Posts for Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Incorporating Yoga into a Training Plan

Posted by: | January 16, 2015
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Yoga studios have popped up nearly everywhere it seems and are as common as gyms in many places. Combine that with all sorts of free online classes and podcasts, and yoga is an activity that is readily available to nearly everyone. There are numerous different styles which focus more heavily on different aspects of the practice, such as stretching, building core strength, or mental training. The combination of strength, stretching, and focus that yoga builds can hold a lot of benefits for athletes, but many do not include it in their training routines. Yoga has a place in your training routine as you prepare for your next climb.

It builds strength: Training for climbing often focuses on a handful of major muscle groups in the legs and core. We do squats for our quads, carry weight up stairs to build our quad and hamstring strength, and do sit-ups and other core exercises for balance and to help stabilize a pack. All of this training does a great job building the major muscle groups we need, but often leaves the surrounding smaller muscles underdeveloped and leads to imbalances that can ultimately lead to injury. Frequent and consistent yoga practice helps to develop those smaller muscle groups that are often left out, helping to balance out the body.

Many yoga poses have a strong focus on balance: Consistent yoga practice helps to develop increased balance and coordination. In climbing, good balance and coordination translate directly to more efficient movement, and ultimately to being able to climb for longer, at a more comfortable rate.

Yoga involves a lot of stretching and is a great way to increase your flexibility: Yoga improves joint and muscular flexibility, translating to greater range of motion, which in turn, yields an increase in performance. Increased range of motion also allows greater strength conditioning since the force can be exerted over a greater period. The increases in strength and performance ultimately lead to greater muscular efficiency, benefits which will certainly be felt on your next long summit day!

The Shavasana portion that usually concludes each class help you to develop mental control: Stretching and strength poses were originally included in the practice of yoga to prepare the mind and body for the meditation and mental training that follows. Developing the ability to calm your mind, quell your doubts, and focus on the task at hand makes climbing a much more enjoyable experience and will improve your success in the mountains.

The number and different types of yoga classes can be intimidating for someone exploring the practice of yoga. Shop around until you find a studio that you like, and explore the different classes they offer. Don’t be frustrated if you can’t do the poses at first; stick with it for a few weeks and you’ll make huge improvements in your practice and will see the benefits creep into the rest of your training.
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Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

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Okay - on the Stair Intervals and eventually the Stair 1, 2, 3,  I am using the stairwell in a local 7 story building.  The thing is that it takes… read more

Posted by: Jim McIntyre on 2/19/2015 at 8:37 am


Mountaineering Training | How I Train For The 8000m Arena

Posted by: Alex Barber | October 07, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

For the last 2 years, my focus in my personal climbing has been climbing 8000m Himalayan peaks solo, without the aid of supplemental oxygen.  My training program has to reflect the increased mental and physical strains that climbing in this style demands.

My training must change significantly depending on the season of my next expedition - spring versus autumn. The difference lies in what I have been doing already leading up to a climb.  My summertime climbs working as a guide on Mt. Rainier are a fantastic aerobic base to train from since the terrain, techniques, and exertion mimic much of the climbing on 8000m peaks. Nothing beats the real thing for training.  Since I have not been climbing Mt. Rainier weekly leading up to a Spring climb, I have to dedicate more training time to endurance workouts around my winter-time home in the Sierras.  I find that my perceived fitness changes a lot between seasons; in the spring I am able to move faster but with less endurance, while in the autumn I feel a deep reservoir of endurance but a lack of speed.

I break my training into blocks of 10 days, rather than weeks, with each 10 day block building on the last in terms of intensity, distance, and strength.  A sample 10 day block would look something like this (descriptions of each workout are below):

Spring Training
• 1 climb with a gain of 5,000’ or more (moving as fast as I can maintain for 2 hour stretches)
• 3 trail runs with a gains of 2,500’ +
• Multi-muscle lifting 2x
• Enduro lifting 1x
Anaerobic Intervals: 8 intervals, 1x
• Rest day 2x
During the course of my total training program, I also include 2 single push 20+ hour ascents.
 
