What are people's thoughts on the effectiveness of cycling for mountain and expedition fitness? Seems like it is on the money with cardio and leg work, but how effective is it alone?
These days, living in flatland (and in corona times), my options are more limited compared to when I was in the UK. Previously, for high altitude, I mixed running, crossfit and mountain biking for my training (with a few multiday hiking trips), which seemed to work pretty well.
However, for the future, I'm trying to improve my year round fitness so its not such a big slog to train each time I want to do a trip. I really dislike running, and it isn't good for my already knackered knees, and crossfit it more tricky with my work schedule and corona restrictions. What are people's thoughts on using just road & mountain biking alone, with the occasional 3 day hiking trip (with 12kg on the back, so some core strength work)? Am I going to be sorely missing out on something for trips like ski touring and climbing? Core and arms (for ski touring) come to mind.
Better than doing nothing.
Slightly less good than running which has more direct crossover due to the similarity of the mechanics ad load bearing nature of it.
Substantially less good than walking up big hills with heavy bag.
I guess the advice is same as Ski touring. Ie not just cycling on the flat but cycling up lots of steep hills for specifity
My mate Nikos was into cycling big time but found it didn't really help getting up big alpine hills. What did help was fast-scrambling up the 'easy way down' the Avon Gorge, just R of Main Wall. It took me about four minutes to scramble up there. Nikos was doing it in 3 minutes with four repeats. It was like speed climbing, in short bursts. He went to the alps and flew up the hills with his guide.
During lockdown I devised my own backyard gym routine, lunges, sit-ups, planks, press-ups, wobbling around on the wobble board, but the thing that did most for my hill-fitness were step-ups, using the step in the back yard and the raised bed. I also did a lot of speed-walking round the pavements where I live. I went into lockdown with a reasonable level of fitness; I came out and did some of my fastest and easiest ascents of hill climbs in the Brecon Beacons, and easier, more efficient flat-walking than before and I'm sure a lot of that was down to the step-ups.
Well hills are unfortunately something I lack 😅 I try to get hiking with my tent in Germany as much as possible, but normally can only go for 3 days with about 20-30km a day with 600-1200m of ascent per day. And thats only once every month or two.
Any ideas on how to improve cycle training on the flat to better replicate going up hill? Perhaps playing with cadence or whatnot... I'm not that knowledgable about cycling.
Literally just doing step ups on a single step, as one might do in crossfit occasionally? Hmmm interesting. Thanks for the advice.
Well actually, doing stepups sounds very boring 😅 But if it works...
In my experience, cycling is good for all round fitness in the mountains and has worked for me for ski touring, alpine etc. I’ve always trained but at a high intensity but for less time, but more often (every day intense 40min or 1 hour sessions or even shorter if harder) if that makes sense! If you have no hills, just go harder/faster and use the same amount of power. If you don’t have gadgets, power meters etc. I think it is easy to tell by just having a regular circuit eg. 10k and then trying to go a for a good lap time eg less than 20mins as a starter. I use Richmond park (which fortunately does have a couple of short sharp hills)
They were basically part of a circuit I set up for myself using the HIIT app on my phone - 50 secs on / 10 secs rest, move on - and I used step-ups of different height. Moving through the 'workstations' in the backyard provided reasonable variety.
I'm sure your mate was fit and enjoyed the Alps but people should remember that fitness is no guarantee of acclimatising well ....indeed, in my experience fit individuals often overdo things when they get to big mountains and a more patient approach is beneficial.
I'm guessing you're looking at doing a load of dead flat miles? Holland? I tihnk it will give you good aerobic base butactively weaken your upper body. Plus it might be that the muscles you use for cycling are wht you use for going uphill, but maybe not.... I would do it - the aerobic base is a big help on skis for example, but I'd be very actively supplementing it with a gym, climbing wall etc. Cycliing alone... no thanks, plus it's stink boring
Luckily I have a local mtb track that gives me a 30min each way road cycle and 30mins per lap (normally just 1 or 2) of intense mtb as its very technical and gets my heart rate up to 180+ the whole time. I always lap time it, so perfect for that.
Wbo2; there is a climbing wall about 45mins away, but haven't found anyone to go with yet, and no formal club. But looking to find a climbing partner at the moment... meeting one for coffee and a climb in 2 weeks (if it will still be open). I've seen the roller skis being used in Germany... curious indeed. Not sure I could bring myself to do that 😅 But for pulk training for my next trip, when my pulk & harness arrive in a week or two, I am going to get a tyre and start tyre pulling... its something that some of the polar explores do as part of their training. Not sure its something I'd want to do year round though. Will see how tedious and/or hilarious it turns out to be.
Thanks for the responses so far everyone. UKC is far more helpful than I remember it to be when I was last on a years ago 😅
A slightly relevant story. A mate & I went out to Arolla from Scotland, set out up Mont Blanc du Cheilon for a first outing, he didn’t suffer unduly but above 3250mm he was almost hauling me up. I felt useless. Difference was he was 2 weeks after finishing a LEJOG so he had been spending 7 - 9 hours a day cycling for several weeks (including training). I was simply averagely fit beforehand, hadn’t had time to do any extra prep.
The following year our roles were reversed, at the Marguerite he was quite ill whereas I was neither up nor down (so to speak
So the bike does help if it’s used as a base fitness tool.
