NOLS: Are You Fit for Adventure? Three Simple Workouts to do Anywhere

Ned Feehally, one of Britain's top boulderers holds a swing on a difficult testpiece in Snowdonia National Park, Wales. Photograph by Nick Brown, My Shot

We adventurers often daydream of climbing rugged peaks, swimming in pristine high alpine lakes, traversing across blue-green glaciers, or trekking along rugged ridgelines with dramatic views  … while we’re sitting at our desk eating donuts. Do you feel like reaching for your next adventure is just making your arms sore?

Climber-coach-dad Steve Bechtel in action. Photograph courtesy Steve Bechtel

At NOLS, we’re working with renowned climber and adventure fitness guru Steve Bechtel of Climb Strong to develop a fitness regimen that can get even the couch potatoes among us ready to climb the highest peak in North America in one year. These workouts are being formulated for members of Expedition Denali specifically to train for climbing Denali in 2013, but if you want to follow along with the team you should start now with the following simple exercises.

No gym? No excuse. No weights? No worries. You can do these exercises in your birthday suit on your kitchen floor (although that is not recommended).

Start by gauging your base level fitness with the three tests below, and focus on achieving the listed benchmarks in about a month.

The 3-Minute Step Test
Use this test to assess both recovery ability and muscular endurance in the legs. You’ll need a stopwatch, a 12-inch box, and a metronome. (Don’t have a metronome? Find one online or download one of several apps.) The idea is to step on and off the box, switching legs each step and keeping a regular pace for the entire three minutes. You’ll want to record your beginning heart rate, the total number of steps, and your heart rate one minute after the end of the test.

The Push-Up/Squat Challenge
This is Bechtel’s personal favorite. There’s no timing, just keeping track of reps. Start by doing a push-up—the real kind. This means straight arms down to chest touching the floor. If you can’t do one this way, start with knee push-ups. Do one rep, then stand up and do a full squat. Then, drop for two push-ups followed by two squats. Continue this pattern, without rest, until you fail to execute a rep or need to take a break. Make sure you note the exact details of your push-ups (strict, knee, etc.) and squats.

The 5K Test
Get on a treadmill and cover a 5K as fast as you can. Sounds easy, right? Let’s do it at a 5 percent grade. This will give your legs a better idea of what you’re up against on a mountain. Run or walk or do a combination of both. Then do it with a 10-20 pound backpack.

One-Month Benchmarks:
• You should be able to take a step about every two seconds.
• You should be able to hit 6-7 on the Push-Up/Squat Challenge. Already there? Improve your number over the next month.
• You should be comfortable carrying a light 10-20 pound pack for 4-5 miles on uneven terrain, that should be about right.
• You should be comfortable exercising 2-3 days in a row.

Stay tuned for your next workout in a month!


  1. […] NOLS: Are you Fit for Adventure? Three Simple Workouts to do Anywhere. […]

  2. ryan
    May 16, 2012, 1:16 pm

    how can you do a 5k on your kitchen floor in your birthday suit?

  3. Fredric Ciner
    May 16, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Great test is to go up and down flights of stairs with a heavy pack… like a 10 story building. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Aparna
    Lander, WY
    May 16, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Yeah, @Ryan, you’re right. So do the 5 miles step test OUTSIDE your kitchen then the other two tests inside.

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  6. Dan
    June 12, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Try the 5K in your birthday suit outside…you’ll be more motivated to go fast and get it finished! Just kidding! Thats a great way to gauge adventure fitness!

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  8. Christian Rene Friborg
    December 2, 2012, 10:00 pm

    Great tips you got here. I actually do the push ups and squats

  9. Nilanjana Roy
    New Delhi
    April 4, 2014, 3:01 am

    Fit for Adventure or not test in any of the trek in himalayas !!
    Like this one here

  10. person
    May 7, 2014, 3:01 pm

    Is 5K, 5 kilometers or 500 meters?