Autumn Training
• 2x Mt. Rainier summit climbs (18,000 – 27,000ft vertical gain total) (4 days total)
• Trail run 2x with 2500ft+ gain
• Multi-muscle lifting 1x
• Enduro lifting 1x
• Anaerobic intervals: 8 intervals, 1x
• Rest Day 1x
Similar to my Spring training program, during the summer months leading up to an Autumn climb, I include 4-5 Muir Snowfield “sprints” (goal of sub 2hrs).  If I am not working on Mt. Rainier, I substitute another snow climb of a constant grade with gains of 4000 – 5000’.
 
Specific descriptions of each workout:

Multi-muscle lifting: Clean and Jerk, Deadlifts, Power snatch (Olympic style lifting).  I frequently add a Bosu ball (a squishy rubber half circle) into some of my lifting exercises  for a balance component.
Enduro lifting: I think of this as anything I can do 15 to 20 reps of, whether push-ups, sit ups, pull-ups, excercises on a weight machine, barbell lifting or Olympic style lifting, and core exercises. My goal for lifting is not to bulk up, but to ensure I have a solid strength base.
Anaerobic Intervals: The goal is to get into my max heart rate zone for as long as I can handle (no more than 2 min, or the anaerobic component is lost). Techniques I “enjoy” are wind sprints, spinning machines, rowing machines or deadlifts. I find that I perform best coming off a solid 2 day rest.
Single Push Ascents: Within my training window I’ll try for a few 20+ hour, single push ascents. These provide a great training benchmark for my physical fitness, and help me build the mental fortitude that long 8000m summit days require
“Snowfield sprints”: I try to find easy to moderate snow climbs, so that the focus is on aerobic fitness and not technical proficiency. My goal is to either single push through the entire ascent or take quick 5 minute maintenance breaks every 2 hrs. I keep the stress high, near my aerobic threshold for the duration of the climb.  My go-to choices have been Mt. Baldy outside of Los Angeles and the Muir Snowfield.
 
Maximizing my training gains:
First off, I have days that I don’t stick to the plan. It’s totally ok! There are days that I just curl up with a box of Cheez-its and watch Netflix. My mind and body need time to recover and its important that I listen to those signals. With a good day of rest, I head into my next workout ready to push until exhaustion!

My plan also has to incorporate the terrain that I have at my disposal. This requires shifting my exercises from the plan somewhat, still with the intention to accomplish the given task: trail runs and body weight exercises to replace lifting can still accomplish my goals of strength and balance training, and give my body new stresses. I try not to sweat missing a particular workout if the terrain simply is not conducive, and focus instead on what I can accomplish.

I change things up, and try to avoid too much of a routine. I know the ways I want to stress my body within this 10 day block but how I go about it changes regularly. For example, I keep a list of strength exercises I use on the wall as an easy way to - at a glance - select a new routine for the day.

Good training partners are essential: their routine will likely take my body out of any established routine I have created, and the extra motivation is invaluable. I add exercises I find fun and effective so that I have a broader program to pull from.

I pay special attention to my diet and nutrition during these intense training periods as well: what I eat can have a huge effect on my recovery and the gains I take away from training.

My plan is a constant work in progress, and is always shifting with the new demands that each new climb might bring.  I try to take time after each climb to assess what worked and what didn’t so that my training is even more effective the next time around.

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Alex Barber is an associate guide at RMI Expeditions and splits his time between the beaches of Southern California and mountains around the world.  Last Autumn, Alex made the summit of Cho Oyu, solo and without bottled oxygen.  This past Spring, he made it to 7600m on Shishpangma’s Inaki Route.  He summited 8156m Manaslu on October 1st, for his third Himalayan climb. 

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Prayer flags frame the summit of Cho Oyu at Advanced Base Camp last Autumn (Alex Barber).
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Thank you Alex for sharing insight on your training plan. This is a Top-5 training advice article for mountaineering. I have received the RMI training blog in the three years… read more

Posted by: TimR on 1/5/2015 at 4:29 am


MOUNTAINEERING TRAINING | BUILD YOUR BASE

Posted by: | October 01, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic Base Training is the foundation that the subsequent layers of your training will be built on.  The first of the three standard phases of training, the goals of aerobic training are to increase muscle efficiency and endurance.  During this building phase, your body develops its capillary network, delivering more blood (and oxygen) to your muscle fibers, minimizing lactate production, maximizing lactate disposal, and increasing mitochondrial density (which produces ATP to fuel your muscles). 

