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Fitness level required for 3 Peaks Challenge

Updated: Jan 11

The National Three Peaks is the most popular mountain challenge in the UK and for good reason.


The National Three Peaks is a tough challenge requiring good physical fitness. To complete all three mountains within 24 hours participants will need very high levels of cardio fitness, endurance and overall conditioning; particularly leg strength.


Fitness level required for 3 Peaks Challenge

Before climbing some of the highest mountains in the UK it is important to know how fit you need to be and the most efficient way to structure your training.


We will take a look at what's involved and how to prepare for a 24 hour Guided 3 Peaks Challenge


What is the 3 Peaks Challenge?

The Thee Peaks Challenge involves climbing up the highest mountain in Scotland, England and Wales, within a set time.


The toughest challenge is to ascend and descend all three mountains and travel between them within 24 hours. Three and five day challenges are a good alternative.


The peaks are Ben Nevis in Scotland (1,345 meters), Scafell Pike in England (978 meters), and Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales (1,085 meters).


What is the 3 Peaks Challenge?

How difficult is the 3 Peaks Challenge?

The Three peaks challenge is physically and mentally demanding. Here are some of the reasons it is so tough:


Physical demands: Climbing three substantial peaks in a short time requires excellent physical fitness, endurance, and strength. Fitter individuals are less likely to pick up an injury. The footpaths are steep and rugged mountain tracks.


Conditions: Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in mountainous areas. Participants are likely to encounter rain, wind, fog, and even snow at times. It is also likely that participants do at least one of the mountains in the dark.


Fatigue and Mental Stamina: The sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue can be extremely challenging especially if you throw bad weather into the mix.


Time Constraint: Completing the challenge within 24 hours means ascending and descending each mountain in an average time of 4 hours 19 mins. This works out at 5 hours for Ben Nevis and 4 hours for Scafell Pike and Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). It's an intense schedule with limited and insufficient rest as you travel 462 miles between the peaks.


For these reasons the 24 hour challenge only has a success rate of around 40%. Most teams will complete the challenge in less than 30 hours.

 

Can anyone do the 3 Peaks Challenge?

The good news is novice hikers can achieve the 24 hour challenge with the right training. The higher an individuals base level of fitness the less specific training they will have to do.


Individuals with a low level of fitness will have to dedicate a lot of time and effort to training to climb all three peaks in under 24 hours. These individuals might want to consider a 3 or 5 day challenge instead. This is a more enjoyable option and a more sustainable way to do the three peaks anyway.


How much training do you need for the Three Peaks

Your current level of fitness as well as the time you can dedicate to training will influence how long it takes.


As a general rule, the earlier you start training the better. While there is no one size fits all approach someone with a reasonable level of fitness should aim for 4-6 months of dedicated training around 3 times per week. This works out at around 36 to 72 dedicated exercise sessions. Fitter individuals may need less.


According to most studies we improve our fitness for 4-6 months before hitting a plateau. For this reason we have designed a 6 month training plan which can be started at 4 months or less for fitter individuals.


For those who find our training plan too difficult we suggest they start training general fitness and our Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) training plan 


What is the best training for 3 Peaks Challenge?

The areas 3 Peaks training should focus on are cardo, leg strength and hill fitness (mainly endurance). The good news is that with the exception of hill fitness this can be trained in the gym or even at home.


Aim to make training progressively more intense peaking 2-3 weeks before the event. Allow one full week of rest and recovery before the challenge ahead.


running is the best cardio training for the three peaks
Running is the best cardio training

Cardiovascular training

Walking up big mountains quickly requires a very high level of cardiovascular fitness. Individuals who can run 10k in under 50 minuets will have a good chance of completing the challenge in under 24 hours.


Running is the best training you can do to improve cardio as it works similar muscle groups to mountain hiking. In the gym the Stairmaster is a great option too.


HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is another great form of training to increase your cardiovascular fitness. The benefit of HIIT is that it can be done in a shorter amount of time than traditional workouts. In our plan we have focused on leg strength exercises which can be transformed into HIIT by...

  • increasing intensity (doing exercises quickly with little/ no rest between repetitions)

  • reducing the recovery periods until the point of exhaustion

  • aim for 80-100% of max heart rate


If you're not a fan of running or HIIT or would like to mix up your workouts other training which focuses on increasing cardio fitness are possible. Rowing, cycling or swimming are helpful but they are less specific to mountain hiking.


Resistance training such as squats mimic mountain climbing
Squats build stronger legs and mimic mountain hiking

Leg strength training

The benefits of resistance training the legs can't be overstated. The stronger your leg muscles the easier each step will be and the less likely you are to pick up a challenge limiting injury.


Compound exercises such as squats, step-ups and lunges are some of the exercises which most replicate mountain hiking (along with deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats etc.). If these exercises are new, do them with no additional weight and focus on form to begin with. You can increase the difficulty by increasing duration, number of reps and adding weight.


If you don't have access to a gym then adding bottles of water or tins of beans to a rucksack works perfectly and will get you used to carrying your rucksack.


Hill fitness/ endurance

Training in the gym or where you live is fantastic and makes a huge difference however, it doesn't meet the endurance requirements of mountain hiking.


Training for walking for many hours on rugged, steep terrain whist carrying a rucksack is different to 90 mins in the gym and best trained by actually doing it.


Not only does it train your endurance, muscles and cardiovascular system but it hardens your mind and the skin on your feet which will prevent blisters.


In addition, hiking identifies any areas you might need to work on such as leg strength. It provides valuable insights into equipment, water and food.


We recommend booking a practice hike to see your level of fitness and to test your kit.


