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Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training


Mountaineering Training | Finding the Balance Between Training and Life

RMI Guide Adam Knoff originally wrote this for the training blog a few years ago. As we have all been more or less stuck in our homes, with life looming front and center for many, Adam's message again seemed apropos. 

Today I was surprisingly asked a question that, as far as I can tell, is as old as human curiosity, parental affection and plain ol’ sibling rivalry. This may seem strange because I only have one child, and my somewhat unhinged three wingnut dogs can’t speak and honestly don’t care about the answer as long as they are fed and played with. As you may have guessed, the question so abruptly put on me this morning was: “daddy, who’s your favorite?” Harder to guess was, who asked it? 

Things started normally enough; I made breakfast for my kiddo before packing him up and carting him off to preschool. I fed my dogs and chickens, cleaned the kitchen, and prepared for a day of light recreating before my afternoon duties began. It was when I entered the garage, home to my all important man cave and location of all my beloved fly fishing and climbing gear that things took a bizarre turn. Standing in front of me (I kid you not!) side by side, with puppy dog eyes looking up, stood my 12’6” Echo spey rod and my carbon fiber, oh so beautiful, Cobra ice tools. These sorts of things don’t just happen so I double checked my reality button. Dreaming? No I don’t think so. I have been up for three hours, had my coffee, and still felt the throb in my left big toe where I slammed it into the chest at the side of my bed. Ok, I’m awake. Drugged? No, I quit taking hallucinogens in high school and my wife, I think, genuinely cares about me. Then what? My two favorite activities in life, swinging flies for big trout with my spey rod and ice climbing, which is now doable in Bozeman, Montana, have come to a head. With a few free hours, my fishing rod and ice tools came alive and wanted me to pick favorites. Sheeesh! What’s a guy to do? 

As time stood still, I began to reflect on the week long steelhead fishing trip I took just two weeks prior to the Grand Rhond, Clearwater, and Snake rivers. Ohhh, the joy of that trip made me quiver. It made me want to reach out, grab my spey rod child and declare my love for him. 28 inch ocean run rainbows on the swing, the thrill of the next hook up, not wearing a heavy pack; the reasons almost overwhelmed me. Yes, yes, you will always be my favorite!!! Then I saw my ice tools. Hyalite Canyon is in! I can’t wait for the thrill of running it out on newly formed thin ice over a stubby ice screw, waking up before the sun, and realizing this day was bound to hold everything but the predictable. Ohh, ice tools, you are my favorite, “let’s go climb something!” I think you understand my dilemma. 

Parenting has taught me much in the five years that I’ve been at it. Love, patience and compassion are always at the forefront of dealing with children. Frustrations always arise. Liam spills my wine on the new rug, my spey rod whips bullets at the back of my head leaving welts the size of cheese curds on my scalp, ice tools rip out unexpectedly and send waves of sudden panic through me that make me want to puke. All part of the landscape I guess. So how did I answer the question, “who is your favorite”? Here I leaned on the invaluable lessons gleaned from seven years of blissful marriage. I compromised.

That day I took the ice tools out for their first climb of the season. I packed them up with the rest of my climbing gear all the while psyched I had just promised my fishing rod we would get out tomorrow. It’s a difficult web we weave, balancing work and play. I honestly felt troubled that I had to recreate two days in a row, climbing then fishing, but then again parenting is also about sacrifice. 

As readers of the RMI Blog, most of you are probably cracking a smile but are also curious how this story is relevant to the mission of mountain climbing, training, and/or preparing for an upcoming goal. Here is how I connect the dots: Fishing for me is the yin to my climbing yang. It is a glorious mental escape which allows me to shelve my daily stresses and exist purely in the moment. Everyone needs this periodic meditation to reset and clear the mind. For many, exercise accomplishes the same release but regular exercise does not necessarily constitute “training”. The expectations I put on myself when climbing on my own are very high and the specific training schedule I follow can at times be demanding, painful, and sometimes unpleasant. Here is where we tie in sacrifice. Everyone’s life is managed by time. Somewhere on that big round clock is time you can utilize for yourself. If you have a goal of climbing a mountain, running a marathon, or bench pressing a Ford truck, you need to prioritize and then commit! Finding enjoyment and purpose in life comes when these commitments are made. Being a husband and father keep me grounded. Being a passionate climber and guide keep me psyched and motivated, and the hunt for big fish calms me down. In the big picture I think I have found some balance. Remember it takes the black and the white, the yin and the yang, to complete the circle. The web you weave and balance you seek are your own, but seek it with conviction and purpose and you will be just fine.

