The Three Fundamentals of improving Fitness
How to manipulate your current training to make sure fire gains in your fitness.

Elements of Training

Positive changes in your fitness require physical stress, followed by recovery and repair. There are three basic elements of training that can be manipulated in a variety of ways to create the right stresses at the right times to achieve a positive benefit.

  • Frequency
  • Duration
  • Intensity

After becoming familiar with these three fundamental variables, you can manipulate each of them one at a time as needed to achieve further progressive overload. Systematic application of progressive overload, followed by rest and recovery results in increased fitness specific to your training.



Research shows that 3-5 workouts a week result in the greatest results from your time invested. Additional workouts beyond that show diminishing returns. If you’re new to the sport of climbing or mountaineering, you can see great improvements in your first year by following this training frequency. On the other hand, if you’re looking to send that 5.12 next season, lead a grade V mixed ice route, or summit Denali, then you may be interested in investing additional training time to eek out the best performance you can expect from your body

Training stresses vary throughout the year and the season. Early in the season (fall for a spring/early summer mountaineering trip) should focus on increased frequency of workouts to increase the training stress and bring about positive adaptations. The month or two before the trip, frequency decreases to allow for increases in intensity and to allow for adequate recovery and repair of tissues before your peak performance.


Duration can be measured as distance (miles, vertical feet) or as time. Longer workouts are generally intended to build endurance, whereas shorter workouts allow for either recovery, or for increased intensity to improve power and speed. As you get closer to your objective, combining duration and intensity can be beneficial to more closely mimic your climbing trip, approach or summit push.


In general terms, intensity is how hard you are working. Intensity is the most difficult variable to measure and can vary immensely from person to person who otherwise seem to be exercising identically. Volumes of material and scores of websites address intensity in athletics and the amount of information available can be difficult to sort through. We will discuss some specific measures of intensity and ways to begin incorporating it into your training.

Other terms you may hear discussed when referring to training are volume and workload. Volume is equal to the frequency x duration (i.e. 20 miles of running/week, or a Micklo 20 pitch weekend at Seneca). Workload refers to the total combination of frequency, duration and intensity. Conditions that favor a high workload tolerance include youth, experience and a high level of fitness.


Here are a few examples of how you can manipulate each of these. Suppose you are currently running 20-30 minutes at a time, three times a week and your goal is to be able to run a 10K in a few months. You can increase your current training stress by one of three simple ways:

  • Frequency