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Cardio for Climbing: Running Part 2

Running for Climbers: Building Endurance to Improve Overall Fitness Part 2 - The Run

Running complements climbing if training is intentional and technique is healthy. Running increases overall fitness building the endurance needed to send a big wall or cover a difficult approach. Running healthy requires the same things needed for climbing efficiently -- strength, balance, coordination, mobility, fitness, and mental focus. In this post, Coach Jenni Nettik of Mercuria Running will focus primarily on strength, proper running form, and how to integrate running into your climbing routine.

Running Form

Now that you’re warmed up, you’re ready to head out the door! Yes, run outside rather than on a treadmill whenever possible. The naturally uneven and varying surfaces outside make running less repetitive and healthier for your body.

Use the cues below to improve your running efficiency and keep your body feeling good. The tips may feel a little awkward at first, that’s okay, it just means they are new to you. It takes about 8000 repetitions to form a new muscle memory or in other words, make a new movement feel natural. Want to learn more about how to improve your own running? Schedule a one-on-one form session.

1. Posture

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and weight evenly distributed between both feet.
  • Move up the chain and level your pelvis, imagine your pelvis is a bowl, don’t spill the bowl forward or back. For most people, this means squeeze your glutes a little to rotate the top of your pelvis backward.
  • Next, relax your shoulders down your back, with arms hanging loosely at your sides.
  • Level your head, keeping your eyes are the horizon.
  • Finally, create a slight forward lean. Place a hand on your chest and hand on your belly, lean forward from ankles, rather than bending at the waist, moving your hand on your chest in front of your hand on your belly. The weight in your feet will shift forward to the arch or forefoot. You should look like a ski jumper or a diagonal line leaning forward.
1. Posture

2. Position

An athletic position is the same for all sports, except walking.

  • Bend your arms to about 90-degrees, drive your elbows back and allow your arms to naturally swing forward without crossing the centerline of your body. They will move from chest height through your hips or waist depending on the bend of your elbows.
  • Keep your hands in a light fist, imagine you’re carrying a fist full of potato chips--don’t crush them!
  • Flex your legs so they have a slight bend and act as springs to absorb the impact of your body. Jog in place and feel the bounce!
2. Position

3. Steps

Think quick & light!

  • Target around 180 steps per minute. It’ll feel fast: that’s the point! The safest way to run is slowly but with a quick cadence. Use a free metronome app on your phone or a music playlist with 180 beats per minute to help you remember to take quick steps.
  • Listen to your feet land, and run as quietly as you can with your entire foot touching the ground -- no tip-toeing! The biggest indicator of potential for injury is the sound of your foot strike. The lighter your steps, the less likely you are to get injured.
  • Use your butt! When your foot hits the ground, squeeze your glutes on that side of your body. Your glutes will power you forward!

Running Technique Video:


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Finally, it’s time to think about how to integrate running into your climbing routine. The body learns from repetition, and running two times a week is ideal for building endurance and improving your overall fitness as a climber. Don’t think there are enough days in the week to climb, run, and do everything else you enjoy (& have to do!)? Try adding an easy run before or after a climb, it’ll help mimic those epic adventure days!

The most common mistake people make when starting to run is doing the same thing every run. Train with intention by varying the types of runs that you do. Running twice a week allows you to run easy one day and work on speed the second day. Use the runs and sample training plan described below to start your own running routine. Want a plan designed specifically for you? Coach Jenni offers personalized training plans to help you reach your individual goals.

Types of Runs

Easy Run

Start by running for 30 minutes or 3 miles at a time. Keep your pace comfortable, one that allows you to easily chat without pausing to catch your breath. If you can’t run and talk, then you’re moving too fast. Keep your steps quick and your stride short. If you need a break, walk for 30-seconds and then return to running while slowing your pace down just a bit.

Easy Run

Speed Day

Challenge yourself! Speed days can be a little uncomfortable, they're supposed to be! Speed days help improve your mental focus and build your aerobic capacity. During your first month of running alternate every other week between fartleks and hill repeats described below.


Fartlek is a Swedish word that means speed play. It’s a playful way to mix a little speed work into a run. Start with an easy run, and once you feel warmed up, pick-up your speed for 30, 45, or 60-seconds. Make the pace quick, but not an all-out sprint. After your speed burst, slow to an easy jog and recover until your breath is calm. Repeat 10 times.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are one of the safest ways to build speed because they also build strength. Start the workout running at an easy pace after you feel warmed up begin your hill repeats. Any hill will work! The steeper the hill, the shorter the distance, the more gradual the incline the longer the repeat. Run hard up the hill for 30 to 60-seconds, and then walk or jog down. Run the same hill 5-10 times maintaining or increasing your speed with each interval.

Form a new routine by running two times a week for the next month--you’ll see an improvement in your endurance within just a few weeks! Use the training plan below to get started!

Hill Repeats
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1- Month, Beginning Running Program for Climbers

Start each run with the 10-minute dynamic warm-up routine described above.

Week 1:

Run 1: 30-minute Easy Run, followed by climbing

Run 2: 30-minute Fartlek Run with 10x30-second pick-ups

Week 2:

Run 1: 30-minute Easy Run, followed by climbing

Run 2: 20-minute Hill Repeat Run

Week 3:

Run 1: 3 mile Easy Run, followed by climbing

Run 2: 30-minute Fartlek Run with 10x45-second pick-ups

Week 4:

Run 1: 3 mile Easy Run, followed by climbing

Run 2: 25-minutes Hill Repeat Run

Want a little more guidance? Purchase a PDF of a 4 or 6-month training plan designed specifically for rock climbers looking to increase their fitness level here.

Plans include:

-Two specific runs each week

-Dynamic warm-up routine to prepare the body for running

-Effort chart

-Run descriptions explaining how to do all the workouts

-Weekly mental drills to build mental toughness

-Weekly form focus to improve running technique

About the Author

Coach Jenni Nettik is the owner of Mercuria Running in Denver, CO. Jenni has been a lifelong competitive runner, dating back to the days when she was beating all the boys in 1st­ grade recess. Today Jenni runs for fun, fitness, and a little competition. As a coach, she specializes in form coaching, training plans, and online coaching for everyone from beginning 5k runners to elites marathoners and ultra runners. Jenni’s own favorite distance is the marathon, where she thrives on the mental and physical challenges of 26.2 miles.

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