Mountaineering is a multidisciplinary umbrella term covering climbing, skiing, and other high-altitude pursuits. It’s not easy to get in shape for such an intense sport.
Fortunately, if you enjoy cycling, you have an advantage because your time spent on a bike helps you work on the necessary focus and muscles. What is the best way to train for mountaineering with cycling?
The best way to train for mountaineering with cycling is to work on uphill cycling, downhill trail riding, and endurance. Combining these 3 disciplines will help you gain cardiovascular strength while also working all the necessary muscles for tackling a high-altitude mountain and other related climbing activities that fall under the mountaineering umbrella. Biking is an incredible full-body workout.
To see all of my up-to-date recommendations for bikes and cycling gear, check out this resource that I made for you!
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Is Cycling Good For Mountaineering
Cycling is good for mountaineering. Both of these sports require high levels of cardiovascular health, excellent endurance, strength building, and a lot of focus to accomplish.
Unlike casual, leisure riding, serious cycling will help you gain power and overall muscle, which you’ll need if you plan to take your love of sports up a mountain.
From lower oxygen levels to cold conditions, mountaineering is intense. However, so are some forms of cycling.
Uphill rides, downhill mountain bike trails, and endurance riding are all examples of ways you can take your bike skills and use them as part of a training regimen for other sports, like climbing, bouldering, and skiing you will do while mountaineering.
How To Train For Mountaineering
Let’s dive into three of the best types of cycling that will help you train for mountaineering.
By choosing the specific styles of riding based on their overall benefits, you can tailor your regular rides to be part of your mountaineering goals.
Below, I’ve laid out which three types of cycling you need and the benefits of each one.
1 – Endurance Road Cycling
Endurance riders often opt to find a like-minded peloton group.
However, whether you ride with friends or go alone, the workout involved in maintaining your pace and traveling over significant distances will help you do more than work your muscles.
Just as sprinting is different from running marathons, endurance riding focuses more on slow-twitch muscle fiber building.
As Healthline describes them, “Fast-twitch muscles use up a lot of energy very quickly, then get tired (fatigued) and need a break. Intensity and duration. Slow-twitch muscle fibers power low-intensity activities. This is because they need a steady, even supply of energy.”
You will need a steady supply of energy to pursue mountaineering.
2 – Downhill Mountain Biking
If you have never been downhill mountain biking, it’s easy to be dismissive of this focused sport.
After all, you sit on wheels, and the gravity does the rest, or so it appears. In reality, a downhill MTB trail is anything but simple.
You ride in a standing position, getting a full-body workout, and every slight movement matters.
Downhill mountain bike trails are no joke. They are packed with drops, jumps, rugged terrain, and other challenges that require focus and split-second timing.
You need all your mental energy even when the descents are relatively short, and you’ll get more of a core and arm workout than you might expect.
3 – Uphill Cycling
I don’t need to tell you that riding uphill is challenging or go on at length about how much muscle it builds.
Those are significant benefits for your health and mountaineering goals. However, I would like to point out the other major part of uphill cycling: the cardio aspect.
Uphill bike riding (at speed) is one of the fastest and most effective exercises to reduce high blood pressure and build up heart muscle.
As Heart.org points out, “At higher altitudes – any place 9,840 feet above sea level or higher – the heart needs more oxygen-rich blood, even at rest. Activities at higher altitudes such as skiing, hiking, bicycling, or climbing can place too much stress on the heart and blood vessels due to lower oxygen levels and fluctuations in air pressure, temperature, and humidity.”
In short, you need superb cardiovascular health for mountaineering, and you can get that by biking uphill.
Strength Training For Mountaineering
Before you begin strength training for mountaineering, you need to understand how this and most other strength training work.
The biggest mistake most people make is going ham and trying to work out every day of the week.
Start with just two days, and make sure you have a minimum of 24 hrs between workouts so your muscles can rest and build.
Though it’s hard to understand at first, exercise makes your muscles weaker by tearing microscopic rips in the tissue.
It’s the rest period where you build new muscle tissue and actually get stronger. The list below covers three ways to work out for the strength you will need.
1 – The 3 “Ups”
A great place to start for most new aspiring mountaineers is with the 3 ‘ups,’ that’s pushups, pullups, and step-ups (or reverse step-ups).
Not only are these three essential strength-building exercises, but they are all relatively easy to achieve with little equipment and no experience.
Plus, these three activities train your body to resist its own weight, so they’re automatically tailored to your specific needs.
If you don’t have a block for stepping up, any reasonably proportioned staircase can substitute, or even a curb.
Likewise, if you don’t own a chin-up bar, most parks, gyms, and even kids’ playgrounds (after hours or on weekends) will have the equipment you need.
You can increase the difficulty with arm or leg weights or a weighted vest for a more intense workout.
