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The Outdoor Athlete Book by Courtenay and Doug Schurman



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Wilderness Sports > Mountaineering & Scrambing > Mountaineering and Scrambling: Program Development

Mountaineering and Scrambling: Program Development

Program Development Factors

Mountaineering and Scrambling require cardiovascular endurance (via aerobic training), strength endurance (through strength conditioning), and mountaineering-specific training (via hiking with a pack). Being in strong physical shape is one of the most important aspects for success on a trip. The five major fitness qualities your general training should focus on are:

Fitness Levels need by Training component for mountaineering
Fitness Levels need by Training component
  • Aerobic Endurance
  • Anaerobic Endurance
  • Upper Body Strength
  • Lower Body Strength
  • Flexibility

The chart on the right indicates fitness qualities needed for mountaineering as compared to baseline health. By comparing your current levels of fitness with the needs of Mountaineering you can better prioritize your training. The Outdoor Athlete book has quite a bit of detail on how to test your levels of fitness for each of the components along with measures that can help you evaluate where you need the most work for your sport.

Additional Training Considerations

Sport Specific Training: If you only train each specific fitness component above separately you will have far less success that if you include sport specific training sessions. As part of your regular training for mountaineering you will want to include activity that closely resembles mountaineering.

In practicality this means finding a way to go up hill with a pack. Good options will include hiking steep outdoor trails, gradually increasing your pack weight on each outing until you are at your target pack weight. If you live where it is relatively flat, go up and down stairs, short hills or train on an inclined treadmill or elliptical or whatever terrain you have access to. For more options read our Flatland Training article. During your training, you should be planning to progressively ramp up your pack weight, duration (time or mileage), and speed of weekly training hikes to give you mountaineering-specific conditioning that cannot be matched by any other sort of training.

Skill: Within your regular training, if your sport requires specific skills, you will need to devote ongoing time to develop and maintain them. For mountaineering and scrambling, such areas requiring skill development might include:

  • Traveling over challenging terrain
  • Ice Axe Arrest
  • Rope Handling skills for rock and snow
  • Rest Step
  • Pressure Breathing
  • General Wilderness skills

Mountaineering Training Program Priorities

The top priority in your training plan should be the mountaineering specific training. Work into your schedule a way you can go uphill with a pack a couple times a week. One time should be a multi hour hike. The other one could be an in town (hill/stairs/gym equipment) hour long pack session. Back to Back Pack Training can be very helpful.

Many people drawn toward mountaineering have a more extensive background in aerobic training rather than strength training. For those people, strength training would be the next priority. Full body strength training (see mountaineering strength training for more specifics) 2-3 times per week should show noticeable improvements. Adding in 5-6 flexibility movements for areas that tend to get tight following the strength will be beneficial. For individuals that lack normal range of motion 4-6 stretching sessions may be needed.

Finally, add in non-pack aerobic training. Modes of training where you are supporting your body weight on your feet (elliptical, inclined treadmill, step mill, running, etc.) will have more carryover than other modes. One weekly interval training session can be helpful especially for higher altitude climbs.

Below are pages that will go into greater detail of the items discussed here and will help you develop your own training program.

Program Development Specifics
Back to Back Training
Flatland Training
Increasing Hiking Speed
Intervals for High Altitude
Developing a Strength Program for Alpine Pursuits
Mountaineering Training in City
Mountaineering Cardiovascular Prep
The Alpine Warm-up
Conditioning Needs for Mountaineering

Other Tips
Summit Day Preparation
Why you need to be in better shape than your guide
Tips for Safely Reaching Rainierís Summit
Outdoor Experience: Education You Canít Get From Books
Lofty Ambitions: How to Select Your Next Goal
Train for Mountaineering When Youíre Not in the Mountains
Cardio Training with a Stair Machine




Back to the Mountaineering Training Overview Page



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