Mountain Fitness Levels , Technical Levels and Training Advice
It goes without saying that arriving fit and well prepared is important if you want to get the most out of your climbing holiday – and it is often essential for success.
The 5 fitness levels we use are designed to give you an idea of how active you need to be during the 2-3 months prior to your trip in order to be well prepared. You don’t need to be an athlete, but you do need to be active and healthy (for our harder trips, some regular training will be neccesary). To complement the fitness levels, 5 Technical Levels are also used to describe the minimum technical/ability requirements for each trip (both of these levels are present on each trip page, and in summary here).
Checking Your Fitness
To check out how mountain fit you are, we suggest you get away for a weekend early in this period and do a couple of long mountain days to see how you get on. Apart from being the ideal excuse to go and have some fun, it should help with your preparation and give you a good idea how much work you may still need to do.
If you want some professional help to assess your strength and fitness levels and plan a suitable personalized training program, then we’d advise getting in touch with Graeme Woodward and the team at Optimize Fitness, who are experts in this field and work with mountaineers, as well as a range of athletes in mountain running, cycling and numerous team sports. Graeme is a great communicator and super knowledgeable guy who works with people at all levels of sport, so if you are bit daunted by the prospect of getting fit for your upcoming trip, then we’d thoroughly recommend you get in contact with him for a chat!
Power to Weight Ratio
Mountaineers come in all shapes and sizes – big, small, young and old! – but clearly the sport involves going uphill for several hours a day, so your body weight has a big effect on the amount of effort it takes to reach the top. Therefore, if you are carrying a few extra pounds, then losing as much of this as possible in the run up to your trip will have the single biggest effect on how much you enjoy the ascents.
NB With good strength and technique, it’s possible to climb at an indoor climbing wall pretty well whilst being somewhat overweight – but as soon as you start marching uphill for hours on end, this no longer applies…
If you are new to mountaineering, then we cannot emphasize enough the importance of not being significantly overweight: if you are a stone overweight (7-8kg/15lb) then you will find the trip a lot harder and if you don’t have a solid background in endurance sports, you are likely to struggle. If you are more than 12kg/25lb overweight then you may manage some shorter ascents, especially if using cable cars for access, but you stand almost no chance of completing a major ascent like Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn. So if you know you need to lose a bit of weight, then start right away and you’ll reap the rewards!
Which Type Of Exercise?
The best preparation for mountain sports always involves good amounts of cardiovascular exercise (hillwalking, running, cycling, mountain biking etc) and getting out for long days in the hills whenever possible. We’ve noticed that people who always train indoors are never as mountain fit as those who regularly get their boots or trainers muddy. So unfortunately it seems that running on a treadmill just isn’t as good for you as doing the real thing – ie to get hill fit, get outdoors as much as you can.
As you are training for an endurance sport, at least one of your sessions each week needs to be long – ie working hard for 2hrs duration or more – in order to build up the stamina that you will need. The longer you can make this session the better (eg 3-4hrs or more, rather than just 90 minutes, which isn’t long enough).
Cardiovascular team sports (eg football, rugby, hockey etc) and racket sports (eg squash) are also good forms of training if you enjoy playing hard. These have the advantage that you usually have a regular slot for doing them, so it tends to actually happen!
Don’t forget to read the trip descriptions carefully to find out what else is involved too, so you can tailor your preparation accordingly – eg if you are off on an expedition or a week of alpine climbing, then a few days spent climbing in the mountains with your rucsac on wouldn’t go amiss, whereas for a technical rock or ice trip then some regular visits to the local crag or climbing wall are advised, to develop your specific climbing fitness.
Finding Time To Train
Ok – so you’ve decided you need to get fit for the trip. The first thing to do is take a look at the required fitness levels for your chosen holiday – this will give you a guideline as to the amount of weekly cardiovascular exercise you should be doing during the 2-3 months leading up to your trip.
Once you’ve got this, take a look at your weekly routine and look for places where you may be able to find the time to train. Running or cycling to work a couple of times a week, training on a lunchtime etc are all places where you may be able to fit a good exercise session in without affecting other commitments.
The best way to keep it up is to organise a regular group of friends to do sport with each week, or join a club in order to train with other people. That way you’ll have a commitment to turn out each week, as well as enjoying the social aspects of sport as well.
All of our alpine trips involve an acclimatisation climb at the start of the week, but everyone responds to altitude in different ways and personal speeds of acclimatisation vary widely between individuals. Past experience is a fair indicator – so if you have coped Ok at altitude before eg. on a previous alpine trip, Kilimanjaro, or on a high altitude trek, then this should be good news. Conversely, if you have had problems or been slow to acclimatise before, then you definitely need to come out early, in order to pre acclimatise before the week starts – please contact us for further advice about this.
Tech Level 1
Hillwalker/scrambler. You have UK hillwalking and perhaps summer UK scrambling, or European via ferrata experience – but no rock or ice climbing, or previous alpine mountaineering experience.
Tech Level 2
Novice climber. Indoor or outdoor sport climbing experience / seconding traditionally protected climbs at V Diff – Severe standard / winter hillwalking or mountaineering using an ice axe and crampons / alpine glacier treks or alpine peaks to F standard.
Tech Level 3
Intermediate climber. Leading single or multi pitch trad rock climbs at Severe – VS / ice climbing experience seconding routes to Scottish grade 2 – 3 / familiar with multipitch abseil descents / alpine peaks at PD – easy AD standard.
Tech Level 4
Experienced climber. Leading multi pitch trad rock climbs at VS – HVS / multi pitch winter climbs to Scottish grade 4 / alpine peaks at AD – D standard. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have extensive experience seconding at this standard.
Tech Level 5
Very experienced climber. Regularly lead multipitch E1+ trad rock / ice and mixed routes at Scottish 5+ or WI5 / alpine routes at grade D and above. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have very extensive experience climbing at this level.
MOUNTAIN FITNESS LEVELS
Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of training/cardiovascular sport per week. Eg: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs.
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hour hillwalk, cycling 30 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. Eg: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs.
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hour hillwalk, 50 mile cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. Eg: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted.
Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance.
Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable.