Credit CrossFit for the world’s obsession with “functional fitness.” The regimen will no doubt make you strong—with one caveat: Its set of training exercises don’t specifically prepare you for the sports you love. That’s where Rob Shaul comes in. In 2007, Shaul started Mountain Athlete in Jackson, Wyoming, and began devising sport-specific functional exercises. Last year, he also teamed with The North Face to help create the Mountain Athletics app, which offers exercises geared toward helping users become better (read: nimbler, stronger, and less prone to injury) at various outdoor endeavors, including skiing, climbing, and mountaineering. Here, Shaul shares some of his favorite exercises tailored to skiing, peak bagging, rock climbing, and mountain biking. The best part? None require any gym equipment.
How to do it: As fast as possible, do 20 air squats, immediately followed by 20 in-place lunges. Repeat the exercise five times, with 30 seconds of rest between each set.
Why it works: “Eccentric-strength endurance is a major component of alpine skiing,” says Shaul. “Gravity bounces the skier down the hill, and with each turn, the skier has to absorb the impact from the drop and gravity’s effort.” Leg blasters don’t just mimic that movement; they also build the endurance needed to ski for several minutes without having to stop.
Tabata Calf Raise
How to do it: Find a ledge, and place your forefeet on the ledge. Allow your heels to dip below the ledge, then press back up so you’re on the tips of your toes. Do this as fast as possible for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat four times.
Why it works: In a 1996 study, Izumi Tabata, a professor of physiology and biomechanics at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, found that max 20-second efforts followed by 10 seconds of rest on a stationary bike increased subjects’ anaerobic capacity by a whopping 28 percent and their VO2 max by 14 percent. Shaul and many others believe you can see greater gains by using the same philosophy with other exercises, particularly calf raises. “Calves are the first muscles to fatigue during steep uphill efforts,” he says.
How to do it: Begin by doing as many pull-ups as possible in one minute. That’s your max rep. Do this four-week cycle on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday:
Week 1: Six rounds, 30 percent max rep pull-ups every 60 seconds.
Week 2: Do the same number of rounds, but increase the percentage to 35.
Week 3: Do the same number of rounds, but increase the percentage to 40.
Week 4: Reassess and start the cycle again.
Why it works: Quite simply, this systematic approach to pull-ups helps build pulling-strength endurance. Ask any serious climber, and they’ll tell you that density pull-ups help lessen fatigue at the crag.
How to do it: One rep is four walking lunges (two per side), followed by two burpees (push-up, jump into squat position, jump vertically with your hands above your head). Do 50 total reps.
Why it works: “Mountain biking performance demands leg-strength endurance, aerobic capacity, and upper-body strength to maneuver the bike,” says Shaul. “Bodyweight thumpers combine two exercises—walking lunges and burpees—to train all three.”