Vertical KM – Strength and conditioning

We get into the real physical preparation to not to excite you further, but we will get back to health, nutrition and race weight and of course cardio vascular fitness too . If you really prepared to a vertical challenge, you must start with flexibility, mobility and muscle strength, before you add endurance, volume and intensity. Why ? The demand on your posterior chain is going to be enormous. To stretch and load on a fashion like the VK demands, you must be equipped with muscles fully capable of contracting to their maximum range of motion !

I understand the benefits of gym work and distraction free indoor training, however I recommend mostly outdoor activities. They are more fun, more creative and build confidence on the terrain we will race on !

Hiking Poles

Decision one is poles or no poles. The angle of the terrain is very steep and to utilise our muscles and respiratory system the most efficiently, we must stay upright. The heavier and taller we are, the more we will benefit from poles ! Lighter and smaller guys will put lot less demand on the achilles tendon and need less muscle-use to stabilise the trunk and to keep the torso upright !
The angle of the terrain also counts. If it was a short race of 1.9km like Fully, poles are kind of must and 99% of all participants use it.
Special training has to be done to use poles, as the demand on the upper body, regardless that the sticks were used more likely to stabilise than to propel forward, is extremely high. Your lungs, legs and the whole body is burning from lactic acid build. You add hands, arms and shoulders to the equation and you increase energy cost greatly!

You must decide this well before any event as strength training will be a bit different in case of with or without hiking poles !

Strength drills


High step up with or without weight:

You choose a rock, a bench, a wooden box, a small wall and you try doing moderately explosive dynamic step ups with controlled lowering of your body. The higher you can go, without jerking forward, the better the effects will be. You can schedule this after every second training session. Sometimes 3 x 15 or 10 x 20. Regularity beats one big session. At the end it is still about endurance.
Leg by leg, or side by side. You can do it really, every other day and you’ll get used to it. Some times just to keep the motion going, sometimes as real strength training with a heavier back pack. I do not dedicate any single session just to weight training. I finish off my run sessions with strength and conditioning.

You can see the right image with the green line where the bench is high nearly to the hips. You can start out slowly, but bring up the height gradually, month by month.

With Poles

You can mix it up with pull ups on a Swedish ladder. You choose a height for your feet and grab a high bar. You pull yourself up and push yourself with your legs. You can do 3 x 6 to start and increase it slowly, by placing your feet higher and higher. This exercise can be done by using a TRX too and a bench.

I highly value these high step ups !

Skipping Rope

No days without. Bouncing is good for your health ! Your achilles tendon will thank you for giving it a bounce every day as part of your warming up ! High cadence is necessary. When you got the daily habit, after about 2 to 3 weeks you can start including single leg hops too. I use my speed-rope on me and my athletes very often.

With Poles

Try using a weighted skipping rope time to time. You can actually just buy your skipping rope length in the thickest and heaviest climbing rope available in your local climbing shop. It works just fine.


Cycling is epic ! You can ride your road bike with cleats and focus on efficiency and cadence. This will help your aerobic system and balance out your front and back muscle chain. Push and pull.

However for your quadriceps/gluts, there is a tactic. You lower your seat a little bit and put on flat pedals. Best to do this while mountain biking. This will enormously develop your quads. If you mixed in some rolling technical terrain, the hopping on and off from the bike, the pushing and carrying your bike uphill, all together will give you an enormous workout in just 30 to 45minutes. Of course, you need to access trails. It is not that interesting, but you can do this a in a city near a small hill and stairs. Ride up, descend down, then walk up and ride down. Basically it would represent uphill intervals with extra weight, but way more interesting with a bike !

Mountain biking with flat pedals ! Approved !

Weighted uphill walking

Regardless that you planned to run the entire VK as it was not that technical, you might encounter sections where walking is a must. Get an old hiking back pack and do at least one session a week. You add a bottle of water or a rock every 3rd to 4th week. I prefer constant uphill, than do up and down sets. When you arrive on top, just empty out your bottles or throw out your rocks.
I like intervals on the same fashion as you do on the track. 10 x 1min / 30by30 / 6 by 5min / 2 x 10min … Try choosing a terrain similar to your race.

Use poles if needed.

Long lunges

Mixing in these into weighted or free uphill sets will create a great stimulus. Just lunge forward deeply 10x after each 5minutes. Nordic athletes develop their lower body by going into monstrous sets of 3 x 100 or more lunges. It just works !

Even if you had your poles with you, do half of it with and half of it without poles. Doing these lunges especially with a slightly weighted packs while hands following a running motion, will develop balance and core strength. Practicing it with poles will add an upper body component, therefore decreasing stress on legs, so repeats must be increased with poles to have the same lower limb benefit.


As running, trail running, hiking, vertical-k specialising are endurance oriented activities, the main focus should be still on developing aerobic fitness and anaerobic capabilities. Strength training is necessary, don’t get me wrong. But you have to understand the right period, the right mixture, the right time, the right recovery in-between sets and sessions. If you had no coach and have no idea what you are doing, just follow common sense. Add a little bit here and there after your run sessions and the regularity will develop your body slowly but surely and slowly decrease and drop it before competitions.

Yes some of the winners and successful vertical runners don’t do any kind of strength training dedicated. However not only superficially visual methods are overlapping to your vertical speed ! Ski touring all winter long, mountain biking, swimming, kayaking and sup-ing, kite-surfing are all having components beneficial for VK. Regardless that Scandinavian cx skiers train only on flats, they will perform great in vk, due to the giants quads and high-end aerobic system with efficient pole use !

Categories: Cycling, running, Sports Science, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,

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