Mountain Madness helps you define your goals and create a plan to get there.
Our programs accommodate all; whether a first-time beginner climber, someone seeking a once-in-a-lifetime climb of Kilimanjaro or a trek to Everest base camp, or a climber with their sights set on Mount Everest.
The journey to your goal begins with the first, initial vision to get out on the adventure, to experience life at its fullest. This is followed closely by “how do I get ready?” Below you’ll find some fundamental strategies and concepts of how to both physically and mentally prepare.
Tip: Hire a trainer that has climbing or trekking experience. May we suggest Everest and K2 summiteer Lisa Thompson and Alpine Athletics. See “working with a trainer” below.
The best words of advice we can give you for preparing for your trip are these: train for endurance! Whether you are joining Mountain Madness on a trek or climb, a focus on endurance training will serve you well. This does not require hours and hours of intense cardiovascular work but merely several weekends where you are putting some time in at the gym, the local trails or even stadium stairs. We’re talking 6 – 8 hours a day of exercise for a couple of consecutive days. The rest of the time during the week, the regular hour or so, you’re maintaining your base and building strength that’s specific to your mountain goal.
Some basic suggestions to build on may include the following:
- Walking hills and stairs with a pack on, gradually increase the weight until it is 5% more than what you expect to carry on your climb. Later you can add full water containers for the way up and dump the water for the way down to preserve the knees.
- Supplementing your regular gym workouts with strength-building exercises that simulate your movement on the mountain. Usually this means adding weighted box steps, walking lunges or other exercises that involve one-legged propulsion.
- Mixing it up is a great way to avoid injury so work in some running, cycling, swimming racquet sports, basketball, etc. for added aerobic conditioning.
- Looking for ways to get outdoors and moving, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk to the grocery store.
- Giving yourself at least one recovery day per week, and pay attention to how your feel, give yourself a break if you’re beat. You’ll do more harm than good by working out when you’re exhausted.
- Working with a trainer — see below.
Mountain sports require more than strength and cardio fitness though, so spending time preparing mentally will pay off when you’re having a tough day on the mountain. So will taking the time to be sure your gear is dialed. And listening to your body.
What are you training for?
The Incas of ancient Peru dealt with the topographic challenge of their steep, convoluted landscape by building stairs. For Inca Trail trekkers this means “Stairmaster” is your friend. The four day Inca Trail trek includes two relatively easy days of 4 – 6 hours of trekking, but the other two serve up 2,000 – 3,0000-feet of both ascent and descent, some on steep staircases that will burn up your quads if they are not trained for consecutive days of Inca-style walking. Combine Stairmaster with some long walks over several weekends and you’re good to go. For Everest Base Camp and Kilimanjaro trekkers it means having the energy left to ascend the 18,450-foot Kala Pattar or getting up the 3,000-foot climb of the Western Breach on Kilimanjaro, both challenges at over 18,000-feet and after many days of trekking. It’s all about endurance.
The majestic Mount Baker in the North Cascades may not seem that tall when you arrive at the trailhead, but it’s deceptive. From your first step toward the summit you will have more than 7,000-feet of elevation gain and descent to cover over three days. Not insurmountable by any means, but it’s not 18-holes of golf either! For the classic West Ridge of Forbidden, it’s not the approach that will get you, it’s the almost 6,000-foot descent after the climb back to the car that will have your legs screaming — it’s all about endurance and preparing mentally for the challenges ahead of you!
You’ve just put in more than a week moving loads up Aconcagua, we’re talking 40 – 50 pounds of gear up 2,000+ feet. These are days that you are working hard at altitude for 5 – 8 hours. There are a couple of rest days in the itinerary to recover, but at altitude your body never recovers fully. Next up summit day! Are you ready for the nearly 4,000-foot climb, 10 – 15 hour day on the go at almost 23,000-feet? We can ensure you will be oxygen deprived, slightly dehydrated, super excited,
and tired. Are you ready for this? If you’ve been endurance training, have your gear dialed and are mentally strong, you will be.
One of the greatest benefits of mountain climbing and trekking is that you will learn things about your strength and resilience that you might not have known before. The mountain will challenge you in many ways and if you’re prepared, you’ll overcome these challenges with a sense of pride and accomplishment, ready to plan your next adventure!
Whether you’re preparing for a three-day climb of Mt. Baker or a ten-day climb up Kilimanjaro, mountain sports are all about endurance, you’ll rely on your legs and lungs to preform many thousands of repetitions, often while carrying a backpack at altitude. There aren’t any short cuts, to building endurance, it takes time and dedication. The good news is that the formula for building endurance is well understood and has been applied to athletes for decades.
The key is to follow a plan that builds a solid aerobic base, then builds strength that’s specific to your mountain adventure, and finally combines the two by creating muscular endurance. This three-phase process of building fitness will gradually train your body physiologically by programming your muscle fibers to perform at a high level for many consecutive hours. Your training plan should steadily build upon itself in order to guard against injury and should be continuous, beginning 4 – 9 months before you head to the mountains.