Aerobic base training was initially pioneered by New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard1.  In the 1960 and 1964 Olympic games, three of the athletes he coached combined for 6 medals, dominating the distance events.  The world took notice, and soon some form of his theory of aerobic base training had become commonplace in nearly all endurance events.  There were many misconceptions to his theory though that endured: namely that aerobic training involves lots of long slow miles, and nothing else.  In reality, Lydiard typically included three workouts into his athletes base periods: long runs, shorter steady state runs at an increased effort, and fartlek type interval workouts.

Each workout in the period accomplishes a specific purpose, with the overall goal being to maximize the aerobic energy system before moving on to anaerobic training.  While long workouts accomplish the goals that we usually think of such as increasing blood flow and muscular efficiency, the steady state workout is designed to increase the aerobic threshold (the level of effort the body can exert while maintaining aerobic metabolism and not producing lactic acid), and the fartlek workout is designed to mix up the pace, letting the legs turn over more quickly to stimulate the muscle fibers in a different way and develop the neuromuscular system as well.

As mountaineers, these same principles and goals apply.  During our base phase, our goal is to maximize the aerobic energy system, and so long workouts, shorter steady state workouts, and fartlek intervals will all help to build that strong foundation that the rest of our training will come to rest on.  Into that mix, we can also add endurance strength (light weights, but lots of reps) and core strength workouts to start to build the well rounded fitness that is so essential for our sport!  During the base building phase, higher intensity workouts should still be done at a moderate pace however, perhaps around 80-85% of your max heart rate, rather than a 100% all our effort.  This pace will continue to develop your slow twitch muscle fibers while beginning to develop your fast twitch fibers as well.  This has the added benefit of reducing the chance that you get injured as you move into more intense workouts during later phases of training. 


Mt. Rainier may not be the Olympics, but we can certainly train like an Olympian, and that foundation laid now, will provide the support for a great climb on your next big objective!

(1: http://runnersconnect.net/coach-corner/base-training-running/)

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

An RMI team makes tracks in perfect conditions en route to the summit of Cotopaxi (Mike Walter).

MOUNTAINEERING TRAINING | WHAT MT. RAINIER DEMANDS

Posted by: | September 15, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

The advice “show up in the best shape of your life” can mean very different things for different people.  People from all sorts of different backgrounds come to Mt. Rainier for an adventure and they can all have great success, but it helps to know what you are training for.  For an Ironman triathlete, perhaps it isn’t so much about showing up in the best shape of their life, but in the right shape: the physical demands of mountaineering can be very different than those of a triathlon.  For someone venturing into the mountains for the first time, building overall aerobic fitness and core strength may be the focus. 

Numbers that help to understand the climb:
17,982’ (5480m) of total elevation gain and loss
21 hours on our feet
45-55 lbs of weight potentially in your pack (pack weights do decrease for summit day)
30,000+ steps up and down (no one has ever actually counted them all for us)
2/3 roughly the amount of oxygen available to us at the summit versus sea level.
36 hours in which to do all this (*four day summit climb)

First off, aerobic fitness: For most, summit day on Mt. Rainier will be far and away the longest period of sustained exertion that they have ever done.  A typical summit day involves 15 to 16 hours on our feet; as a general guideline that includes an hour of packing and prep, 10 hours of climbing to the summit and back to Camp Muir, an hour of packing and recovery at Muir, and 3 more hours down the Muir Snowfield.  Even though the overall pace of our movement is slow, the sheer amount of time on our feet and moving adds up to be exhausting.  Now consider that the previous day, the team spent 5 or 6 hours climbing to Camp Muir, and then got maybe 6 hours of somewhat fitful sleep prior to waking for the summit push.  Having a deep aerobic base is the only way to be able to push through all these hours, and consequently, the bulk of your training should focus on this realm. 

Recovery from anaerobic spurts: While 99.5% of the climb is accomplished in that zone of aerobic endurance, there are small sections of increased effort.  It may be just a handful of tricky steps through a boulder jumble on Disappointment Cleaver, or a more sustained section of ice climbing through a tricky, steep section on the Kautz Ice Chute.  At altitude, since we are breathing in less oxygen, these increases in effort can quickly become anaerobic, and the ability to recover mid-effort from these bursts is essential.  Interval training helps to increase your body’s anaerobic threshold (the level of exertion at which you begin to create large amounts of lactic acid) and also builds your body’s ability to metabolize that lactic acid, effectively recovering.  This way, though a few tricky steps may leave you feeling breathless or winded, you are able to recover in a matter of moments with a few deep breathes and fall right back into your rhythm. 

