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Training preparations and the basics
Introduction to training
Training preparations

Types of exercise

Icicle training planners
Personal trainers
  On this page you can assess your current level of fitness, and will find a table that we use to rate each course in terms of fitness and stamina required. We also outline the key principles to consider in terms of preparing for training, and what type of fitness you are trying to achieve. We advise on diet and hydration for sport, types of training to avoid, and mountain specific training.
Gym fitness? In the vast amount of cases, it is highly unlikely that you will be fit enough from inside gym training. You need to go outside! These pages give you advice on to what types of training to consider.
We are confident that we have provided more information about the required levels of skills, training and fitness, than any other guiding company, and it is an essential part of our service. Obviously we have no wish for someone to book on a course who is the wrong level. It would at best frustrate you, and at the other end of the scale could really impact on your enjoyment and safety. We ask anyone booking a course to self declare on the booking form that they meet the pre-requisite skills and fitness requirements for the course, so it is your responsibility to ensure that you are not overestimating your current level at all. If in doubt, then please err on the side of caution...

Assessing the correct level of course fitness
Each course has a graphic at the top of the page that indicates the fitness and stamina level required for each course, on a five point scale. To assess what each level assumes as a level of fitness, see the table below. These levels of fitness aren't to scare you, but so you can self assess if you are fit enough for your course. We have provided examples of courses that fit into each category, but please refer to the course itinerary page for the precise grading of the course, as we cannot possibly fit all of our courses onto the table here.
Examples of courses in each key category:
Level 1
This is the lowest level for any of our courses, and we would suggest that a 5km run would not pose you any issues. Obviously, even though this is the lowest grade, you should be capable of long days out on the hills, and not get to tired from this, as well as recovering quickly.
None of our climbing trips are at this low fitness level
Chamonix Intro Via Ferrata
None of our ski courses are at this lowest fitness level
Intro Trail Running Day
Level 2
We suggest that people on courses of this grade can run 10km without a problem, but we stress that for courses of this level you do not need to be any fitter than this minimum level, though it is there to ensure a good basic level or aerobic fitness and training.
Alpine Intro Courses (both in summer and in the winter)
Acclimatisat-ion Weekends

Snowshoe Courses

Off Piste

Vallee Blanche
Intro Trail & Fell Running Weekends
Level 3
At this level your fitness should be somewhere between running a fast paced 10km run, and half marathon fitness. Typically you'll enjoy more hill training, and so would be able to run for about an hour and a half of cross country, and enjoy big hill days out too.
Tech Ice & Classics

Ice & Gullies

Mount Elbrus
Corsica GR20

Alpine Trail Running Camp
Intro Ski Touring and Backcountry
Chamonix Trail Running Week
Level 4
As an absolute minimum you should be capable of running a half marathon in a good time (under 1hr 45mins), but realistically you should be looking at marathon fitness for all courses of this fitness and stamina level to ensure your endurance is up to standard.

Mont Blanc Summits



None of our trek courses are at this very good fitness level
Haute Route Ski Tour

Gran Paradiso Ski Tour
UTMB Recce Week
Level 5
Only a few of our courses are marked at this level, where the required minimum fitness level is that of being capable of running a marathon, though it must be stressed that the duration of time that you are exercising for on the course, will be of a greater duration.
Grandes Jorasses

Winter Matterhorn
None of our trek courses are at this highest fitness level
Ski Tour up Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc One Shot

Are these the actual requirements for the course?
Yes! We have been operating courses for over a decade, and have adjusted these requirements to accurately reflect the physical demands of each course. For example, on a Mont Blanc course, it states that you should be ideally marathon fitness, but at least running a half marathon in a reasonable / good time (i.e. under 1hr 45mins).
No of course we fully accept that the two are not directly comparable, but it indicates that you should be able to exercise at a high aerobic output for at least 1hr 45mins without needing to stop to rest / eat / drink, as your body is accustomed to the effort and more importantly the quick recovery. If you arrive for a course, and are not the required fitness level, and this is to the detriment of others on the course, it will be impossible for you to participate in the activities. We advertise pre-requisite levels of fitness to give you a good chance of obtaining the course goals. To arrive without this fitness is a waste of your time and money. It also puts you (and us) under a huge amount of unecessary stress, for no reason other than your laziness. Sorry that this paragraph is blunt, but we know you won't be offended if you are honestly training as required.
  One aspect that we are seeing increasingly often, is people coming on courses, who it is impossible to judge their fitness, as their balance is poor and their ability over rough broken mountain terrain is so slow. Mountains where this ability is critical, include Mont Blanc, the Eiger and Matterhorn. In a world where people are increasingly taking less responsibility for themselves, before booking on a course there is no better judge of your balance and ability on this terrain than yourself. You need to assess if you are happy running over scree slopes, hopping across a boulder field, and with exposure on steep ground. Balance is a skill that requires work to improve. If you are moving like a crab over screes, and are constantly knocking stones down, then be honest with yourself. Consider increasing your training on this type of ground, or consider an easier course.

Preparing for your course
One of the most ignored aspects of mountaineering is the training required for the sport. A classic example is people looking on a map to see the height gain on a summit day, and for Mont Blanc it is 1300m. People then equate this to walking up Ben Nevis (same height gain), and blaming any problems on lack of acclimatisation. To put it bluntly the courses have been designed by professionals to maximise your acclimatisation, and if you struggle it is your lack of training that is at fault, not us. A fitter person acclimatises easier, and their body is better prepared to work at maximum outputs for a long time, or where there is less oxygen. Added into this are the factors of walking in snow on crampons, and carrying a rucksack. This page outlines how to prepare yourself in the best manner possible, as it is clear that the better prepared you are, the more you will get out of the course.

