Mountaineering Training | Building Agility
As climbers we need to travel safely through complex and hazardous terrain to reach the day’s objective and ultimately return to the car so that we can share our mountain experiences. As Guides we have 3 specific expectations of the people we rope up with:
1 Keep the pace of the guide
2 Climb in balance
3 Take care of yourself at breaks
Climbing in balance will help you manage the other two expectations. By climbing in balance you will move through the mountains more efficiently and be less fatigued so that you can re-fuel and manage your layering at the breaks. Balance can be developed and improved through a variety of training regimens, and incorporating agility training is a great way to improve your balance while climbing.
Wikipedia defines agility as the ability to change the body’s position efficiently and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance. Agility is the ability to change the direction of the body in an efficient and effective manner and to achieve this requires a combination of:
• balance – the ability to maintain equilibrium when stationary or moving (i.e. not to fall over) through the coordinated actions of our sensory functions
• static balance – the ability to retain the center of mass above the base of support in a stationary position;
• dynamic balance – the ability to maintain balance with body movement; speed - the ability to move all or part of the body quickly; strength - the ability of a muscle or muscle group to overcome a resistance; and lastly,
• co-ordination – the ability to control the movement of the body in co-operation with the body’s sensory functions.
Mt. Rainier’s Disappointment Cleaver route tests a climber’s agility while climbing the rock ridge that divides the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers, aptly called the Disappointment Cleaver. In the spring months the route up the Cleaver is comprised of steep snow and by mid-summer is entirely rock. Regardless of the conditions, this section of the climb is more physically taxing for climbers who haven’t developed solid agility skills, as the Cleaver involves large steps, difficult footwork on loose snow or scree and 1,200 feet of elevation gain, so the ability to climb it in balance and as efficiently as possible is a must.
How to train agility:
Get off the pavement! Much of your balance and agility is achieved by small stabilizer muscles in your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and core. Running over roots, rocks, and uneven terrain will help you develop your agility by causing these muscles to fire more often and in different combinations as they adapt to the terrain changes of each step. Cross-country and alpine skiing, hiking, and yoga can all help to build these same stabilizer muscles and can be a tool if running isn’t possible for you. Off-road activities also help train you to look ahead to anticipate the irregularities of the trail. This will aid you when you climb so that you focus on what is ahead of you and don’t get stuck on what is directly at your feet.
An agility ladder is a great tool for home workouts and will help your dynamic balance and coordination. If you do not want to purchase a ladder, draw one with sidewalk chalk on your driveway. There are a multitude of potential exercises you can use with a ladder, to build quick footwork, reflexes, and agility. Start with these and build your repertoire as you see fit!
Remember, if you’re not having some fun while training then you will likely find an excuse to just go through the motions or not train. Get after it and I look forward to seeing you out in the hills!
Useful agility ladder drills: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxjC-0yuSHM
Mike King is a senior guide with RMI Expeditions and a Wilderness Medicine Instructor for WMI of NOLS. Mike guides around the world for RMI. Some of his favorites are upcoming trips to Machu Picchu, Aconcagua, and Mexico’s Volcanoes.
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