Strength: While many focus on overall leg strength — consider that we will essentially be doing shallow squats all the way to the summit — and it is important, core strength and balance are perhaps even more important and more often overlooked.  Throughout the climb you will be carrying a pack of varying weight.  Your core muscles are responsible for helping to manage a load that is trying to pull you over backwards, keeping it stable and your posture in a position for efficient movement, and a base of core strength allows you to accomplish the more athletic moves that steeper climbing requires.  While your core is doing the work to deal with your pack and much of your balance, the small muscles of your ankles and lower legs have to deal with ever-changing terrain: no step is the same, and your ankles and knees have adapt to the changes in slope and pitch to allow the rest of your body to remain in balance.  Overall strength is still important, but strength exercises that incorporate an element of balance and coordination or involve your core will pay huge dividends once you find yourself on uneven terrain. 

As you build your training plan, take these elements into account, and assess where you already stand.  If you come from a strong endurance background, continue with that, but place more of your focus on recovery and core strength.  If endurance sports are new to you, start here, focusing on building your base (as that really is the foundation of the rest).  Most of all, have confidence that if you follow your plan, your will show up ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

An RMI team negotiates a rocky section of the summit crater of Mt. Rainier (John Mancuso).

Mountaineering Training | The Art of the Taper

Posted by: | August 29, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

The last week before the start of an expedition or climb can be a hectic and stressful period.  Between packing and repacking your bags and squaring away your work and life to be gone for a few days (or a month!), there is a ton to do.  It might be tempting to forego your workouts during this period in order to rest up.  Still others might channel their stress into a last week of intense training.  Rest is important, but so is maintenance of your fitness.  This is the period to taper your training plan, striking a balance somewhere in between the two extremes. 

The ultimate goal of the taper period is to reduce fatigue (physical as well as mental and emotional), while maintaining fitness.  There are four main parameters that you can vary in your training to create a taper: intensity, volume, frequency, and duration of the taper. 

Intensity is the only variable that doesn’t change.  You should continue to do your workouts at a similar intensity to what you have built up to.  This means that your aerobic workouts are still slow enough that you stay in your aerobic zone, but at the same time, your intensity workouts such as intervals and strength are still done at or above the level that your have been training at.  Achieve the reduction in fatigue that is requisite of these workouts by varying the volume and frequency instead

Volume should be greatly reduced during the taper period.  Research recommends that training volume be reduced by 50-70 percent for endurance athletes.  While this may seem like a radical drop in training, the reduction in volume will eliminate training fatigue, while the maintenance of intensity will maintain your fitness.  Reducing your training volume also opens up time in your day to complete other tasks that need to be taken care of before you go!

Frequency of workouts can also be reduced to lessen the training fatigue.  If you have been doing multiple workouts a day, drop to just a single workout per day.

Duration of the taper can vary.  For a very aerobic and endurance based sport such as mountaineering, about a week is ideal. 

To apply this to your training regime, think about the schedule of workouts that you have been following already.  Your aerobic workouts are a great place to dramatically reduce your volume; a two hour workout could be reduced to just an hour or 45 minutes of easy aerobic work at the same pace you have done your longer workouts at (resist the temptation to push the pace harder).  In your interval workouts, take longer rest breaks between intervals, and cut the number in half, while still doing a quality warm-up and cool-down.  With strength workouts, maintain the same weights, but reduce the number of sets and repetitions per set. 