Muscle groups & aerobic efficiency

The most efficient exercise for mountaineering is either mountaineering itself, or at least types of exercise that develop the key muscle groups and aerobic fitness at a similar level. Except on very difficult climbs, the main muscle group that will be used are in the quadraceps (thighs), and the oxygen demand by this muscle group is high, requiring a good level of aerobic efficiency. For this reason weight training in a gym is far less effective than running, as your muscle capacity can only grow if the aerobic output can meet the demand. Where there is a shortfall, lactic acid is produced and you will feel what athletes call the 'burn'.


Our recommendation for the majority of our courses, is that you should be running for 45 minutes at least three times a week for the months before the course. Many people try using the excuse that their joints get sore with running. Often this is because people are overweight, and so stress the joints anyway, but here are another couple of options for you to consider trying: 1) Run on soft surfaces such as grass, as it is easier on the joints and harder for muscles. 2) Go cycling but ensure there are lots of hills, & go for 2 hours at a time, not 45 minutes. When you are truthful to yourself you probably know that currently you are not training enough at the moment, and excuses such as 'not enough time for training', are due to bad time management and lack of prioritisation. Everyone leads a busy life, and if you don't get out training, it is you and your course that may suffer. Excuses are a big sign of weakness! Someone actually once wrote to complain about these last two sentences. They clearly had enough time for unecessary e-mails, but not enough time for training.

Diet & Hydration
Carbohydrates are foods that release energy easily, and should only be eaten before exercise (not after, or before bed). If you eat lots of carbohydrates without exercising you will put on weight. The food you eat must provide you with the energy levels you require, as well as sufficient levels of protein and fats. It is imperative that you keep hydrated during your training, or your performance level will drop significantly. This is especially important to monitor when on your course, as you will be exercising hard at altitude.

Training to avoid

As well as advising you what training is good for you, there are a few things to avoid... Too often we hear tales of people whose only training involved packing a heavy rucksack and slogging over a hill. Trainers call this resistance training, but for Alpine preparation it is useless. It will encourage you to bulk out muscle groups for carrying heavy loads, not that you ever carry heavy loads in the Alps at altitude. The secondary effect is that these non required muscle groups will burn even more oxygen, which is rare enough at altitude, and so acclimatisation will be affected. The tertiary effect of resistance training is the potential damage to your back and posture that carrying heavy loads does to you. Getting a slipped disc a month before your trip to the Alps isn't ideal. Just remember that all good Alpinists tend to be lean and very fit, not heavy set and very muscled.

Climbing training

Many people now have an indoor climbing wall close to them, and this should be seen as an addition to your aerobic training regime rather than a substitute for one of the training sessions. The most efficient way to use a wall is to warm up carefully, then to climb several routes medium difficulty for you, one after another, like circuit training in order to give you an aerobic workout. Then progress onto hard climbs to test and develop you, and at the end don't forget to warm down. Why not run to and from the wall to combine your training?

FREE training podcasts

FREE Podcast
Training for Mont Blanc
A no holes barred podcast, to fully explain what an ascent entails physically and technically, including several examples of hill training.
Download podcast (3.48 MB)
See all the Icicle podcasts

FREE Podcast
Starting out trail running

A fast growing sport, & this podcast explains what it involves, how to get into it, and exactly what equipment that is required...
Download podcast (3.76 MB)
See all the Icicle podcasts
Latest news from Icicle
Word of encouragement
We know how hard it can be to follow a training planner. Don't think for one minute we aren't aware what we are asking you to do. We've all been there before, driving home in the dark in the rain with the prospect of a one hour run ahead, putting on wet trainers that haven't dried from the day before, setting off on a run with a hangover from a party. The key to following a planner is twofold; firstly enjoying the training, and secondly achieving goals along the way. To enjoy the training do whatever you need to stop being negative about it; get good footwear and clothing, or put your favourite music on your iPod. Make sure you are comfy and not bored. Trudging round the block in trainers with heels that rub and a jacket that leaks isn't fun. The training planners are all for several weeks, so why not consider entering a race as a half way goal to keep up the motivation. If you are building towards half marathon fitness, do a 10km race about a month into the planner. Look at the Runners World website to find an event close to you. Others train to lose weight as well as to gain fitness, so if you are putting all the effort in, get sponsored to lose the pounds or to run a race. Time your regular running routes, and try to beat the times, and do whatever keeps you happy and motivates you. Really good luck!
Hill fitness & scrambling
It is always important to try and integrate hill training, scrambling, and climbing (as applicable to your trip) into addition to your training schedule. This increases your endurance, balance, and speed of movement over rough mountain terrain. We stress that this training should be in addition to your aerobic training, and not be a substitute to any part of it. A great benefit of hill fitness is that it cross trains various muscle groups, and this should help you avoid injury. As is stated in other pages of this training advice, is that the advice we offer can only be generic, and you are individual. Your training plan has to be unique to you. Every person needs to adapt a plan to suit their exact requirements. The one aspect this is incontestable, is that the more you put in, the greater your chances of success!
Why choose our trips?
See our Alpine blog, by clicking on the Word-press logo to the right.
Icicle Blog
Itinerary flexibility to allow you to take full advantage of the weather windows on any day, to maximise your summit chances.
Our prices are fixed in £ Sterling, to protect you from euro fluctuations, so you can budget accurately.
There is a choice of routes to opt for, depending on the weather, conditions, and your experience.
Any further questions?
A key part of choosing a company is being able to come and talk about your plans with an experienced course advisor face to face. In an increasingly virtual world, we know our clients value speaking to real people, getting open and honest advice. The vast majority of our clients are British, and our office and outdoor store is based in Windermere in the English Lake District.

Get in contact to arrange a meeting, and come in for a coffee to discuss your course in person with a trip advisor.

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