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June Training Tips

It’s June already. Do you have a Mount Rainier climb planned this summer? If so, you are probably at the peak of your training efforts and devoting a good amount of energy and time to preparing your body for the big climb. Many people ask, “What’s the most important thing for training right now?”

If you are less than a week away from your climb, you’ll want to rest. By all means, do some activity — but just enough to keep you moving — not so much that you arrive fatigued. You’ll want to maximize your sleep and relaxation this week. Also, be sure that you’re eating plenty of carbohydrates to ensure you start the climb with a full tank.

If your climb is still a few weeks or even months away, then you have a great opportunity to add to your endurance.

I like to keep things simple. My recommendation to people training for mountaineering is to include at least one long hike each week. How long? Well, your summit day will start in the middle of the night and you may well be climbing and descending for upwards of 14 hours. So, it’s important to condition yourself to be on your feet for that long.

Practically, if you live near Mt. Rainier you can train on any number of long steep hikes in the area, or even hike up to Camp Muir for practice. One big weekly hike is my minimum, but if you can you’ll benefit from back-to-back days of hiking, or maybe even sneak in a midweek hike as well. A man I know was out of shape with only two months to go before his Mt. Rainier climb. He realized he was behind on his training, took vacation time, and hiked Mt. Si, near Seattle, eighteen times in one month! I thought it was a bit extreme and advised him to pay attention to his knees and joints, but he did it — and he made it all the way to the summit and back.

If you live in a flat city you can still get in good training. I’ve done urban hikes before to get in condition for a climb. Once, when I was getting ready for a big climb while I lived in London, UK, I would put a metal weight and some water-bottles in a pack and walk all day, stopping at restaurants to eat and visiting the occasional museum. It’s fun and a great way to see a city. This winter in Seattle I set a goal of walking three miles each day. It’s great for the feet, legs, and back and it’s easy to plan to walk places instead of driving. Arrive at work or a friend’s house and tell them you walked — you’ll inspire them too! It might be tough to get elevation in flatter regions, but don’t let that stop you from building endurance.

If you can’t hike or walk anywhere then bicycling is about as close as you can get to hiking as an alternative. It works the same energy-systems and many of the same muscle groups. If you do a lot of cycling, also do jumping exercises, perhaps even get a jump-rope and use it for a few minutes every day. That will help with the coming-down part of the climb. Cycling builds strength and endurance but doesn’t replicate the impact of stepping down. The combination of both is very effective. 

Top three tips for June:

1. Make the main thing - the main thing: It’s a long endurance climb with a 35lb pack. Go long in training and wear a pack when possible.
2. Back up your long hikes with shorter sessions: 60 - 90 minute efforts at a higher intensity. Stairs, stair-master, elliptical machine, cycling or spin class are good options. 
3. Mix up your training: Some long and steady ‘conversational’ pace sessions; some hard and steady; some intervals of 1 minute of very hard effort followed by 1 minute of rest.

A parting thought: I used to get close to a climb and worry that I hadn’t done enough of this or of that. Right now you’ve done what you’ve done. Its best to take out a calendar, figure out how many long hikes you can fit in, block out those time and then use the other days for shorter sessions. Take a day or two of rest as well, you’ll benefit from doing so. As the guides will tell you on the mountain, don’t worry about tomorrow or next week, just focus on now. Focus on how you can complete — and enjoy — today’s workout. You’ve trained hard and what you do now will make a difference on the mountain.

Good luck.

John Colver
Author of Fit By Nature by Mountaineers Books.

For more information please see our resources for mountaineering fitness and training.

Comments (2)

Treadmills and stair machines only work your legs against the earth’s gravity, not your entire body’s weight or even the weight in the pack.  They also don’t really do much for the downstroke of the leg, just the upstroke.  It’s Newtonian mechanics, guys.

Posted by: borisjimski on

Bodyworks, which partners with AAI, says that one needs to be able to go on a treadmill at 15 degrees for 45 minutes at 3.5 mph with a 40-pound pack in order to be in sufficient shape to climb Mt. Ranier.  There is no way I can do that.  Are they exaggerating?  On a good day I can go at 15 degrees at 2.5 mph for 45 min with no weight.

Posted by: Larry on

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