Mountaineering Training | Strength Training Beyond The Gym

Posted by: Lindsay Mann | November 04, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

When most people think about strength workouts, they think about joining a gym and lifting weights to build muscle mass. I grew up as an alpine ski racer and continue to stay involved in the sport now as a ski coach. If you have watched an alpine ski race, in person or on TV, you know that ski racing is all about leg strength. Although mountaineers don’t need to be hitting the weight room to the same extent as a ski racer, strength is a key component to climbing. 
 

Traveling around the world as an athlete, coach, and guide, I do not always have access to a weight room. During the season I still need to do exercises to maintain strength. I make use of local parks or playgrounds (where the entry fee is free) or even my own living room.
 
Below are a couple of key exercises that you can do either in a gym or in the comfort of your own home. Remember, whenever doing strength workouts, it is important to get a proper warm-up and cool-down and listen to your body in order to stay injury-free and get the most from the workout.
 
Warm-Up: This involves 15 - 20 minutes of running or biking to get your muscles warmed up. This is imperative since diving into strength training cold is a great way to hurt yourself. This time can be spent on a stationary bicycle, a couple laps around the neighborhood on a road bike or mountain bike, a few laps around the track or soccer field, or a jog around the neighborhood. 
 
Body Weight Squats: Start your workout with two legged squats, feet hip width apart, with no weight. As you up your training, adding weight is a viable option as long as your form and technique stay correct. Jugs of water, rocks, or chunks of firewood all make good weight additions.  To maintain form and avoid injury, make sure that your knees are stacked over your ankles. Start with doing three sets of 10 reps. I usually go down for a count of 2 - 3 seconds and up for the same count. 
 
One-Legged Squats: These are my personal favorite; still a leg strength building exercise, one-legged squats also add a balance component. In order to protect your knees during any squats, I recommend going no deeper than a 90-degree bend in the knee (doing these in front of a mirror when you first start can be beneficial).  Start out with the non-weight bearing leg parallel to the standing leg. As you master this, play around with the position of the leg in the air. It can be in front, out to the side, or back. Now not only are you working on leg strength but you are also working on balance. Work up to 3 reps of 10 on each leg. Depending on your baseline strength you may start with 2 reps of 5 on each leg and then slowly work up. 
 
Again as this gets easier for you, add weights in your hand or try these on grass or sand. All of this will change your balance and the difficulty. 
 
Wall-Sits: Simply sit against a wall with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle like you are sitting in an invisible chair with your back and butt against the wall. This is a real thigh burner. Start by holding this for 30 seconds to a minute and doing two or three sets, shaking your legs out in between. As you get better at this, increase the time you are holding to up to a few minutes. Another way to increase the difficulty is to hold an object straight in front of you, such as a ski boot or climbing boot. 
 
Lunges: With an emphasis on quad-strengthening exercises it is important to incorporate some hamstring-strengthening exercises as well. One suggestion is lunges. The key to these is that they are done slowly; you are building strength as you lower your body weight and raise it again. Make sure that your knees are lined up above your ankles and feet, and do not push your knee beyond your toes. I usually start with my hands on my hips doing 2 to 3 sets of 10 - 15 lunges on each side (20 - 30 total in a set), and alternate which leg is in front. Again, as this becomes easier for you, you can add free weights. 
 
Pull-Ups: These are nice because they can be done anywhere. Not only is it good arm strength exercise, but it also involves the core. Pull-ups can be done with a pull-up or chin-up bar in your house, or at the local playground on the monkey bars. Start out with 2 sets of five. If this is hard for you, have someone hold your knees to assist you after doing a few on your own. You will be amazed how much you will improve just by trying them on your own and then going through the motion with someone assisting you. 
 
Cool-Down: In order to aid recovery for the following days, do a proper cool-down. Spend another 15 minutes on a bike or finish with a light jog to get out some of the lactic acid. Don’t forget that stretching is also an important aspect of the cool-down process. 
 
Listen to your body with any workout.  All of the recommendations of sets are exactly that - recommendations; do what makes sense for you.  Depending on your starting point you may have to start with fewer and work up. That is okay; continue to work on strength exercises and you will see improvements. Set benchmarks and goals for yourself so that you can see the improvements!  Often times the process of seeing yourself improve is all the motivation you need!

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Lindsay Mann is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions and a NCAA D1 Skiing Champion. She has climbed and guided around the world, from Peru to Alaska. Lindsay is leading a team of female climbers to scale Mt. Rainier on a special Four Day Summit Climb next summer, August 12 - 15, 2014.

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RMI Guide Lindsay Mann leads a team up Mt. McKinley's Kahiltna Glacier (Brent Okita).

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