> I'm sure your mate was fit and enjoyed the Alps but people should remember that fitness is no guarantee of acclimatising well ....indeed, in my experience fit individuals often overdo things when they get to big mountains and a more patient approach is beneficial. <
As an aside I've often wondered if swimming without taking frequent breathes would be any help in acclimatization, as it may mean one has lower average oxygen levels to draw on. Probably not. I often swim off rocky shores with a face mask (not the recently fashionable street wear) but no snorkel, as I find swimming and all exercise boring if done without being part of another activity.
Cycling misses the strength element of lifting your body weight up, or breaking it descending. Any staircases you can trek up and down? Or gym wise a Stair Master.
Nordic walking ? never tried it & looks a bit odd but supposed to help keep the upper body fit.
You will not come across a more scathing debunking of the Crossfit/high intensity approach to get fit for the mountains. The core of the book (and Training for the Uphill Athlete) and approach laid out by Scott Johnston, Steve House, Killian et al is that long and slow is the only proven way of building an endurance base and that intensity is only of value when that base is built, and even then to only make up about 5% of the total endurance training time.
look on their forums for plenty of coaching advice about the value of cycling to mountaineers.
Trouble is, if the activity isn't remotely interesting (such as going up and down stairs indoors), I'm unlikely to want to do it regularly. Hence my focus on cycling (in particular mtb, as that has the adrenaline factor and I love to push).
In reply to HammondR:
Well my (limited) experience has shown me otherwise with regards to crossfit, to be honest. A couple of years ago, crossfit formed the major part of my training (followed by running, then mtb to a lesser extent) that managed to turn me from an unfit 20-a-day smoker, who hadn't been up a mountain for over 2 years (stupid I know), to summitting Aconcagua with... only 2 months of training! Literally invited on the self supported trip end of Oct, promptly quit smoking and joined a crossfit gym, and summitted new years day. Admittedly, above 6500m it was tough, but we did summit day from camp 2 in tough conditions and I managed with my wits about me and a smile on my face.
Perhaps some some people respond differently to different things? Obviously the above is far from ideal, and the 2 months of training was tough on my body, but for me it was a miracle change in my fitness in a short time. Of course after that, being the hedonist that I am, I let things slide a little bit... hence my intentions now to not let that happen again and to maintain fitness.
Bear in mind though that if you're unfit and start any sort of training you'll get fitter. Thing is if the type of training isn't very effective you'll hit a plateau quite quickly.
Cycling should be good for your heart and lungs which is good for altitude and good for stamina so long as you put in the miles.
Of course I appreciate that nothing is better than getting miles in the hills loaded up, but just not possible here without a dedicated trip away, so having to make do with what I can at home. I do appreciate your input though and will look into the book.
I liked the attitude of Don Williams who arrived in the Himalayas deliberately overweight and used the walk in to base camp ( presumably with plenty of roll ups too) to get fit.
I think the key is not necessarily the specifics of the training but the general idea that you train regularly. Make training a habit and part of your life and you will get fitter and keep the weight off (if that's a problem, of course!), so you have to find things that you like doing and don't have built in excuses to avoid (such as going to a gym or bad weather or relying on someone else, etc...), and then beast yourself doing them (remembering, of course, to rest and assimilate). Any level of regular training is better than none. There is a lot you can do at home and on your own that will help build and maintain fitness: cardio, core, flexibility. Ask 10 people their opinion and you'll get 10 different answers on the specifics (I won't bore you with my thoughts on this unless you ask) so my advice is to try a few things that you think you'll enjoy and then keep doing the ones that you really do enjoy the most and will do regularly. Good luck!
Have a look at Uphillathlete.com and "Training for the new alpinism".
In my experience, the biggest carryover happens when my cycling consists of huge hill climbs on my track bike. The gearing tends to be on the hard side, so I end up doing the climbs entirely out of the saddle, pushing hard at an RPM of perhaps 50 to 60. Standing up nullifies some of the increased efficiency of cycling over walking, and the high gearing brings in a significant strength element (the above study used seated spinning or flat cycling as the study condition).
Being obliged to pedal downhill at 150 RPM is great cardio too, believe me.
Any aerobic activity will benefit you but the nearer it is to replicating what you are training for the better. I think I may have told this story before but it is relevant. Many years ago when I was in my early 30's I took a work colleague climbing. He was running marathons before running marathons was fashionable and he ran a lot of them. All I did was climb with the associated walking with a heavy pack but he, much to my surprise, was unable to keep up with me on the walk up to Cloggy even though I was carrying all the climbing gear. "Horses for courses" and all that.
No doubt. Ian pretty much nailed it above. Part of it will depend on one's weak points. If toughing it out in the cold and carrying heavy loads on one's back is never going to be a problem, cycling will provide more expedition-specific improvement than for one who struggles in the aforementioned areas.
I've certainly had a similar experience many years ago when I took a friend out for his first winter climb in deep snow. He was super fit and pretty strong (played rugby regularly) and I was in a usual state of unfitness. But still, I had to blaze the trail through the snow as it was just too exhausting for him. I think the only training I was doing back then was indoor climbing and a lot of what young chaps do when at uni. :D
In reply to Jonny:
That isn't too far from my situation actually. Im a well built guy, so always seemed to manage with the loads, cold and (unrelated) the mental strength/stubbornness elements, but my main weakness is the lungs when going up hill (aside from sore feet on 25+km loaded hikes). Happily, the mtb is helping as yesterday I just smashed 1.30 off my best laptime for the year, and wasn't knackered afterwards.
Hopefully soon my pulk harness will arrive so I can start experimenting with tyre pulling. Will report back on how that goes
If you're into pulk pulling and winter adventures then I'd definitely recommend getting a set of roller skis. Just don't use them on the road, no brakes.
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