Setting Fitness Goals, by John Colver

John’s ideas on outdoor fitness training keep the hard work of fitness training fun & manageable! He sports a long history of athletic endeavors, including a very recent bike ride across the country and past employment as a professional mountain guide! In addition to a strong fitness background, he presents fitness information in an articulate and thoughtful manner. He has recently completed “Fit By Nature,” a guide which encourages fitness through practice & training out of doors. Enjoy John’s contribution to this blog!

“I enjoy training and coaching for mountaineering more than any other sport. Why? It’s a very serious business up there and mistakes can be costly. Here are some thoughts which I hope will help with creating a successful plan.

We’ll do many sports and activities in our lives. I’ve run marathons, competed in Ironman triathlons, played rugby & soccer. I’ve fenced, I’ve played tennis, I even rode my bike across the country this year. So what’s different about mountaineering? It’s one of few times in my life where I have to keep going, because when as tired as a person could get, there are no aid stations and no medical tent. You can’t bail out even if you want to! If I don’t train to the level required; there could be some negative consequences for me and my teammates.

How to decide the type of training

So how do I know I’ll be ready? I replicate as close as possible the type of effort that I’ll be required to do on the expedition. And I keep things simple by creating two training goals — a primary and a secondary goal.

In mountain climbing the primary requirement is to be able to walk, hike and climb for a long time. Rarely is an effort shorter than five hours and rarely does it go longer than 14 hours.

The second fitness requirement is to have the necessary strength to do things like pick up and carry my rucksack all day, to shovel snow, put up a tent, get someone out of a crevasse, and climb steep terrain using both legs and arms/hands. So I don’t want to be left short in this area.

Planning the primary goal

The first thing I do in training is to plan my primary goal activity. I’ve trained before for mountain climbing and I know it takes me about *10 long hikes to be ready for a big climb. And I train progressively. I might start with an 8-mile or 4-hour hike and build up to a 14-mile or 8-hour hike. So I’ll block that time out. It could be one long hike per week or two per week but I will find a way to do that number because I know it will work for me. I’ll also do shorter hikes or even stair climbing in the middle of the week – however I will not sacrifice my primary goal activity. In other words – doubling up on the shorter sessions won’t take the place of my long hike.

Because an expedition requires hiking on multiple days, I will plan two or three ‘mini expeditions’, perhaps at month intervals before the trip – this could be a weekend backpacking trip or it could be a decision to do long hikes for three or four consecutive days. However, I will not do this every week because if I do I’ll risk overtraining. I want to know I’ll be ready but I don’t want to be injured or exhausted before the expedition. I have a friend who walked around Lake Washington for preparation for a Kilimanjaro climb. 70 miles in four days. She stayed in motels and ate at restaurants. It’s different from backpacking, but my friend didn’t feel that she had the experience to go backpacking alone. I admire the creative approach. It achieved the primary goal and it was an adventure in itself!

* I’ve trained over 300 people to climb Mount Rainier and many other people to climb the seven summits. Assuming proper self care and a good overall training plan, I have never seen anyone fail who did 10 long hikes in a 90 day period before the climb. Could I get by with less? I could, but why take the chance? I want to know that I have what it takes to climb up and down the mountain so for me and my climbing team, I make sure I get those 10 hikes on the calendar.

Planning the secondary goal

For my secondary goal, I will build strength in two ways. First, I’ll do stair climbing, stair-master or uphill walking two or three times per week. Second, I’ll do cross training either every day for 20 minutes or two longer sessions such as a circuit training class. I’ve also observed many people successfully build the necessary strength for expedition climbing by doing activities such as yoga, kick boxing, body pump, cross-fit, or by working out with a personal coach. Given the technical nature of the Carstensz climb, it would be appropriate to plan some visits to the local climbing gym to build rock-climbing-specific strength and skill.

My weekly breakdown will look like this.

  • Saturday – Long hike
  • Sunday – Rest
  • Monday – 45 – 90 minutes stair workout and 20 minutes strength workout
  • Tuesday – Shorter hike or other activity (cycling, running) and 20 minutes strength workout
  • Wednesday – Circuit training or 45 minutes stair workout.
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Cross training or circuit training workout.


I live in Seattle today. We have hills and hikes everywhere for training. However, I used this program to train for an Aconcagua Climb while living in London. My Sunday hike was downtown through parks and streets, taking a break for lunch, meeting friends for coffee and walking home. All with a small pack with a 20 lb. weight. I wore my jeans and street clothes. For my mid-week workouts, I’d use stairs and hills in parks. One time when the weather was foul, I walked up and down the stairs at a tube station for five hours, listening to an audio book and taking breaks at Starbucks. Was it fun? It was OK – but it was my primary goal and nothing was going to stop me from completing it. One exception to changing my hike goal has been to occasionally substitute a long hike for a long bike ride. Bike riding is a good form of cross training because it trains the aerobic system and it builds the lower core muscles that are used in expedition climbing

Three biggest mistakes I see in training:

  1. Primary goal doesn’t get done.
  2. Secondary goal doesn’t get enough attention.
  3. Too much attention is paid to tertiary details.

My experience is that time flies when an expedition is looming. It is easy to let things slide. To ensure success, keep it simple. Make the most important training, the most important thing, and you’ll be well on your way towards a successful expedition.”


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