This period is also a great time to focus on stretching and recovery for your body.  Take special care with your nutrition, recovery routine, and sleep habits to allow your body to recover from the training fatigue of the last several months, and you will show up in peak form!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI Climbers on the summit crater of Pico de Orizaba 18,701'.   (Courtesy Chris Villar)

Mountaineering Training | RMI Guide Lindsay Mann Talks Training

Posted by: Lindsay Mann | July 31, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

RMI Guide Lindsay Mann recently sat down with the crew at MTNmeister, a five day-a-week podcast that that explores the training, stamina, strength, and psychology of outdoor mountain athletes. Below is an excerpt from Lindsay’s interview where she discusses some perspectives on training for Mt. Rainier:

MTNmeister: Talk a little bit about the types of preparation you should be doing with types of mountains like Mt. Rainier…obviously it can just get scaled up from there, there are a lot of people who do larger Himalayan peaks actually train on Mt. Rainier so that would be a good place to start. Where would that training start?

Lindsay Mann: I definitely recognize as [a] guide that my lifestyle revolves around being in the mountains and that’s not the reality for all of the people that we climb with. Though, I think it’s important for people that do have a more typical lifestyle is getting in some endurance training. Obviously running is great, [really] any type of endurance [training]. Also, training with a pack. I climbed with my dad and he had to be in New York City a couple of weeks before coming out to Rainier so he climbed as many stairs as he could carrying a 40 pound pack. He just filled a bunch of water jugs and put them in his pack.

I think that is an important part of that too, if that’s how you do end up training (doing some sort of stairs) is [remembering] to train for the way downhill.  So, mentally think about getting to the top, but people forget that they also have to get off of the mountain. I think that for us as guides, the number one thing is getting back home safely. Remembering that training downhill, both mentally and physically, is an important part of the training.

I think that switching it up too, endurance stuff, having a strong core, being creative about your training is very important.

MM: The downhill part that you mentioned, how are you normally descending the mountains?

LM: We go down the same route typically that we go and I think it’s just [remembering to use] a lot of the efficiency techniques that we teach on the way up, like the rest step which I’m sure many people have heard of…

MM: Would you explain the rest step?

LM: The rest step is a stance where you have your lower leg straight and your upper leg is bent so all of your body weight is resting on your skeletal system instead of on your muscles. And then just a quick step to that next rest stance so that once again all of your weight is on that lower leg resting more on your skeletal system. It’s a nice small step so that you are saving as much energy as you can on the way up and getting a little bit of a rest with each step.

MM: So you are putting more pressure on your skeletal system and saving your muscles for the endurance basically?

LM: Yeah, essentially saving your muscles for the way down. On the way down you don’t want to lock out your leg - you just can’t do it. It’s a lot harder just to walk down.

MM: You mentioned that your father was training by climbing up and down stairs and he had his backpack full of water, how do climbers know that the training is going to be appropriate for the type of trip they are going to do because they probably have never been to that location, unless it’s you as a guide who has gone there fifty times so you know exactly what it’s like. Do you recommend a person that is going to go up a mountain like Rainier to work with a guiding company like you on the training aspect too? Or is it just looking on the internet, following some other sorts of guidelines?

LM: We actually have a specific training and fitness page and there, there are a lot of good training tips. There are a variety of training tips, for people that have a more “regular” lifestyle, like a nine-to-five job. Also, interspersed in there is some of the training that we guides do. That’s one of the best tools that our climbers can use. My dad actually, after he was training, wrote a blog piece on there about the training that he did. He spent a lot of time training in New Hampshire, so he [describes] some hikes that he did that he felt prepared him adequately for Mt. Rainier in his progression.

Listen to the entire podcast and see more of MTNMeister’s episodes at mtnmeister.com.

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Lindsay Mann is a lead guide with RMI Expeditions and has guided and climbed around the world, including a recent all women’s ski mountaineering trip to Alaska’s Wrangell St. Elias. Learn more about the trip by listening to the full interview.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Lindsay Mann climbing in Peru's Cordillera Blanca (Lindsay Mann).

Mountaineering Training | Staying Hydrated: Water Bottles or Hydration Systems?

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

Climbers heading to Rainier often ask the question, “water bottles or camelback?”  Nearly every backpack sold now is “hydration system compatible” and many endurance athletes are training and competing with hydration systems.  Are these systems best suited to mountaineering however?

In the past, many guides simply asked their climbers not to use hydration systems, but to carry hard sided water bottles instead.  The belief was that the drawbacks of hydration systems outweighed the benefits.  As hydration systems have improved to be less prone to leaking or punctures, this stance has shifted.  There still are drawbacks to hydration systems, but given the right conditions, precautions, and expectations, they can be used effectively in mountaineering for a climb such as Rainier. 

