Wouldn’t you love to be fit enough to climb a mountain or run a half-marathon any day of the year without extra training? A lot of people in my community talk about wanting that elusive, always-on, year-round fitness and ask me if it’s possible. So let’s talk about some strategies to make it happen by building aerobic base year round.
How not to do it
Before we talk about how to stay fit 365, let’s look at a common mistake people make. And that’s “training” all year long without an off season.
If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a hot second, you know how ballistic I am about the importance of taking time off from training to rest. And that includes taking a few months each year where you’re not actively “ramping up” your volume and intensity.
Guys, training is a means to an end. Training means doing hard work in the short-term to reach a goal.
Training is not a lifestyle! If you lived your whole life exercising like you were about to climb Mount Rainier or run a marathon, you’d blow out all your joints in a few years … and probably burn out your brain too.
So do set aside a few months every year for rest, recovery, and focusing on other parts of life. Having an off-season is crucial to attaining your big, long-term hiking and mountaineering goals.
The secret to always-on hiking fitness
So now that you’ve agreed to take an off season, what should you focus on during that time?
As an endurance athlete like a hiker or trail runner, your number one goal should be to maintain your aerobic base.
What is aerobic base training?
There are a few ways to define aerobic base. But for our purposes, let’s say it’s the volume of moderate-intensity cardio training you do each week. And let’s define “moderate” intensity is a 3 or 4 on a 10-point scale (with 0 being rest and 10 being all-out effort).
Why should you focus on building your aerobic base?
There are two good reasons to focus on aerobic base training year round.
First, as a hiker, trail runner, or endurance athlete, aerobic fitness is your primary super power.
You are interested in covering lots of distance at a moderate pace. Aerobic base training trains your fat-burning aerobic system, which gives you the stamina and endurance to keep going for hours and hours.
Second, aerobic fitness takes a long time to build.
The aerobic system needs a lot of stimulus over time to develop power and efficiency. What’s more, aerobic fitness fades fast when you stop exercising. You can take a month or two off of strength training and still enjoy the benefits. But your aerobic fitness will decline sharply in just two weeks.
It’s really not fair that our chosen sports depend on the body system that is slowest to train and fastest to deteriorate. But there you have it!
Workouts for building aerobic base
So what kinds of exercise will help you maintain your aerobic base?
Generally anything sport-specific that requires steady, sustained effort will do the trick.
- Power walking, walking uphill, walking on an incline treadmill
- Running, trail running, running hills, running in sand
- Stair climbing, stair mill
- Cross-country skiing
To add a bit of extra intensity to your workout, wear a weighted backpack or vest.
I divide my weekly aerobic base training into two parts: a long hike that takes up about 40 percent of my total training hours and a few shorter workouts that last 30–60 minutes each.
Building aerobic base in winter
One of the joys of hiking and trail running is that we can work out outdoors instead of in the gym! But exercising in cold weather comes with mental, physical, and logistical challenges.
Here are a few winter workout tips to keep you going through the colder months:
- Gear up. You don’t need to go crazy buying $400 down pants. But some equipment upgrades may be in order! For tips, check out my post, How to gear up for winter hiking.
- Layer up. During an endurance workout, you want to protect your core without overheating it and causing yourself to sweat. The best way to do this is to use a 3-layer clothing system that you can easily adjust throughout the workout. To learn more, check out my post, Winter hiking clothes 101.
- Eat up. Exercising for hours in the cold burns a lot of calories! You’ll stay warmer and have more energy if you bring some hearty snacks along. Check out my Healthy Hiking Snacks board on Pinterest for ideas and recipes.
- Have a plan B. Find a trail or two close to home that you can use for training when weather is crappy. For exploring new trails, I love the Hiking Project and Trail Run Project apps.
- Check the wind chill chart. Temperature, humidity, and wind speed all interact to increase the danger of cold injury. Before heading outside for a few hours, check the wind chill chart to make sure conditions are safe.
- Do get outside! Exercising in the cold, wind, and rain is a great way to test your gear and build the mental toughness you will need to tackle your goal climbs. Just make sure conditions are safe (if not comfortable) before heading out.
Need some help writing your training plan?
Fill out the form below to get my Epic Endurance Roadmap. It shows you the best workouts for every fitness level and how to put them all together into a program that gets results. This is the same framework I use to write my own training plans and teach in my courses, so it’s been field tested and proven over and over!
And there you have it. The secret to year round fitness, plus my best tips for building aerobic base year round.
Are you dreading exercising in cold weather? Jump in my Facebook Group for moral support and training help.
Originally published Oct. 22, 2019.