Mountain Strong Part 4. Muscular Endurance: The Money Workout.


The Uphill Athlete Strength Series

-By Uphill Athlete co-founder Scott Johnston

As mentioned in the earlier articles of this series, Muscular Endurance (ME) is the ability of a muscle to produce a relatively high percentage of its maximum force for many repetitions without fatiguing.  We use the terms relatively and many because they depend on the event being trained for. So it is a combination of strength and endurance. 

In the weight lifting world, 15 repetitions is considered “endurance” whereas in many mountain sports 15 hours is endurance.  So the definition of what constitutes ME is event dependent.  Whether we speak of a rock climber’s ability to climb a difficult (for her) route without getting “pumped” and falling off or the SkiMo racer or mountain runner’s ability to sustain moderate power output on long climbs without getting dropped, we’re referring to manifestations of ME. We can view ME along a spectrum running from the 15 rep range of the weight lifter, where the strength qualities predominate in determining the ME, all the way to the other end of this imaginary physiological spectrum, where the muscular forces are rather low but the repetitions number in the many thousands and the metabolic qualities of the muscle dominate in determining ME.  This explains why the strongest athletes are not the best at endurance (the aerobic metabolic qualities of their muscles are not optimized for endurance). Even though max strength plays a role in ME, it is less of a factor the longer the duration of the event. 

For mountain endurance athletes this is one of the more event specific forms of training. These workouts typically mimic the movement of the sport very closely but with added resistance.   This added resistance can come in the form of steeper rock climbs, steeper hill grades or additional weight added to the athlete. 

This is the most trainable of all endurance qualities, so it should not be overlooked.  More conventional training methods get their ME training effect when the athlete does high intensity intervals. However, this imposes a global (combined cardio and muscular) endurance load rather one localized in the propulsion muscles.  Dedicated ME training as described below can and should be a part of every endurance athlete’s base training.  Improve your sport specific ME and you will increase the benefits from global endurance training like intervals. 

For many endurance athletes ME training, whether unwittingly as part of an interval training program or in targeted ME workouts that support later intervals, will be the predominant form of strength training in their programs.  There is plenty of evidence to support this approach as the best way to improve endurance performance in the short term.  Even athletes with general strength deficiencies will see gains using these methods. In the previous articles we hope our “big picture” arguments have been persuasive in convincing you of the need for adequate general strength. 


Example ME workouts;  

Mountaineers and Alpinists – Your event often involves carrying a heavy pack steeply uphill  for thousands of feet.  A very effect workout we have used for many years with many athletes is described in our complete article about training muscular endurance.

For the mountaineer or alpinist this workout is the “intensity” workout in the final preparation phase leading into the goal climb or climbing season.  It can also serve as base training to build less sport specific ME for the mountain runner/ski mountaineer who, after 6-8 weeks, would progress to more sport specific interval training. 

Runners and Skiers – And others without easy access to steep hills. Here is a gym based ME program that has also been well tested and proven effective even for elite level athletes.  Pay particular attention to the requirement (see link above) for maintaining the volume of easy base aerobic work when doing this type of training. 

This Muscular Endurance workout is appropriate for Mountaineers, Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers. Anyone who needs to go steeply uphill faster for longer will see gains from this workout. The beginning workout is shown here. If this is the first time you have been through this ME progression than you should use bodyweight only for the first 2-3 workouts to learn the movements and avoid severe muscle soreness. The progression shown is a suggestion that should well work for most people. However, variations in individual starting strength will mean that some people will progress faster than others. Expect to get mildly stiff and sore for 2 days after doing this workout. So allow some easy recovery workouts after this. Most people will not need to do this workout more than 1 time/week to see significant gains. It is easy to overdo this kind of work. Start slowly and progress at your own rate.

Warm Up:
5′ Dynamic stretch routine
20 x Air squat
10 x Turkish Get Up
10x Burpees

Pick 4-5 of your most challenging core exercises . You can select from this group
or some others that you like. Do 2 sets and add enough resistance that 4-6 reps of each exercise is all you can manage.

Workout: Complete all sets of each exercise before moving on to next exercise. Do not speed through these. Use a tempo of 1 rep/ 1-2 seconds.

– 4 sets of 10 reps on each leg of Split Jump Squat. If unsure, start with small split stance of 30cm. Work to deep split as you gain strength. 

Split Squat Jump Start

Split Squat Jump Middle


Split Squat Jump End














– Rest 2 min

– 4 sets of 10 reps of Squat Jumps

Squat Jump Bottom

Squat Jump Top









– Rest 2 min

– 4 sets of 10 reps each leg of Box Step ups with minimal rear leg assist. Use a box/step  that is 75% the height of the bottom of your kneecap.

Box Step Up


– Rest 2 min

– 4 sets of 10 reps each leg of Front Lunge. If new to the lunge, start with this for first 2-3 workouts
Once comfortable with that you can progress to this stepping front lunge.

– 10 min easy cool down aerobic exercise. 


WO #1 and #2: Most people will use body weight (BW) only. Rest about 60sec after each set of an exercise. On Box Step ups and Front Lunge exercises do all R leg then all L leg and only rest 30 seconds between sets. Do 1 time through circuit.

WO#3: Increase sets to 5 sets of 10 reps of each exercise.

WO#4: May add weight. Using a weight vest is ideal way. Start with no more than 10% of body weight. Increase to 5 sets of 10 reps. Add the following new exercises:

5 sets of 10 reps of Goblet Squat/Overhead Press.
rest 2 min after last set
5 sets of 10 reps of 2 hand Kettle Bell Swing
Rest 2 min after last set

WO#5:  Add 10% BW. Do 6 Sets of 10 reps. Cut rest to 45 seconds except Box Steps and Lunges, stay with 30 seconds

WO#6:  Add 10% BW. Do 7 sets of 10 reps.

WO#7:  Add 15% BW. Do 7 sets of 10 reps.

WO#8:  Add 15% BW. Do 7 sets of 10 reps. Cut rest between sets to 30 seconds for all exercises.

WO#9:  Add 20% BW. Do 7 sets of 10 reps. Back to 45 sec rest/set. 30 sec rest/set for Box Step and Lunge.

WO#10:  Add 20% BW. Do 8 sets of 10 reps. 45 sec rest/set. 30 sec rest/set for Box Step and Lunge. 


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