The main concerns we see with hydration systems are:

The hoses freeze: During midsummer climbs with high freezing levels, this doesn’t tend to be as much of a problem.  On cooler climbs however, ice buildup in the hose can quickly block any water from getting through.  The neoprene hose insulators are pretty ineffective, since they are thin, and it doesn’t take much ice buildup to completely block the flow.  Blowing the water back through the hose after every drink can help, but still isn’t 100% effective.  The best practice is to bring an empty, hard sided water bottle (even if only ½ liter capacity) that you can pour the hydration bladder into should it freeze, so that you still have access to water.

Rationing water:  Climbers can only carry so much water for a climb before the weight becomes cumbersome.  Typically we recommend 2-3 liters of water for a Rainier summit day.  This is plenty, but requires climbers to ration it; for example, 2 liters allows a climber 1/3 of a liter of water at each break.  If climbers are sipping more consistently from a hydration system, often they lose track of that rationing, and find themselves partway into a climb, with no water left.  Diligent attention is the only way to solve this, and this is difficult when you can’t actually see how much water you have left. 

Distractions:  Trying to turn a hydration hose on and off and drink from it on the fly distracts from the climbing, the terrain, and the overall situation.  When climbers are roped up and in climbing mode, each member of the team is relying on all of the others to remain vigilant to catch a fall, and to not cause a fall.  A hydration hose is a distraction from this, and the solution is to either keep the hose tucked away inside the pack (where it is inaccessible) in climbing terrain, or for climbers to carefully assess the hazards of the terrain they are in at that moment, and to choose benign stretches to get their hydration. 

Hard sided water bottles have been the standard in mountaineering for decades and still provide the simplest method of carrying water.  They generally do not freeze, it’s easy to see how much you are drinking, and they are away in the pack while climbing.  That being said, since they are tucked away in the pack, they are inaccessible, and do not allow a climber the opportunity to get a quick sip of water on a long stretch.  Hydration systems may have a place in your mountaineering kit, but practice with them, have a plan, and know how to minimize the drawbacks.  If in doubt, water bottles will still work fine!

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI rope teams at the top of Mt. Rainier's Disappointment Cleaver (Robby Young).
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Not to mention that if you put something other than water in the hydration pack, it can get a bit more complicated to clean-up after a few days on the… read more

Posted by: charles on 7/23/2014 at 3:33 am


Mountaineering Training | Moving Air: Breathing For Performance

Posted by: | July 07, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

To prepare for your next climb, you have spent hours upon hours training your muscular strength, your muscular endurance, and your cardiovascular fitness.  How about your breathing?  Your respiratory system gets benefit from all of your other training and doesn’t need specific focus, right?  Studies of endurance athletes and performance indicate exactly the opposite!  Your diaphragm is a group of muscles that do the work of inflating your lungs, bringing in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, and just like any other muscle group in your body, they can be trained and toned to work more efficiently. 

Belly Breathing
The key to more efficient breathing for performance is belly breathing.  There is far more volume within the lower portions of the lungs (the belly) than there is in the upper portions (located in the chest), yet most people primarily use their chest to breath.  When an athlete breathes mainly in their chest, they take in less oxygen with each breath, but as importantly, they also remove less carbon dioxide from their system.  Carbon dioxide dissolves in the blood, and causes the pH of the blood to drop (acidification).  Acidification of the blood is a major cause of muscle fatigue, thus removing carbon dioxide from your system is just as important as taking in oxygen to fuel your muscles.  By belly breathing, more of the lungs’ volume is utilized both to take in oxygen, and to remove carbon dioxide, and an athlete’s performance increases to match.  One study done by at the University of Arizona had 20 road cyclists do computer controlled deep breathing exercises for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks, to develop their diaphragm and intercostal muscles.  At the end of the period, they did a simulated 40 km race.  The control groups all showed no improvement in performance, while the test group road 5% faster.  Imagine if your next climb felt 5% easier!

