Guidelines for low-impact activities

  • Creator
  • #3289
    Colin Simon

    TFTNA states weight bearing activities like running or nordic skiing provide the best transfer to alpinism, but “any modality will work.”

    I’d be very interested to see that developed further. Lately I have been road biking more and more in order to avoid injuring myself from running. How much is too much cycling? Is there anything else I should know?

    I imagine the same goes for people who include rowing or swimming.

Posted In: Alpinism

  • Participant
    Max McKee on #3292

    I know “too much” cycling can cause saddle sores, back and neck pain and tendonitis in the knee and achilles tendon. Most of those can be avoided one way or another. Just make sure your bike is fitted correctly and those shouldn’t be an issue.

    I’m curious about rowing and swimming though.

    Colin Simon on #3293

    For clarification, I’m more curious how much cycling(or swimming..etc) is too much for the sake of training for alpinism. I’m more than familiar with saddle soreness and neck pain!

    Anonymous on #3310

    In our TftNA book we propose doing weight bearing training as the best method when training for alpine climbing or mountaineering.

    First, let me address the notion of Specificity: foot borne activities like running, hiking, skiing (either skimo or XC) all require the postural muscles to be engaged and used in locomotion. Exercises like cycling or rowing, where you are seated do not have the same muscle mass requirements for resisting gravity’s force so require less work. Cycling is an amazingly efficient means of human powered locomotion but that efficiency is also why it is not the best training for anything other than cycling. Similarly; swimming, while engaging a large muscle mass relies on the water to support the body in a (normally) prone position. This means that more of the muscle work can go into propulsion and less into postural control fighting gravity. In swimming the heart has to work less hard to move the blood due to the horizontal body position and lack of gravity. Not only that the water dissipates the heat of muscle work better than air does allowing less of the blood to be need for cooling and more to be used for work.

    So, training specifically for your sport will always give better results than non-specifically. This is especially true for more advanced athletes.

    What you are faced with is a common complaint. How to do all the needed foot borne training without beating your body into a state of chronic injury. Many running related injuries are caused by doing too much too soon. The loads imposed by running are high and repeated. So you have to allow lots of time for adaptation. We have ad good success getting people back to running with a months long very gradual run-walk progression. It takes patience and discipline.

    If you are so badly injured that this is not possible then hiking is my next best suggestion. No where near the stress loading of running but many of the benefits especially when a significant amount of vertical is included.

    Cycling and swimming are both great exercises but their transfer to climbing big mountains will be limited once past a basic level. All the runners and XC skiers we train use swimming as a very effective recovery workout. I usually push 2-3 swim workouts a week for them. This really helps bring the legs back after long runs.

    Hope this helps.

    Colin Simon on #3311


    Again this was very helpful, thanks for the thorough reply! You are quite the resource.

    I’m not so injured that I cannot run, I just get irritated ankles, knees, and hips when I get excited and don’t obey the gradualness concept. I do have excellent hiking access.

    Unfortunately my access to cycling is much better than my access to a pool. What do you think about limiting my cycling to the fasted-state morning activities for the sake of fat metabolism?

    will cadell on #3351

    my 2 c. Earlier this year I had foot trouble, so I did a lot of mountain biking instead of running. Subsequently, I went climbing (colin range near jasper) and found climbing up I was good, strong even, but coming down I was completely thrashed. On reflection it’s really hard to replicate the impact of carrying a load down (in particular) on a bike.

    surly on #3376

    I had a similar experience last year.
    After recovering from plantar plate tear and surgery, biking was the first cardio i could manage. Spending 30-60 minutes every morning before breakfast really got my cardio vascular system in better shape as well as burned off a bunch of fat I had accumulated. I felt strong at 14k (as high as I went last year) but the way down hurt more than it should have. This year more running is in the plan and I’ll use the cycling just for some base conditioning and fat burning. Burning that extra 300-500 calories before breakfast worked well for me last year.
    FWIW I am starting the 26 week plan in December.

    scramblineer on #3377

    Hi Colin, I’d have to agree with Scott re: functionality. I’ve been plagued with injuries resulting from very flat feet. However hiking with a good amount of ascent seems to be as beneficial to me as running. I’d typically walk hard or scramble fast uphill and jog at a steady pace down…I’ve raced at a high level in fell and mountain running and had success against runners averaging 70+ miles a week vs my 25miles of walk/jog with 4000m climb. Cycling will maintain cardiovascular fitness but will not prepare you for descending or carrying load.

    Hope this helps.

    Anonymous on #3379

    Great comments all.
    Specificity rules though. Same goes for these fasted workouts. You are trying to deplete glycogen in the specific working muscle fibers to cause them to become more fat adapted, Cycling will do that to some extent but not like a foot borne workout will. Cycling uses a much smaller mass of muscles. The fitter you become the more specific the training needs to become. If you are seeing significant gains from non specific training then for sure keep it up to avoid injury. Just know that at some point in the fitness progression more specificity will give bigger gains. This is where individuality comes in.


    LindsayTroy on #3502

    I’m not so injured that I cannot run, I just get irritated ankles, knees, and hips when I get excited and don’t obey the gradualness concept. I do have excellent hiking access.

    I was having this issue and I found a few things helped: walking when it starts to hurt, buying new shoes that were fitted for me and wearing orthodics, running on more forgiving ground (not concrete but hard packed), using Kinesoio-tape, and foam rolling a lot.

    Mariner_9 on #3869

    I want to chime in as I spent much of last year road cycling as part of my training (for hiking and splitboarding). The rationale for was that I had a running injury and cycling was a way to do cardio without exacerbating the injury.

    My experience with cycling was as follows:
    1) in the second quarter of 2016, I had twinges of pain in my knees which I thought might be some kind of RSI. This disappeared even after I significantly increased my volumes (to a max of ~10 hours per week) so hard to draw conclusions here.
    2) at least where I live, cycling is extremely dangerous. I have gone over the handlebars while avoiding hitting jaywalkers, been hit by a moped and had countless near misses with other road users. I no longer consider the objective danger acceptable – it’s the carelessness of other road users that will injure or kill you, not your own decision making.
    3) Although cycling seemed to provide noticeable benefits in terms of cardio endurance, it completely fails when it comes to sports specificity. Scott’s post on Nov. 6th is on the mark.

    This year, I’ll be selling the bike and trying to overcome my running injury. 🙂

    briguy on #23542

    Scott – I get a kick out of your suggestion on taking the seat off a mountain bike. That is great!

    Have you seen this concept which takes that idea to the max? (also to max $$)

    Elliptigo MSUB

    I actually have an Elliptgo “Arc” (the short stride model) which I use to add low HR volume to my week. In fact I’ve almost completely replaced my cycling cross training with this instead, even doing a 55m ride a few weeks ago in the mountains. It’s heavily heavily quad-centric and of course weight bearing as there is no seat. The only thing I don’t like is they don’t yet have an off-road version of this one, the “MSUB” is just a standard bike chain-ring front.

    I’m curious if you or anyone else on this forum has an opinion on this as yet another cross training option.

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