It’s a familiar scenario, especially among the athletes I coach: You’re far from a gym, yet you want to squeeze in a strength workout that will—at a minimum—help you maintain the strength you’ve been building over the previous weeks and months. Whether you’re in Yosemite or at a base camp in the Himalaya, the following no gear strength workout will fill that void. It is designed to be a general strength, full-body workout for a typical uphill athlete, such as a climber, who counts on her strength training as being a catalyst to enhance the effects of her endurance training.

For portability, here is a downloadable PDF of the workout in a simple list form: Uphill Athlete No Gear.

Of course, as all followers of Uphill Athlete know, there is no one magic-bullet workout. I like to think of fitness as a brick wall, each daily workout being one brick, and the strength of the wall coming from the strength of all the bricks together—how strong each brick is and that they were laid together carefully, interlocking, not randomly thrown into a pile.

Uphill Athlete No Gear Strength Circuit


2x through:

  • Unweighted walking lunges: 20 steps per side. For extra challenge, walk it backward as well.
  • Burpees: 20. Pace these; this is not a race.
  • Plank hold: 30 seconds. Two point or three point, no weight.
  • Plank hold, other side: 30 seconds. Two or three point hold.
  • Side plank: 30 seconds. Static hold, no weight. For added challenge, lift the upper leg up and extend it.
  • Side plank hold, other side: 30 seconds.
No Gear Strength Workout

Complete the following circuit as many times as you can in 45 minutes. Pace yourself: it’s not a race and you’ll definitely be tired after 30–45 minutes! Rest as needed—up to 15–30 seconds between exercises. Those who are more fit can move through the entire circuit without pause. If you are using this as your general strength workout, it can be progressed by adding more time and/or completing each circuit in less time.

Lunges: 10x/side

Do these with a backpack on or holding a weight (rock, water jug, your dog, etc.). On the return, push explosively back to the standing position.

The lunge is one of our favorite strength exercises for two reasons:

  1. It involves single-leg propulsion, as in uphill sports.
  2. It emphasizes the all-important gluteal muscles.

You can vary the muscle group trained by changing your stride length. A shorter step forward involves the quadriceps more, and if you take a longer step, you increase the stress on the hamstrings and gluteals while stretching the upper quadriceps and hip flexor of the back leg. Your knee should come close to, but not quite touch, the floor. You can do this while wearing a backpack, holding a weight to your chest, or holding a weight above your head. To incorporate more core, you can hold a weight in both hands and trace a large circle in the air (though this variation usually means the legs aren’t taxed very much).

Strict Sit-ups: 10x

To make this harder, hold a weight to your chest or, if your neck and upper back muscles are well trained, hold the weight on top of your head. The goal is to use enough resistance that you could do 15–20 reps (not 50+ reps).

Our “strict sit-up” is done with a straight back, no curling or crunching, which compresses the discs in your spine. And it works far more than just the rectus abdominis: the external obliques, latissimus dorsi, serratus, pec major, and of course the hip flexors get trained as well.

Strict Push-ups: 10x

Do these with strict form and lower slowly, elbows tracking backward parallel to your torso.

The “strict push-up” involves all of the same core musculature needed for a plank, plus the pectorals, triceps, and—for climbers—the all-important and often overlooked deltoids, the meat of your shoulders. Keeping the elbows tracking straight back is one of the easiest ways to ensure you aren’t cross-loading your elbow joints, which can strain the joint. This exercise also complements how you’ll train the shoulders and arms with the Hindu push-up (or the harder version, the super push-up) to follow.

Goblet or Backpack Squats: 10x

For a goblet squat, hold a weight of any kind in front of your chest. For a backpack squat, put your backpack on backward, with the weight (sack of the pack) in front of you. Hands rest on the pack. For full squats you want to get low, rear all the way down if you can. Keep your back straight and very active. Slow lower.

Squats, and all their variations, are the king of lower-body exercise. A properly executed squat works most of the body from the calves to the triceps and most everything in between. I won’t even try to list all the muscles that are trained here. For about 80 percent of my no gear strength workouts, I opt for the goblet squat style. I like this because it trains the all-important postural muscles in my back and, most importantly, it’s simple to execute. Just grab a stone and go.

Hindu Push-ups: 10x

Get in a downward dog position and do a push-up while keeping your rear end up and legs straight. Swoop your chest down, almost brushing the floor, and end in a “cobra pose.” Then rock back into the downward dog position. Elbows track along the torso to stay aligned. The “super push-up” version of this reverses the exact same movement to return to the starting downward dog as opposed to simply rocking back up into it.

Hindu and super push-ups are the best floor exercises I’ve found that work much of your upper body while also adding mobility. Google the two variations if you’re unclear on how to do them. Like the squat does for the lower body, this exercise works the entire upper-body complex of muscles—too many to list here.

Progressing the Workout

You want to make this more difficult? Add more circuits or use your creativity to add another exercise. This workout can be modified in many ways. There is no secret formula behind this series of exercises.

-by Steve House

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