If this is not possible a good alternative is to go on long walks in the countryside near where you live mimicking the mountain terrain as best as you can.


Doing occasional back to back hikes over two consecutive days will give you a feel for the endurance level required to climb three mountains in a single day.


Upper body training

We haven't included any upper body training into the training plan as there is very little demand placed on the upper body during the Three Peaks and we wanted to make the training plan as time efficient as possible.


Training the upper body, especially the core, is beneficial. If you have the desire and time to incorporate additional training such as upper body into your training routine it will only benefit you. However, focus should certainly be on cardio, leg strength and endurance before upper body.


How long do I need to train before the National Three Peaks Challenge?

Your current fitness level and the number of times a week you are able to train influences when you should start training. If you find the start of our training plan easy then fast-forward to a week that is more difficult.


Our plan has been separated into five phases; 'General Fitness', 'Cardio', 'Peak', 'Taper' and 'Recovery'. Individuals with good general fitness could skip this stage and those with excellent cardio could skip this stage too.


6+ months before the challenge

With over half a year to go before the challenge individuals should be engaging in some form of physical exercise at least once a week. This will provide the base level of fitness required to begin our programme.


This could include playing sports such as football or rugby, going to the gym or hiking.


Active individuals will already be doing this so can start our dedicated training plan at a later phase.


4-6 months before the challenge

The 'General Fitness' phase of the training plan focuses on laying the groundwork. This phase focuses on resistance training to build leg strength whilst slowly building cardio and endurance.


Most individuals with a reasonable level of fitness should start their training during this phase.


1-3 months before the challenge

The 'Cardio Phase' aims to build cardiovascular fitness by increasing the number of cardiovascular training sessions and their intensity whilst continuing to improve leg strength. Individuals should be aiming for two cardio sessions per week and one endurance session to build the stamina required.


Very fit individuals could start the training during or even after this phase as they will already have an excellent level of cardiovascular fitness.


1 month before the challenge

The 'Peak Phase' is designed for individuals to reach their physical peak around two weeks before the challenge followed by a week of taper and a week of rest.


The body responds better to this training method rather than pushing yourself to the limit all the time as it allows the muscles to fully recover and adapt to the training stimulus.


1 week before the challenge

Don't blow all that effort and be tempted to do some light training this week as it will leave you feeling sluggish, increase your chances of injury and not allow your body to adapt to all the training you have done, which would be an unnecessary risk and a huge waste.


Your body needs time to repair the muscle damage. Levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones, all depleted by vigorous training and need to return to optimal ranges.


Make sure you eat plenty of protein during this week to fuel the muscles as they repair. Visualisation of walking in bad weather and darkness can help prepare you mentally.


National 3 Peaks Challenge Training Plan

Three Peaks Training Plan
.pdf
Download PDF • 759KB

Our Three Peaks training plan has been curated to prepare the body specifically for the demands of the 24 National Three Peaks Challenge.


All the training has been designed to be as time efficient as possible and can be done from the home or gym. It increases in intensity, difficulty and duration to peak around 2 weeks before the challenge date.


This allows one week of tapering and one week of rest to allow your muscles to recover fully so you are at your absolute physical peak when you take on the challenge.


Additional training

You could add an additional day (Day 4) of cross training to the plan which could include another run, cycling, swimming, rowing. This would result in faster fitness gains and increase chances of success. Be sure to include rest days though to allow your body to recover and reduce the risk of injury.


Making changes to the training plan

Changes can be made to the training plan if you wish but it has been designed to be as specific to mountain hiking and as time efficient as possible.


Running is the cardio exercise specified in the training plan as it is most similar to mountain hiking so yields the fastest results. It could be replaced with another form of cardio.


What to do if the training plan is too difficult?

If you are unable to run for around 5 mins in a 10 min period (Week 24) we recommend building up to our training plan by doing running and walking intervals. Start with shorter intervals of running and longer intervals of walking and slowly increase time spent running as you decrease walking.


Level up your chance of success with Walk Snowdonia

We organise National Three Peaks Challenges as well as other mountain challenges in the UK.


If you really want to take your training to the next level organise a mountain hike with us a few months before the challenge day. This will give you valuable insights into how mountain fit you are as well as kit, food and water requirements.


If you are planning on doing the challenge yourself then investing in one of our inexpensive map reading courses could help prevent you getting lost and save you a lot of time.


FAQ's about National Three Peaks

What is the Three Peaks Challenge route?

The Three Peaks Challenge includes 462 miles of driving between Ben Nevis in Scotland to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Wales via Scafell Pike in the Lake District.


National 3 Peaks route

Most teams park at the following carparks and walk up the quickest routes...

Ben Nevis

Parking - Visitor Centre, Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6ST

Route - Mountain Path


Scafell Pike

Parking - Wasdale Head, CA20 1EX

Route - Brown Tongue Route


Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Parking - Pen y Pass, LL55 4NU

Route - PYG Track


How many people complete the 3 peaks in 24 hours

The 24 hour National Three Peaks Challenge has a success rate of around 40%.


The most common cause of failure is teams moving too slow caused by a lack of physical fitness.


Injury, traffic, weather and getting lost are other common causes of failure. Fitter teams will be less impacted by traffic issues.


Which is the hardest mountain in the National Three Peaks Challenge?

The most difficult mountain of the three is Ben Nevis however people often find the last mountain the most challenging.


For this reason the traditional order is to start on Ben Nevis on fresh legs and finish on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) which is the 'easiest' mountain.


Preparation is key so fuel your brain with our other related blog articles:

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