One way to stay in peak climbing fitness in the off season and winter months is to use other activities and cross train. When it comes to aerobic training four of my favorite activities are to incorporate running, swimming, biking, and snowshoeing. Ideally you want to keep a strong level of mountain fitness year round. I strive to stay in good enough shape so I can climb my average size mountain at a moments notice.

Conditioning in the off season works best if you have defined goals to stay focused, if you enjoy running sign up for a half or full marathon. Although it can be hard to find triathlons during the winter months, signing up for one that takes place in the spring gives you a goal to work up to during the winter and you’ll be in good shape at the beginning of the climbing season. Cross training like swimming, running, and biking are good to prevent boredom and reduce injury by not putting too much stress on the same body part. They also work different muscles and allow for variety in your aerobic activity. Swimming is great for increasing lung capacity while running is a good impact exercising and most related to climbing and descending, biking helps develop leg strength and cardio thresholds.

If you haven’t done a triathlon before start off with a sprint distance. If you have a strong base and are in good shape you can just go for an Olympic distance triathlon. Sprint distances are suitable for beginners or and those getting in shape for smaller mountaineering and backpacking endeavors. They also work well for athletes wanting to experience their first triathlon.

Olympic distance is a step up, the more common race distances among elite athletes. Typically includes over a mile swim, half marathon run, and 56 mile bike.

Here’s what I recommend to start a training plan for your first Sprint Triathlon.


If your swimming is your weakest discipline, then the more time you can spend in the pool, then the greater your confidence will become in achieving your goal. Swimming requires little equipment, a swimsuit, goggles, swim cap and a pool. If you want to increase your lung capacity it’s best to do the crawl stroke and limit your breaths to every 3 strokes, breath deeply and exhale completely. Aim to swim about 3 times per week.

With each week bump up the numbe r of each rep by 1, till you can swim 1000-1400 meters continuously in less than 30 minutes a few weeks before your race.

For more detailed information view the swimming article on improving lung capacity.

Cycling is something I like to train with friends and fellow climbers. You don’t need the latest expensive bike but you shouldn’t scrimp on safety especially a good ANSI approved Helmut. The distance depends on your fitness levels, goals, and your race distance. You should aim to bike 2 - 3 times per week, varying your distances, terrain, and routes. Hills are great to build leg strength, cycle the approximate distance of your race twice per week. Don’t be afraid to go out in the winter where you have to battle the wind and get used to conditions in the wilderness. Do be careful on wet roads. If the weather makes roads unsafe you can cycle indoors through a spinning, cycle Reebok, or other class. Or just cycle on a stationary in front of the TV.

Here’s a bike fitness plan for a beginner:

You can plan your bike route by going to the google pedometer in tools the tab.


The gear needed for running is a good pair of trainers, especially because it’s a high impact activity. Make sure to stretch before and after your run. Vary your speed and distance, I prefer to run outdoors even in the snow.

Here’s a basic beginner running plan for a sprint triathlon:

As you develop a good base start to combine activities like Swimming and Biking or Biking and Running on weekdays and Swim, Run, Bike on a weekend. Add in a one to two days of rest per week.

For more detailed and advanced training I recommend you use a heart rate monitor and follow something similar to the basic mountaineering fitness plan.

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