Mountaineering Training | Interval Training

Posted by: | November 19, 2012
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Interval Training is a training technique employed in many endurance sports. It refers to a training session where periods of high intensity effort, followed by rest, are repeated during a training session. 
 
The benefits of interval training: 
 
Benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, increased aerobic performance and increased anaerobic threshold. It has its place in a weight loss program too, due to the high levels of energy burned during and after the workout. 
 
It’s true that during a climb, the goal is to ascend at a steady pace and to conserve energy, which begs the question; 
 
“Why do high-intensity interval training”? 
 
There are several reasons. One is that as we climb higher, the air is thinner and every effort becomes more taxing. Interval training, by raising the anaerobic threshold, will simply extend the range of effort we can make before we get out of breath. It also helps us to recover after a short, hard effort. 
 
Some ideas to implement this type of training: 
 
As a general rule, you’ll want to be fully warmed up with some mobility exercises (for example, try the Daily Dozen) and 10 to 15 minutes of moderate walking or running, just enough to get your blood flowing and your muscles ready for a hard effort.
 
Stairs: If you have a set of stairs available in town or at an athletic stadium you can use them for interval training. Simply push hard up the stairs for about a minute then rest by going easy down the stairs. How many times you’ll want to repeat this depends on your fitness ability. To start off, you may chose 3 or 4 efforts. During the peak phase of training a dozen or more will provide significant benefits. 
Steep grade: Same as above and use a stopwatch or mark a spot as your turn-around point. 
Indoors: You can do intervals on treadmill, bicycle, stair-master and elliptical machines
None of the above? You can even do intervals with a step, a low wall or even a box you might find in a gym. Simply use your watch and do repeated step-ups. You can even wear a pack, hold weights or a medicine ball while you work. 
 
Example workout: Short high intensity interval training

Here is the timeline for a one hour interval training session: 
• 0:00 Daily Dozen
• 0:12 Ten minutes moderate walking or running 
• 0:22 Two minutes rest
• 0:24 One-minute high intensity
• 0:25 Repeat six times
• 0:43 Ten-minute cool-down walk
• 0:53 Stretch
• 1:00 Finish

If you are new to interval training, expect to feel both exhilarated and fatigued. When I do interval training with groups it’s always easy to see the effort evidenced by sweat and hard breathing. 
 
Another version of interval training is ‘Fartlek’ training. The word originated in Sweden and means ‘Speed Play’. It’s popular with cyclists, runners and cross-country skiers. You simply chose random ‘targets‘ like the top of a hill, a loop of a track, a tree or trail marker and then get after it with gusto! Increase your effort level as high or moderate as you feel like and mix up the length of the intervals. I like this type of training very much as it replicates the unpredictable nature of mountain terrain. It’s fun too, helping to pass the time while training alone, or to add a competitive challenge with friends. If you lack stairs, you can use any uphill grade and no matter what the terrain, you can always increase intensity by adding weight to your pack. Learn more about Fartlek Training…

Other ideas for interval training include:
The 4 x 4 Interval Workout
Ladder Interval Training

 
How often to include Interval Training?

I find that two times per week is a good amount and I’ll choose days of the week where I’m likely to be fully rested and recovered. Avoid doing back-to-back sessions as you’ll need a day or two to recover after the effort. 
 
In summary: 

Interval training is a valuable part of a mountaineers training. It’s energetic, gets the adrenaline flowing, boosts your cardiovascular system, burns energy and helps your body cope with the stresses of a high altitude, low oxygen environment. 
 
As with any training session, make sure you are rested, hydrated and properly fueled before interval training. It’s hard work - you’ll need good energy to complete the sessions. 

- John Colver
 
                      
John Colver is a longtime climber, former mountain guide, and certified personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise. Colver introduced outdoor fitness classes to athletic clubs throughout the greater Puget Sound region before creating his adventX brand. Currently, adventX leads training programs in Seattle and Colver presents clinics on outdoor fitness at companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, the American Lung Association, and REI. Colver lives in Seattle.

Questions? Comments? Leave a comment to share your thoughts with John and other readers!

RMI Guide Linden Mallory trail running outside of Moab, UT.

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