How to train for the mountains

25 July 2017 by
First published: 4 August 2017

Adventure on the horizon? We help you prepare with our guide to how to train for the mountains.

With more races on the racing calendar than ever and the rise of runners taking it off-road, there’s certainly a trend to chase the trails. Maybe it’s for the awesome views, clean mountain air or the all-over body workout that road racing simply can’t deliver, but let’s just say that it’s currently hip to head into the wild.

But as with all things exercise-related, it can be difficult to know how to adapt your training to suit those tricky trails. Or how to tackle tough terrain or even mountains when you live in a concrete jungle. But don’t despair! We’ve pulled together a few tips on how to train for the mountains when you’re not lucky enough to have them on your doorstep.

Be smart

Make sure your training plan is geared towards your main goal. You wouldn’t train for a road marathon by just lifting weights, so don’t train to go off-road by just running track. Chamonix may not be in your backyard but you can find smart ways of adapting training to get your race fit. As Emily Ackner, personal trainer and Never Stop London community (of The North Face) coach highlights: ‘Generic training may help you to achieve good baseline fitness and strength levels, but will only get you so far when you enter a more challenging environment like the mountains. This requires a specific set of movement skills and muscle strengths. Try to identify these (with the guidance of a professional if necessary) and train with focus.’

Feet first

It’s not just the trails that you have to adapt to. The trails take a hell of a lot longer than a road race to conquer so prepare yourself well. This means spending more time on your feet. ‘As city folk, we habitually sit on our bums too much,’ says Emily. ‘This can exacerbate and even cause a host of issues, tightening and weakening the hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes… the main collection of muscles that should power and drive us up and down the mountain.’ We’re not saying you need to move every waking moment of your day, just make a few simple changes to build up strength. Make sure you head out at lunch for a walk (or even a quick run). Swapping the bus ride for a walk. The key is to keep your body moving forwards and work on building strength every day.

Consistent training

Don’t kid yourself, you’re not going to get there overnight. Instead, plan your training into your weekly routine. And wait for the race to ‘go hard or go home’ – taking on too much too soon could end up in injury. Set out your training plan on a weekly basis so you have room to gradually increase your work little by little.

Get outdoors

There’s no reason you can’t escape the city for a practise run before your big trip. ‘London’s Green Belt and beyond has exciting terrain only a stone’s throw away that can replicate, albeit on a smaller scale, the environment you’ll encounter,’ suggests Emily. ‘These trips are a great opportunity to not only test out the body, but also kit (breaking in new walking boots, trainers, climbing shoes in advance is a must).’

Step up

You may not have access to mountains but you can probably find some stairs somewhere. Walk up them, jump up them, run up them, do whatever you can to get used to the motion of climbing up and down. If you do happen to live in London, try out the VersaClimber at Sweat by BXR London, Marylebone. This all-over body high-intensity classes target a range of muscles with almost zero impact and involves a whole lot of stepping.

Take to the hills

‘Big hills are daunting when you don’t know how your body will cope with the challenge, so do everything you can to eliminate the element of surprise,’ advises Emily. This means finding some hills to run up (and down). Not only will this get you into the mindset of what you may be faced with and help you jump over some mental hurdles, you’ll also know what it feels like to run on tired legs. And if you do get the chance, head out before the race to acclimatise if you’re challenge is above 1,000m. Altitude training may even help with endurance as Dr Abosede Ajayi of A2Z Elite Health & Performance ( suggests: ‘Low oxygen levels in air at this level mean body has to work harder to take on oxygen. This in turn stimulates blood cell formation and other adaptations which are beneficial for endurance.’

Find the right kit

If you’re out for hours on end, it’s important to buy kit fit for the journey. Swap your road shoes for a decent pair of trail shoes, a waterproof pair (the Flight Series from The North Face is worth a look), compression socks (such as 1000 mile socks) and a rucksack or running vest are essential  – the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 8 is pricey but one of the best around).

Get involved

Ultimately, you will be competing alone and so training alone can make sense. But it’s also worth finding a group to train with to keep you motivated along the way. ‘It’s amazing what fun a bit of peer pressure can get you signed up for,’ says Emily. For specific mountain training, it’s worth trying Never Stop London’s weekly sessions. Running twice a week from their Regent’s Street and Covent Garden stores, the trainers encourage community members to challenge themselves and progress in a safe and fun outdoor environment. Head over to the Facebook page for more info on how to sign up for training and future events that may be happening near you.

Photo credit: Never Stop London/Jack Atkinson