As a mountain athlete, one important thing to remember is that your training plan should be specific to your goal. For example, the demands for a Mt. Baker climb via the Easton glacier are different than the demands of Mount Logan or Denali’s west buttress, which are different than the demands of an Mt. Everest base camp trek. Throughout your whole training process, be sure to listen to your body. Rest when you’re tired. Don’t push through an injury. Giving yourself time to recover will help to avoid injury and ensure you’re getting the most out of the time you put into training.
Let’s get started!
First, build aerobic capacity. Plan to focus on building your aerobic capability for at least two months. This is foundational work that is often overlooked for more exciting stuff like weight lifting, don’t worry that’ll come later. Building your aerobic capacity can feel monotonous and at times even easy. Remember that it’s necessary in order to train your heart and lungs for what you’ll demand of them on your trip. And, putting in the work now means that your long days in the mountains will be more enjoyable.
A typical week would look like:
- 3 days of moderate intensity aerobic training for 45 – 60 minutes, prioritize weight-bearing activities like running, cross country skiing and hiking, but mix in some biking and swimming
- 1 day of longer but still moderate intensity training like a two-hour run or four-hour hike or repeats on stairs
- 1 day of general strength and core work
- 1 recovery day where you focus on stretching, yoga, foam rolling
- 1 well-deserved rest day
Next, building strength. If you love long days in the gym, you’ll enjoy this part of your training plan. Be sure to focus on the muscles that you’ll rely on during your mountain adventure. For example, you don’t need to do a dozen pull-ups to climb Mt. Rainier’s Disappointment Clever route, but you do need to be able to walk up hill with a heavy backpack. Be creative if the gym isn’t your jam. Find a local obstacle course and run through it once a week for 90 minutes with a light pack or spend a couple of hours on Saturday doing laps at the stadium of your local high school with a weighted backpack. Plan to build strength for a couple of months while maintaining the aerobic fitness that you already have. A sample week should include:
- 2 days of 60 – 90 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic work for maintenance, mix in some intervals once a month or so if you’re also interested in improving your speed for a climb like the Matterhorn
- 2 days of strength training like walking lunges and step-ups/downs, add some upper body pulling exercises like lat pulls and pull-ups if your climb will involve rock climbing or scrambling, add tire drags if you’re headed to Denali or Vinson
- 1 multi-hour day carrying a backpack while hiking or doing laps on stairs
- 1 day of core work
- 1 rest day
Finally, muscular endurance. This is where it all comes together! The final 2 ‑3 months of your training plan should combine the first two phases; you will train your muscles to perform at a high level for many repetitions often while under the stress of added weight. As the date of your mountain adventure approaches, your workouts will be tougher but putting in the hard work now will make your days in the mountains much more enjoyable. During this phase of preparation, you’ll do many (like, hundreds!) of repetitions of simple exercises (like squats) that will build the capability for the muscles you’ll rely on in the mountains to perform for multiple hours on back-to-back days. Carrying weight during your muscular endurance sessions isn’t critical, it’s all about repetition while maintaining good form. A typical week should include:
- 2 days of 90 minutes of low intensity aerobic work for maintenance
- 1 muscular endurance day, followed by 1 rest day, stick to body weight if you’re trekking, or add up to 10% of your body weight if you’re prepping for Denali
- 1 – 2 days of hiking or laps on stairs with a backpack that’s 5% heavier than your pack will be during your trip.
- 1 rest day
- 1 strength day for maintenance
Working with a Trainier
Two things about training; 1) success and enjoyment of your adventure depends on a lot of things, but one thing is for sure, the more focused you are on training, the better results you will get, and 2) you can make training as complicated or as simple as you like. But, ultimately, working with a trainer helps motivate you, provides structure to your workout, and can help you end up with better results and without injury.
A professional trainer can take the guess work out of preparing for your next mountain adventure. A trainer should understand the rigors and challenges of your goal, whether it’s Mount Rainier or a trek to Everest Base Camp. Your trainer should assess your fitness and skills relative to your goal and then tailor a progressive plan, keep you accountable and be sure that you’re not over-training.
Mountain Madness works with Lisa Thompson and her company Alpine Athletics. Lisa has reached the summit of Everest and K2, among other big mountains, has climbed six of the Seven Summits and has extensive experience in the Cascades — she knows what it takes to get ready. In our resource section you can find other alternatives for trainers. But, if you decide to work with Lisa, she will contact you and gather information and complete a fitness assessment to develop the best plan based on your trip objective, regardless of whether it’s a trek or a climb of Everest. Read an interview with Lisa here.
Once your customized plan is established, Lisa will do the following:
- Review daily workout and provide feedback: after you complete each workout, Lisa will review data like heart rate, pace, intensity and fatigue to be sure you’re getting the most out of each training session
- Help build mental toughness: mountain sports demand more than physical fitness, Lisa will help you work through any concerns you have about your next adventure; are you worried that you’ll be cold? slow? fighting with a heavy backpack? Lisa will help you develop plans for these potential obstacles so that you’re confident and mentally strong while you’re adventuring
- Gear assessment and recommendations: having your gear dialed is an important part of efficiency in the mountains. Lisa will work with you to assess everything in your backpack and ensure that you’re maximizing your gear and only carrying the essentials as outlined in the Mountain Madness equipment list for your trip.