CrossFit – The Ultimate Mountaineering Workout?

There is a lot of talk about using CrossFit as training for mountain climbing.  Some people swear that CrossFit is the ultimate training for mountaineering and based on their enthusiasm that is almost fanaticism, I’d have to CrossFit intrigued me.

I am guessing if you’re reading this you know a thing or two about CrossFit.  If you haven’t heard about it the ten second run down is you train for functional fitness by doing full body exercises at a no holds barred pace.  A typical work out goes something like this:

  • 5 box jumps
  • 5 dumbbell squats
  • 5 burpees
  • 5 medicine ball slams repeat for 20 minutes

While that may sound easy, it is most definitely not.  The key to CrossFit is going at 100% the entire time and that intensity is what makes it tremendously difficult.

My climbing partner has been doing CrossFit for a while.  I was intrigued by the following of the program so I tagged along.  I knew what I was getting in to but I didn’t fully comprehend what was about to happen.

Upon arriving at Northwest Crossfit in Seattle I was given the run down of what the workout was going to consist of.  Very conveniently the typical workout from above was the demo workout they had planned.  The trainer led me through a thorough warm up and then critiqued my form as I learned the basic movements of the workout.  He pointed out little things like on a medicine ball slam I should slam it hard enough to bounce and then catch it before it hit the ground again.  Or that when I was doing squats for this workout I should use my momentum to push the dumbbells above my head.

So then I started.  Everything was going fine for the first three cycles.  It was fun, challenging but ultimately uninteresting.  Then the fourth cycle happened which corresponded to about the fourth minute of the workout.  My pulse started rising, my breathing started getting labored and everything started going to hell.  By the seventh cycle I was struggling not to rest between exercises.  While I wanted to rest, the trainer would challenge my manhood and prod me along with positive encouragement like, “you’re not a quitter are you?  Do you want to be a failure?”

Ultimately I made it 12 or 13 rounds depending on how you count before my body gave out.  In total I made it an entire 15 minutes before I succumbed to exhaustion.  Kind of pathetic but also kind of the purpose of the demo workout.  CrossFit gave me a helluva workout in under 20 minutes.

I recovered a bit and still in an oxygen deprived state of mind I got the hard sell.  Even with the broke grad student discount, at $120/month there was no way I could afford to sign up.

What I took away from CrossFit is that it is a helluva a workout in a very short period of time.  Is it the ultimate mountain climbing workout?  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  I don’t doubt that I would get in great shape if I did it… but in my lowly opinion joining a rock gym for $40/month, trail running on hilly terrain and just getting out there on the weekends is a much better use of time and money.  I’m not going to learn how to climb smoothly on vertical terrain by jumping on a box or how to move efficiently by doing burpees ’til I collapse.  But then again that is just me.  I care more about the 6 pack of cheap beer at the end of a climb then trying to get a six pack under my tattered Gore-Tex.

8 thoughts on “CrossFit – The Ultimate Mountaineering Workout?

  1. Kate C

    Nice, that does sound like CrossFit! Though, they can wreck me in a lot less than 20 minutes. And it is absolutely f-ing incredible what this stuff does for your fitness. I lost 10 pounds quick when I started, and that’s on me, a tiny girl, who thought she was already in shape.

    I agree, $120 is really steep. One of the great things about CF is that you can actually do it all for free if you have the right equipment and training. You might want to shop around a bit, most cities have a few different CF gyms (heck Fort Collins now has 3), and you might find a better deal. Or, you could do like I did, and pay $100 for three training sessions, and then do it all on your own (workouts posted at It’s not quite as intense, and you run a much greater risk of hurting yourself and getting off-balance training without a coach around, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper.

    My husband, who is massively in love with CF, has started posting his CF training here:

  2. bj

    I agree, if you want to get better at rock climbing, go climbing. Cross fit probably has a place in the world of mountaineering/alpine climbing where you do a lot of suffering and it’s more about how tough you are than technical skills on a steep rock face.

  3. Jim

    So my question is: did you notice a big difference in your friend’s climbing after he had done CF for a while? Interestingly, Ed V. said he was always climbing and doing other things like you suggested to get ready for bigger climbing, ie. K2. But later it sounds like he went for the in Gym training for moutaineering and he seemed to like it. As for me, I just climb, play squash and do lots of other stuff. I get too bored in gyms. Equifinality -whatever gets you there.


  4. Jeff Sutherland

    “do you want to be a failure?” <- This is positive encouragement? Yikes!

    I am a CrossFit fanatic, and climber as well, and the two complement each other beautifully. Save your money by not joining the box, but do the CrossFit workouts on your own . . . that part is free! I've been following the programming for 2 years without joining a box, and its one of the best things that's ever happened to me.

  5. al

    Crossfit is definitely intriguing. It seems like a great anaerobic workout. But the problem for me comes that the workouts are not very long. And we all know cardiovascular endurance is such a huge part of mountaineering. Going sometimes all day and maybe hours before a break. Can anyone comment if crossfit was able to improve you or someone you know in this aspect?

  6. Matt

    I’ve done crossfit for a very short time but I recently did an alpine training hike up a very steep mountain and was the strongest I’ve ever been in my legs which gave me endurance to just keep on going with a heavy pack. Aerobic fitness was not an issue even though I’ve been doing no cardio which I think is because my anaerobic system and my excess level of strength in my hips particular makes up for it.

  7. Jon

    @Matt I completely believe that. Crossfit was a helluva a workout. I’m thinking about starting a DIY Mountain Athlete style training regime and hopefully I can get the same results as you.

  8. Alex

    CrossFit gives you a platform for controlled movement, and tests your complete range of motion in every major joint you will exert force on during climbing. I’m no rock climbing expert…but doing the Olympic lifts, namely training your spine and nervous system to handle heavy heavy weight, exert explosive force, and metabolic conditioning have countless benefits for any athletic endeavor. Don’t waste your money on a CF membership…they post all the workouts online…save the money, find any place that has a barbell and plates and crush it. You don’t need to buy in to the culture and paleo dieting, you can use there workout methodology and translate it into things that work for your specific goals. If you want to be able to push off your legs when they are completely flexed more effectively do the crossfit workouts that incorporate squat cleans, pistols squats, etc. Go read “Becoming a Supple Leopard” by Kelly Starret…it will change how you think about weightlifting and range of motion movements forever

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