Adventures / Paragliding / How-To: Train to Paraglide (or Just Get Crazy Strong)

Patagonia ambassador Gavin McClurg flying past Denali during the Alaska paragliding traverse. Alaska Range, Alaska.

THE EXPERT: Gavin McClurg

A bit about me: I hold the paragliding foot launch distance record in North America, I’ve sailed around the world a couple times, and I’m the only person who has traversed the full length of the Alaska Range by foot and paraglider.

My main sport is cross-country paragliding (that means flying long distances with basically a high performance parachute and no motor).

THE GOAL: Cross-country paragliding

These workouts are some of the training I do for a race called the Red Bull X-Alps, which is billed as the toughest adventure race on Earth. It’s like doing an ultra-marathon every day for 12 days, but you’ll climb the height of Everest four times and carry 25 pounds of paragliding gear whenever you aren’t flying from one end of the Alps to the other. It has an 11 percent finish rate. I’ve done it twice, I’m training now for the 2019 race that starts June 16.

If the X-Alps were just a day long, you would train for it like a marathon. But it’s 12 days. During the race, you get very little sleep, you have to fly repeatedly in very scary and challenging conditions, and you have to carry all your gear. You’ve got to be able to go hard, day after day, and recover really fast. If all you do in training is run and hike, you’re going to break by day three.

Of course you have to do the long days—walking and running on pavement, getting a ton of vertical (we shoot for 90,000 feet per month in the lead-up), getting a huge aerobic conditioning base, but you have to spend a lot of time in the gym conditioning your core strength so carrying the pack doesn’t break you, and doing a TON of lifting (lunges, squats, kettle bells, farmer carries, dips, push ups, sled pulls and pushes, etc) takes the pressure off your joints so your body can take the mileage beating.

The key to enjoying training is to mix it up. Some of it is relentless and just needs to get done (walking on pavement with the pack for example), but my trainer mixes it up and keeps it interesting.

What we need is for me to be resilient. Think wombat: I need to be able to able to get run over and just shake it off and keep going. We have our go-to workouts that do repeat and I love them because we can see the metrics—am I getting stronger? The training for the race gets serious nine months before the gun goes off.

PRIMAL: Waiters Walk

– One hand up, one down, kettle bell in each
– 4 X 50 each hand then switch

These exercises hurt like hell but they get the whole body. When you’re done you look and feel like Arnold Swarzenegger! You don’t need to throw around a lot of weight, that’s just dangerous. Form and intensity go a long way.

PRIMAL: HEAVY Farmer’s Carry

– 60 pound dumbell in each hand
– 2 super sets of 4 X 100

These exercises get it all- hands, arms, shoulders, CORE, legs, feet- you’re getting head to toe!


For time: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Goblet squats (heavy) + dips

Go deep, don’t use too much weight, take it slow and LET IT BURN. NO SHORTCUTS!

– 4 super sets of 15 leg levers + 5 each side kneeling barbell chop

FORM, FORM, FORM and use weights that you can manage, too heavy and you’re going to get hurt.

You can’t overdo it, your mind is almost always weaker than your body. LET IT BURN! But seriously- take it easy in the beginning, get to know your limits, don’t go heavy until you really have a solid foundation and perfect form (work with a trainer- very very few people know how to squat, deadlift, or do a kettle bell swing correctly).

© 2019 ROAM Media Inc. All Rights Reserved