the parking garages for hours on end and simply walking up as many stairs as possible. If you live in a state like colorado or California, you have no problems because you have hills everywhere to practice on. My advice is to get out and make those legs suffer as often as possible. That way when you have spent $10k + on an expedition some where in the world, you are in tip top shape to kick ass and summit. 


Mountain specific workouts

Lower body

Single Leg Dead lifts- 4 Sets/10 repetitions

(Note: What most people don't know going into the mountains is that the descent is usually harder than the ascent. For that reason we need to emphasize stregnthening our hamstrings. Single leg dead lifts is the perfect work out because not only do you get a great work out on your hammy's but you are also working your stabilizer muscles in your ankles and your core by balancing on one leg.


(Note: Once again this is a descent specific workout. You want to start with a lower 8" -10" box and work your way up to taller box in the 12"-14" range. Also when you are stepping down you want to go slow and take 2-3 second before your foot touches the ground.

Alterating lunges 4 sets/10 repetitions

(Note: You going to want to make sure you get a good deep stretch on every lunge and make each and every one of them count for added resistance use dumbbells.)

wall sits - 3 min

(Note: In order for this static work out tone effective form is key. You have to make sure your knees are bent at 90 degrees and that your heel never sits past your knee. At first it will be difficult and you'll probably need to start with 1 min and work your way up. Be ready to feel the burn!)


Static Plank - 3/ 90 sec sets

(Note: Keep your back straight and don't lift your butt in the air. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees and engage your core. Its more important to maintain proper form than to last the full 90 seconds. If its too much at first, start with 30 seconds and work your way up.)

Plate twist - 3 sets/25 repetitions

(Note: Make sure you are twisting your entire core, not only your arms. Every time you carry the plate over to the other side your whole upper torso should turn with it and make sure the plate touches the ground. If its to difficult with a weighted plate, start off using only your hands or a foam block.)

Hanging leg raises - 3 sets/15 repetitions 

(Note: This is a more advanced exercise, make sure when you raise your legs that they are slow controlled movements and that your body is not swinging.)


Upper Body

Push ups - 4 sets/25 repetitions

(Note: I love the basics, and it doesn't get much more basic than push ups. Make sure your back is straight and the your going down till your elbows reach 90 degrees. Do each one slow and controlled. If you can't do 25 then start with 10 per set.)

Pull Ups - 4 sets/10 repetitions

(Note: This work out is all about form. Keep your arms shoulder width apart, bring your body up till your elbows are at 90 degrees and drop down slowly and controlled until your arms are fully extended before beginning again.) 

Dumbell Rows - 4 Sets/ 10 Repetitions

(Note: Make sure your back is not hunched and that you have good posture while doing this exercise. When you are bring the dumbbells up, reach those elbows back in order to get a full range of motion.)


Endurance Training

Running - Zone 2 for 60 min 3x week

(Note: When running for endurance training what you want to do are slow, long runs that are usually boring. When I say Slow I mean you have to be able to have a conversation with out being out of breath and maintaining your pace. To most people this will seem too slow but research has proven thats its just the kind of slow that works for building your aerobic fitness. Remember that training is all about listening to your body and knowing when to rest, so do not over due it and take the recommended durations with a grain of salt.)

Long Run - Zone 1 for 90 minutes 1x week

(Note: Like mentioned before If your body feels like it need to rest leave this run for the next week. This is the run where you check your self and see how you can do at a longer duration and how your fitness is improving. Remember to keep that conversational pace at all times.) 

hiking (if possible) 

(Note: If you are fortunate enough to have some hills near by (I live in Miami so I can't do this type of training since we have nothing to hike except the swamp) go out a few times a month and get some milage on this hills. It will do great for preparing for the steep up hill climbs you will be facing in the mountains. Once you feel its too easy, throw on a pack 25lb-40lb to kick it up a notch. Within 3 months of your climb you should be able to do these hikes fairly easy up moderately steep terrain. Thats the kind of fitness you want to have prior to your first climb.)




(Note: I can't stress enough how important it is to stretch both once you've warmed up and after you've worked out. Otherwise you will have tight tense muscles with a short range of motion and possible injury. Only stretch to the point where you feel a slight tightness in the muscle, don't go to the point of pain or you risk injury.)

Calves - Hold 30-45 seconds

(Note: Like the hamstring, the calves are usually prone to tightness and should be stretched regularly.)

quads - hold 30-45 seconds 

(Note: You might have seen people at the gym doing bouncing stretches. I am totally against it and do not recommend it all since you can over stretch and injure your self. Stretches should be static at all times so you can always be in control.)

This is a basic break down for you to use at your own discretion. Use this as a base and see what works for you. Each body is different and what works for me might not work for everyone else. take these work outs and add them to your arsenal in order to create a routine that will work for you. Below is a basic baseline fitness test to see where you stand.

Baseline Fitness Test

Give this a try to get an idea of where your fitness stands 

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This Base line test will give you an idea of where you stand and where you should be working towards. You may notice you will be stronger in some areas than others. This is great to exploit your weaknesses and to see which areas require tweaking. In  4 weeks, come back to the base line test and re do it to see how you have improved. Its important to keep a log of your results, this will give you a visual representation of how your results are coming along. 


This article is not intended to provide medical advice on personal health issues, which should be obtained directly from a physician.


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