Many of us live in places where we don’t have access to mountains or even steep ascents of at least 100m. But apart from the obvious thing (running lots of hills!) there are some other great workouts you can do that will make you a better climber. The key areas to work on are maximum leg power, strength endurance (Continuous running under increased load) and technique. These can all be addressed in the following workouts.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “I hate stairs and where do I find a long flight of the things.” The reality is, we all see stairs as the enemy, at least anyone that’s sane. The other thing is that you don’t need a long flight of them. Even a set of ten steps is ample for a great workout. I suggest to people new to stair repeats to start by doing 100 of them, one step at a time. Progress to doing 200 of them after a couple weeks, before alternating your sets between taking one stair at a time and doing doubles. Eventually you want to work your way up to 1,000 stairs. Then when you’re truly advanced, add some weight! Also, don’t feel as though you need to run up. Power hiking is fine for the first month or so.
Lifting heavy is the best way to increase your maximum power. For running hills, the better your power to weight ratio is, the faster you’ll climb (Within reason). Key exercises are squats, deadlifts, leg press and calf raises. They’re the bread and butter. You want to be focused of perfect technique and once mastered the goal is to be explosive in your lift phase, and slow/controlled on the way down.
More info on the above exercises can be found here.
This is basically just doing explosive drills or jump training. It’s a great thing to do prior to, or immediately after, your general easy runs. Burpees, squat jumps, box jumps and single leg stair hops are my 4 go to plyo exercises. 4 sets of 10 reps of each one of these drills is ample. There are plenty of great videos on Youtube that will show you how to perform these exercises, so I won’t go into detail.
One of the best ways to increase power and strength under load, is to run or hike with a weighted vest. Start light, by simply filling up a running pack with plenty of water and whatever else you can get in there. Do 40 minute jogs with the load, moving slowly but with good technique. Make sure you put the heaviest stuff at the bottom of the pack. Do this for a few weeks before investing in a weight vest, so you can get use to the feeling before upping the load. When buying a vest, you want an adjustable, quality one that fits tightly and allows you to modify the weight. The cheap ones typically wear out fast and are uncomfortable. I like this one from Aussie Strength, due to its shorter and snug fit, which is suited to running/hiking.
There’s no need to do long runs or hikes. Work your way up to carrying the full 16kg load and getting out there for an hour of hiking. You can try running, but generally I suggest that once the load is over 10kg, you are best to do short running reps with walks in between.
One of the best cross training exercises a runner can do is cycling. Apart from being a great cardio workout that’s free of the impact of pounding the pavement, it also translates very well across to mountain running. It’s a combination of the muscles used, range of motion and period of time that a given limb is applying downward force. I find that a stationary trainer is better than hitting the road, as it means you’re less likely to freewheel and there’s no rolling down hills. Instead, you’re kept a bit more honest, and safe for that matter. Steady state, 60 minutes rides are good, but interval sessions are better. Zwift is a great platform for anyone riding on a trainer and needing motivation. There are also some more tips for runners that are looking to add cycling to their training here.