Peak Performance | Conquer What Holds You Back

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn how to reframe your training perspective and set yourself up to achieve your long-held goals.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
June 27, 2023
Peak Performance | Conquer What Holds You Back
Photo by Will Wade.

If now is the year you’re committed to accomplishing a long-pursued goal, you may benefit from reframing your perspective. Start by asking yourself what’s held you back in the past. By critically examining your current levels of fitness, you can achieve better results.

Re-examine challenges

We all face certain challenges. They might include navigating boulder, scree, or talus slopes while carrying a heavy or uneven pack. Or paddling for hours with extended legs in choppy waters. Sleeping on uneven, hard ground. Crouching in awkward belay positions on exposed ledges, or looking up for a long time as a partner climbs. The list is long, and all put different stresses on the body.

Now try viewing these activities through the lens of training needs. What are the aerobic and anaerobic requirements of the trips you’d like to go on? How much upper, core, and lower body strength is needed? Do you have sufficient flexibility? How important is it to have full mobility in all your joints? Rather than letting weaknesses hold you back, focus on what areas you can develop to improve your experience.

Determine what’s lagging

The simplest way to find out where you’re struggling is to do a trial that simulates your target goal. For example, if you’re preparing to go backpacking, hiking, or climbing, walk on a trail similar to the one you’ll be traveling. To prepare for a kayaking trip, pull out your kayak and go paddling. If your goal includes rock climbing, explore the crags or a climbing gym with some friends. For any multi-day adventure, see how you feel doing your activity two days in a row without a rest day.

Afterward, assess how you feel. What was easy? Where did you have difficulty? Then, instead of simply doing more of what was easy, create a plan specifically designed to target your weaknesses.

Shore up weaknesses

If your legs give out going uphill, focus on adding lower body strength training exercises such as step-ups, squats, wall sits, static dips, or lunges. If your arms fail, add upper body strength training exercises including pull-ups, dead hangs, push-ups, and arm work.

If you can hike forever on flat ground but struggle as soon as you put on a backpack, add time on the trail with a loaded pack. If terrain causes difficulty, practice traversing over talus, scree, or uneven ground. And if you hate the thought of being stiff and tight while camping, add flexibility and mobility exercises to your training. If any parts of your body ache, consider adding stretches for the lower back, hips, and shoulders.

Finally, assess your gear. How do your feet feel? If they’re hurting, you may need new boots, or simply more time to get used to the terrain. Did the pack give you any problems? Determine whether you’re loading it evenly, or if you need a better fitting pack. Be sure to introduce any changes (like added pack weight or mileage) gradually to give your body time to adapt.

Make this season count

Always start your plan by thinking of your end goal. Identify the tasks you will need to perform. Think about the positions you’ll be in and for how long. Then, figure out how to include simulations of these activities in your training. By looking at your weaknesses as an opportunity to improve your skills and enhance your adventures, you can design an appropriate program that prepares you to achieve your goals.

Courtenay Schurman is an NSCA-CSCS certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified Nutrition Supercoach, and co-owner of Body Results. She specializes in training outdoor athletes. For more how-to exercises or health and wellness tips, visit her website at or send a question to

This article originally appeared in our summer 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive.

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