Mountaineering Training | Make The Most Of Rest Breaks

Posted by: | April 21, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

How do you utilize rest breaks in your training and climbs? Do you take a break to eat? And another when you are thirsty?  Perhaps when your legs get tired and uncomfortable? A quick bathroom break on the side of the trail?  It’s important to take care of all of these needs but they need to approached strategically to prevent rest breaks from turning an otherwise long endeavor into an epic.  Learning to manage your rest breaks and keep them efficient makes a big difference on summit day. 

At RMI, the oft-used cliché is that we take “maintenance breaks,” not rest breaks. Consider all of the needs that need to be taken care of mid-climb: you need to relieve yourself, take in enough calories to maintain your energy output, hydrate, adjust your clothing layers to changing conditions, perhaps take care of a hot spot so that it doesn’t become a debilitating blister, get a few minutes off of your feet, and just maybe snap a couple of photos.  This list can easily turn into a half an hour of tasks, even if each only took just 4-5 minutes to accomplish.  After thirty minutes your legs will likely start to stiffen and your temperature start to drop, not to mention that a few half-hour breaks together can turn a 10 hour day into a 12+ hour day in the mountains, stretching the limits of how long we can climb safely and maintain our focus. 

The moral of the story is that efficiency is key: we want to try to take care of all of our needs in the span of ten minutes to leave a few minutes to relax before getting back on the trail and making progress towards the finish line.  Ultra marathoners do this with “walking breaks,” slowing to a walk every hour to make sure that their body is primed for the next hour.  Mountainous terrain doesn’t let us take breaks on the fly, but the principle remains the same.  Taking short, deliberate, and consistent breaks keeps us climbing strongly throughout the day. Making rest breaks efficient takes practice. Learn to multitask in your breaks: take a couple bites of food while you shuffle clothing layers, relieve yourself before you sit down to start your other chores, and sip on water throughout the break.  As you get better at it, you’ll find that you’ve taken care of everything in the first few minutes, and you can relax and let your legs get a bit of recovery for the rest of the break. 

No matter how efficient you are, the time rest breaks take add up.  Taking efficient breaks too frequently can drain just as much time as taking a couple of long breaks. In the mountains, we try to maintain a consistent pace for an hour or so before stopping for ten to fifteen minutes to refuel and take care of ourselves.  This proves to be an effective interval for our bodies in terms of replenishing depleted stores yet still allows us to reach our destination.  Practice this interval in your training too and by your next climb it will feel like second nature. 

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An RMI Team takes a break at Ingraham Flats (11,200') while descending Mt. Rainier (Jon Mancuso).

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