Practice
To train yourself to belly breath during exercise, start by doing some simple belly breathing practice while at rest.  Try lying down and placing your hands, one on top of the other, on your stomach, just above your belly button.  Inhale, trying to push your hands as high towards the ceiling as you can.  Hold for a moment, then exhale fully, feeling your hands sink as far to the floor as you can.  Feel as though your belly button is moving towards your spine, but don’t push with your hands; let the muscles of your diaphragm do the work.  Inhale again pushing your hands as high as you can once more, and continue to repeat the process.  With practice, this type of breathing will become more natural, and will begin to move into your exercise as well.  You can practice the technique the next time you are sitting at your desk, or while sitting in the car on your next commute as well.  With practice and training, the muscles of your lungs will tone just like the muscles in your legs and core do! 

The Pressure Breath
If you are not familiar with the pressure breath, it is one of the most important efficiency techniques that we teach new climbers.  Pressure breathing is a technique nearly all mountaineers use on high altitude mountains around the world, and is really just a derivative of the belly breath.  Inhaling as fully as possible, the climber exhales with force, generally pursing their lips slightly so as to create a smaller aperture, as if they were trying to blow out a series of birthday candles.  Essentially belly breathing with a forceful exhale, the pressure breath helps to improve gas exchange across the alveoli by increasing the pressure in the lungs.  The pressure breath helps to combat the effects caused by decreasing atmospheric pressure as climbers gain altitude.  The pressure breath is one of the most important techniques for climbing at altitude efficiently, but it requires a lot of work from the muscles of your lungs.  By beginning to tone and train those muscles now, you will be better prepared to pressure breath your way up your next climb in style!

Check out these few articles from the running and cycling world for more information and techniques to develop your belly breathing:

Runners World article titled Lung Power.
Chris Burnham of Burnham coaching, Breathing for endurance athletes.
And lastly, Endurance Training: surviving the tour.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

An RMI rope team climbs the summit ridge of Denali (Zeb Blais).

Mountaineering Training | Pulse Check: Checking In During the Final Weeks Of Training

Posted by: | June 16, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Editor’s Note: This “pulse check,” adapted from the end of John Colver’s Fit To Climb Program, a sixteen-week Mt. Rainier training program, is a general check-in two weeks before the climb. 

You really can’t build any more fitness less than two weeks before the climb. The other side of that point is there really is the potential to squander the benefits you’ve worked for by doing too much in the coming weeks and arriving to the climb thoroughly exhausted. For some people, the crux of the training is managing the reduced amount of effort and intensity. In a very similar way to being stuck on a mountain waiting for a storm to pass, this reduced workload may test your patience, but you have to recognize that to overdo it now would be akin to stepping out into the storm. There is just no point.

Roughly speaking, the training intensity and volume are reduced by 50% in the coming days. Some ways to manage the additional downtime can be reviewing your gear, reading about the climb, watching a movie or catching up with friends and family. The last few weeks of training are busy and your climb is coming up at the end of next week. It’s time to relax.

Given that your climb is coming up very soon, this week’s and next week’s preparation really blend into each other. As you look ahead at your schedule for the next ten days, bear in mind that it’s perfectly fine to juggle around the days to suit your needs. Another important thing to bear in mind is that it’s certainly okay to skip training days. The goal from now onwards is rest and preparation. The climb is the event that all the training has been leading up to. Most people are going to be a little nervous. If your nerves are getting the best of you, now is a good time to start actively practicing relaxation and anxiety management skills. My frank observation is that no matter what concerns or doubts come up between the start and the end of this week, the right thing to do in almost every case is to relax and focus on the next hour. You will need all of your energy to climb this mountain and you should feel confident that the training you have will afford you the opportunity to reach the summit of Mount Rainier.

There are, however, many things that cannot be controlled, weather and snow conditions being the biggest factors. It is easy to worry about both of these things, but I can promise you as a guide I learned not to worry about those things until the time is actually right. The determination of whether to continue or turn back is always a calculated decision made in the moment, and this is one of the fascinations of the challenge. A climbing team can have a hundred percent perfect weather forecast and if there’s a slight air pressure change two hours from the summit, this can result in white-out conditions and winds so high that turning around is the only reasonable option. It is also true that many successful climbs start out in poor visibility and inclement weather which dissipates as the team climbs higher. No one knows what the conditions will be like on your summit day and this is why the gear list contains clothing and equipment for all conditions. What you can count on is the knowledge that no matter how many times your guide has walked out of Camp Muir in the middle of the night, she or he does not forget what it was it is like the first time. Try and suspend thinking about what is happening above the clouds; I say this with absolute assurance, you will be supported by a world-class guide team.

