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Mountaineering Training | Testing Your Fitness

Testing your fitness from time to time is a great way to gauge improvement and to take the opportunity to find your limits. A fitness test acts as a measurement of overall fitness as well as specific core muscle endurance and agility. A test like this should be repeated several times during your training so that you can measure your progress. It’s not the individual results from the test that provide information, it’s the change between results that tells you of your progress. Complete the fitness test, write down your results, and then try it again in a few weeks to see how much you’ve progressed.

As with all training, there should be an emphasis on safety and self care. Push your limits but don’t place undue stress or strain on your body. Rather than go all out, try to nudge your results forward in a controlled and sensible way, much like a successful mountain climb. 

In our Seattle based ‘Fit To Climb’ workouts we use a custom version of a military fitness test that can be done during a short workout. The test consists of a ‘timed run’ - we suggest a mile (if you don’t like to run, then walking is perfect) - followed by a strength test with 4 exercises designed to gauge your upper-body strength, core strength, leg strength, and agility.

After a good ten-minute warm-up followed by the Daily Dozen, or similar exercises, first do the timed run. Go at a speed that feels like an intense effort. Record your time. Then, rest for 5 minutes by gently walking or just pacing slowly back and forth.

For the strength test, find an area that has a solid, level, and soft surface. Grass is perfect but you can also do this indoors if you prefer. During this test, you will perform four exercises for 2 minutes each, with 3 minutes of rest between each exercise. For the first three exercises, the goal is to count the number of perfect repetitions you can complete in 2 minutes. If you do this with a partner, you can rest while counting their repetitions—along with encouragement! For the fourth exercise, the Shuttle Run, simply time yourself. Write down your scores for each test.

Perform the strength test as follows:
1. Push-ups: 2 minutes, followed by 4 minutes of rest
2. Steam Engines on Back: 2 minutes, followed by 4 minutes of rest
3. 3/4 Squats: 2 minutes, followed by 4 minutes of rest
4. 20-yard Shuttle Run: Set up your shuttle run course with some cones or water bottles. If you aren’t sure of measurement use 25 normal paces as a guide. Run back and forth between your markers for 2 minutes, counting the number of times you complete one leg.
• For an explanation of strength exercises see the Daily Dozen.
• A tip: Break the 2 minutes into 30-second segments, it’ll help you maintain a steady pace. 
Is it hard? It really is! Two minutes may not sound like a lot but your body will know it is working hard! I suggest you record your scores and do the test each month during your training.

- John Colver

John Colver is a longtime climber, former mountain guide, and certified personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise. Colver introduced outdoor fitness classes to athletic clubs throughout the greater Puget Sound region before creating his adventX brand. Currently, adventX leads training programs in Seattle and Colver presents clinics on outdoor fitness at companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, the American Lung Association, and REI. Colver lives in Seattle.

Comments (2)

Very interesting, good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog. Your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job. Keep it up

Posted by: Alisha Donnelley on


I signed up for a Mt. Rainier climb in September.  The skills course - Muir. 

I’ve been reading through the blog/emails that was forwarded to me.  For the one above, you describe the run, and the four strength tests for testing your fitness, but you don’t give gauges of fitness levels (e.g. if you can do x pushups in 2 minutes, then you’re at y% of the goal, etc.)

Where can these be found?  Otherwise, how do you know if you’re at, below or above the required fitness?


Posted by: Steve on

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