2 – Squat and Lift
Squats help you build your quads. This is a simple bodyweight exercise that you can add difficulty to using a weighted bar later.
Remember to focus more on your posture and form than the number of reps at first. This goes for all exercises.
Fitness will come in time, but it takes more effort and focus on doing things right, so you aren’t wasting time or risking injuries.
Standing leg lifts will work your hamstrings. Like every strength training exercise here, you can increase the difficulty over time.
In this case, you’ll need a resistance band to up your game, but please start simple.
Finally, deadlifts and other free weight exercises will help you build overall muscle, tone up, and increase your endurance.
The endurance part is especially vital because mountaineering typically means moving uphill a fair distance to where the air is thinner.
More endurance will allow you to keep going when you usually need to stop because of the lower oxygen levels.
3 – Don’t Forget Your Core and More
Although I already recommended situps, it would be best to add to your core workout.
Crunches are a great option and lower impact on your back. Other options include hanging leg raises and Decline Bench Russian Twists.
Lastly, you’re going to want to work on your cycling form and endurance riding. It’s most vital to focus on your uphill and downhill skills.
These are very different styles of bicycle riding, so you should train for both. Moreover, you may want to throw in some time working on off-roading and consider riding a fat-tire bike in winter to get a grasp on frozen-road riding techniques.
Mountaineering Exercises At Home
Preparing for a mountaineering trip is serious business, but it’s not all about getting outside and riding.
There are plenty of exercises you can do at home to help you with your cycling and mountaineering goals.
Below I’ve collected a few simple exercises you can do in the house to help keep you moving when it’s not a good day for a ride.
1 – Stationary Bikes
An indoor stationary bike is a simple and effective way to ensure you get your rides in daily no matter what it looks like outside.
A good stationary bike has adjustable levels of difficulty. Some even offer features like heart monitoring and distance trackers so you can stay on top of your workouts even when it’s pouring rain.
2 – Yoga
Yes, I said yoga. Stretching is something anyone planning to exercise should be working on anyway.
By spending time doing a 20-30 minute yoga routine, you can work on your breathing and relaxation and get your muscles ready for more intense activities.
In addition to the physical stretches, yoga helps you clear your mind and focus, which you need for cycling and mountaineering.
3 – Balance Training
There are a million ways to work on your balance at home. Use a balance board or a balance ball if you prefer, or you can stand on one leg.
Whether you choose to use equipment or simply do bodyweight and standalone balancing, it will help you stay stable on a bike or a mountain.
Mountaineering Training Courses
Although you can find a few indoor mountaineering courses covering some of the basic introductory knowledge, serious mountaineering courses take place on actual mountains.
These intense classes address skiing, water ice climbing, avalanche education, rock climbing, and even repelling, among other mountaineering skills.
Most schools that provide this training offer different courses for each topic, and some even provide beginner and advanced versions of these subjects. There’s no substitute for experience.
Below is a quick list of links for some places that teach outdoor mountaineering courses.
- American Alpine Institute – The Alpine Institute offers a full suite of classes from the beginning and intermediate mountaineering to Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership.
- Apex Mountain School – From Avalance education to backcountry hut trips and more, Apex offers a long list of outdoor classes to train for everything from survival to climbing.
- Colorado Mountain School – This school offers a one-day course on basic climbing and mountaineering skills like using your ice axe and walking as a roped team. Once you’ve completed the first course, they offer more advanced classes.
Helpful Tips To Know About Cycling For Mountaineering
Riding a bike may not seem like it would help you ski or climb frozen rocks, but you have to look under the surface to see the benefits. On closer inspection, these two sports are surprisingly similar.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about cycling for mountaineering.
- When cycling for mountaineering, it’s essential to push a little harder. Obviously, I don’t mean you should overwork your body, and you should never take unnecessary risks. However, focussing on things like posture, breathing, and keeping a steady pace isn’t going to cut it. You have to push yourself to the maximum safe level to truly use your cycling workouts as a way to train for mountaineering.
- Like cycling, you need unique clothing and equipment to get the most out of your mountaineering experience. However, also like cycling, once you make the initial investment, there’s only a little bit of upkeep to worry about, which makes both of these sports cost-effective and highly challenging.
- Risk management is essential for cycling and mountaineering. Just as you should always take the time to learn how to crash a bike properly, you need to take the safety classes seriously when mountaineering. Gear maintenance and inspections are no joke whether you’re hurtling down a mountain on wheels or climbing to the top of a frigid peak.
Like cycling, mountaineering is a multidisciplinary umbrella term covering various sports and outdoor hobbies.
Whatever your mountaineering goals are, you’ll need to train hard to achieve them.
From stretching and balance to the three ‘ups’ and more, cycling is only part of what you need to learn mountaineering, but it can be a big part.
By adding cycling to your training regimen, you can help build fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers, work on your focus and improve your cardiovascular health so you can (literally) climb mountains.