On this note, many people report that the experience of being part of a team is one of the most memorable aspects of the climb. Being connected by carabiners and a thin nylon rope is certainly a bonding experience. The famous French guide and writer Gaston Rébuffat often spoke of the “Brotherhood of the Rope” to symbolize the connectedness of everyone on the team. It’s an amazing experience to share the mountains with like-minded climbers!

If at the end of next week, you stand on the summit of Mount Rainier, it will be because you put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, and met the challenge of climbing 9,000’ from the alpine meadows of Rainier’s foot to the glacier capped summit. Along the way, you will find synchronicity with your teammates. You will boost them when they are tired and they will do the same for you.

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John Colver is a longtime climber, former mountain guide, and certified personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise. Colver introduced outdoor fitness classes to athletic clubs throughout the greater Puget Sound region before creating his adventX brand. Currently, adventX leads training programs in Seattle and Colver presents clinics on outdoor fitness at companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, the American Lung Association, and REI. Colver lives in Seattle.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Headlights climb the road to the Paradise Trailhead beneath stars and climbers' headlamps on Mt. Rainier (RMI Collection).

Mountaineering Training | The Motivation Factor

Posted by: | May 26, 2014
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

A crux for improvement in most any athlete lies in maintaining motivation; maintaining the drive to begin, practice, and persist at a task until you have reached your goals.  In a 2009 piece in Psychology Today, Jim Taylor wrote that there are three factors that affect performance: Ability, Competition, and Motivation.  Motivation is the only factor over which you have control.  Ability (both physical, tactical, and mental) is something that you are born with.  Other outside factors influence performance as well such as the away game crowd in sports, or temperature, weather, wind, and conditions in mountaineering.  Again, these factors are all beyond our control, and can only be anticipated and dealt with as they appear. 
 
This leaves motivation as the key component to success. When we are motivated, we train and practice in order to maximize our given abilities. This probably isn’t news to anyone, but how do you maintain motivation day after day in a training process that can take well over a year to reach its culmination?  How do you maintain your motivation in the face of cold and wet conditions in the winter, hot and muggy in the summer, or when other elements in your life are pressing in and tempting you to skip a day of training? This is the point that sports psychologists refer to as “the grind”, the point at which training and practice cease to be fun or pleasurable and begin to sap at your motivation.  How you respond to the grind is what separates a top performance from a mediocre one. 
 
When you feel your training and motivation beginning to suffer, be willing to admit it and decide what direction you are going to take.  You can continue on your current trajectory, or you can redirect yourself toward your goals and redouble your efforts.  Once you decide on a path, dedicate yourself to it and recognize that your training needs to hold a place of priority in your daily schedule.  At the same time, take a moment to evaluate your training and decide what is working and what isn’t.  If running is hurting your knees and causing you to dread your workouts, reduce the number of running workouts in your training and shift those workouts to a lower impact activity such as cycling.  When the gym becomes claustrophobic, take your core workouts outside to the local park or woods. 
 
It’s something of a cliché to say that the difference between athletes and great athletes is their dedication to the game.  Pelé once said that, “I used to train very hard. When the other players went to the beach after training, I was there kicking the ball.”  While most climbers don’t have the time to dedicate themselves singularly to climbing like Pelé did, try to practice that same mental dedication.  Ask yourself in the morning what you can do that day to improve and give yourself the best chance on Rainier or any other peak. Before you head to bed, ask yourself if you did everything you could that day to achieve your goals.  Finally, if you have a novel trick that you use to stay motivated, post it in the comments below.  Your trick may be just the ticket for another climber! 

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

RMI Guide Geoff Schellens leads a team of climbers on Mt. Rainier's Kautz Route (Eric Frank).
4

First, I just want to say I am looking forward to meeting everyone on this climb! I hope we will be able to summit and the weather doesn’t stop us… read more

Posted by: Steph on 6/13/2014 at 1:53 pm

Hello all, My brother and I are coming from out of town for this climb but we are running into issues with getting out to Rainier. I’m curious, How are… read more

Posted by: Kevin M. on 6/9/2014 at 8:48 pm


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