Mountaineering Training | Ladder Intervals

Posted by: | March 24, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

One of the keys to performance in endurance events such as distance running, cycling, swimming, or mountaineering, is to be able to put in a hard burst in the middle of your effort, and then recover.  We see Tour de France cyclists do this all the time, racing a full out sprint in the middle of a stage, then recovering for the final sprint 60 miles later.  Runners do it when they make a break up a hill to get away from the field, and mountaineers need to be able to do it when getting through a tough stretch of Disappointment Cleaver or clambering over the bergschrund on the fixed lines on Denali.  The ability to put on a burst AND recover while you maintain your activity is developed through interval training.  

There are lots of different intervals that can be tailored to accomplish different goals, from natural rolling intervals (Fartlek intervals), to the 4x4 interval workout.  Another useful set of intervals are ladder intervals.  

Ladder intervals are sets of increasing and/or decreasing intervals.  Ladder intervals can be done in a variety of terrain, from flats, to rolling hills, to a hill climb.  A common ladder set might be to do a 1 minute interval, then recover, then do a 2-minute interval, followed by a 4-minute effort, followed by a 6-minute interval.  Once you reach your peak (you’ve worked your way up the ladder), start working your way back down, reversing the pattern.  After the 6-minute interval, do a 4-minute interval, then a 2-minute interval, and then finish with a last 1-minute interval.  As with all interval training, the goal is to complete each one at a similar pace.  The 1-minute interval might naturally be a bit faster, but you want to avoid blowing yourself out in the first couple of intervals, so that you are just surviving through the remainder.  

Another important component to interval training is the recovery time. Recover for between 50-100 percent of the duration of the previous effort. For shorter intervals, recovery time might be closer to 100 percent (you might recover for 1 minute after a 1-minute interval) while longer intervals may be closer to 50 percent (for the 4 and 6 minute intervals).  Recover for long enough that your heart rate has dropped and you feel ready for the next set, but not so long that your heart rate returns to a very low zone 1 or 2 effort level.  Recovery is best accomplished actively, at a very slow jog, walk, or spin; after all, the ability to recover while moving is what we are trying to develop.  

As with all training tools, the ladder intervals can be adjusted to fit your needs.  Using longer sets (at a slower pace) will help to build your lactate threshold, while shorter (and faster) sets will help to build your anaerobic threshold and recovery.  These can also be done over distances rather than time, such as on a track.  An example might be a 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m.  Remember that interval training requires a quality warm up and cool down, both to prevent injury, and allow you to perform and get the most out of the workout.  

Need a refresher on interval training? Learn more about general interval training…
 
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Ed Viesturs crossing a ladder in Mt. Everest's Khumbu Glacier (Jake Norton / FA).

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