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Mountaineering Training | Body Weight Core Strength Circuits

These strange times have many of us off balance and out of rhythm, and our training routines have felt the toll as well. Stay at home policies across the country have closed fitness centers and kept us at home without our usual tools. Body weight core exercises are a great way to continue to improve your strength and functional mobility, and taking your strength workout outside is a great way to break your routine and inject some new energy to training. The Dartmouth cross-country ski team uses this type of workout (and it’s where many of the example exercises come from) as part of a base and strength building cycle each fall.
Choose a jogging loop that has areas that you will be comfortable getting down to the ground on (a park, forest loop, or city parkway).

  • Set out for a good warm-up, 10-15 min at a gentle pace that is still conversational.
  •  
  • Find a comfortable spot (grass or a forest floor are much nicer than concrete!) and complete a set each of two different core exercises (pushups and crunches for instance). This style of workout will build more endurance strength since they use just body weight, so try to pick a number of repetitions that you can do several sets of, but still push you hard in the individual set. 60 full crunches and 40 pushups is a great example.
  •  
  • Jog easily for 200 meters. The active recovery of jogging easily will still allow you to recover, but will train your body to recover while maintaining at least some level of effort.
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  • A set each of two more exercises (dips on a park bench and side planks). 
  •  
  • 200 meter jogging recovery. 
  •  
  • Complete a third set of exercises. 6 exercises is a great number to start from for your total workout.
  •  
  • Continue until you have done 3 sets of each exercise (9 total strength stops). 
  •  
  • Cool down and head home!

 

As you progress, you can vary the workout in the number of repetitions you do during each set, or by varying the total number of sets. Try to mix up the exercises that you use, so that you get a complete core workout, without stressing one group of muscles unduly. This a great workout to do with partners at a safe social distance. You can spice it up by having different partners choose the exercises for a given set, which can add variety and show you some new exercises to add to your routine. If you don’t have a loop that is suitable, try a couple of laps of a small park. While it may take some imagination to get going, getting outside and breaking up your strength routine is a great way to keep the upward progress of your training going!
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These three resources have a number of good core exercises for inspiration:
http://www.brianmac.co.uk/exercise.htm#cte
https://experiencelife.com/article/core-circuit-workout/
http://www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/circuit-training-exercises.html

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Mountaineering Training | An Introduction to Uphill Athlete

RMI Expeditions is excited to be partnering with Uphill Athlete to provide our clientele what we believe to be the best training information and coaching available. We invited Steve House to introduce Uphill Athlete to our blog readers, which is what follows. RMI does not receive any financial compensation from Uphill Athlete, nor vice versa. We simply believe wholeheartedly in the effectiveness of the coaching and information that Uphill Athlete provides. 

 

Mountaineering Training and Uphill Athlete

By Steve House

“Man discovers himself when he measures himself against an obstacle.” – Antoine de St. Exupery

Mountains are, metaphorically and physically, the obstacles by which we measure ourselves. When you get to the base of the mountain you want to be ready. You want to be safe. You also may want to emerge as a changed person. If you agree with these statements, you are the reason my long-time coach, Scott Johnston, and I write books and a blog dedicated to how to train for mountain climbing.

The gist of what we wanted people to know is this: There is no magic to endurance training. Instead, there are 100 years of history and a well understood intellectual framework behind the theory and application that applies to the full spectrum of endurance sport. 

In 2002 as a professional climber I began training under Scott Johnston. Scott is an accomplished endurance coach with an extensive background as both an alpinist and high-level endurance athlete, During the ensuing years I, alone and with partners, achieved many landmark ascents. The training process transformed me from being merely good, to becoming one of the best in the world.

In 2010 a serious climbing accident cut short my high-level climbing career. Soon thereafter Scott and I decided to undertake a project to educate the climbing public about training for mountain climbing. Three years of work culminated with the 2014 publication of our best-selling book Training for the New Alpinism followed by the 2015 publication of The New Alpinism Training Log, and the 2019 publication of Training for the Uphill Athlete, our book aimed at mountain runners and skiers. 

All training is exercise but not all exercise is training

One important thing to understand is the difference between training and random exercise. Every effective training plan must adhere to these cardinal principles:

  • It must be gradually progressive in loading the athlete.
  • It must be individualized to the athlete.
  • It must modulate the athlete’s training load.
  • It must be applied consistently to the athlete.

 

Training is the structured and systematic application of specific amounts, types, and durations of exercise aimed toward achieving a performance result. It does this by increasing your capacity for physical work in the several realms that make up your event, whatever that is for you. When the time is right you will be able to utilize your hard earned exercise-capacity to its fullest extent and achieve your big mountain goals.

There are a lot of people selling exercise programs as training programs. The hallmark of an exercise plan is random physical activity. There is nothing wrong with an exercise program but don’t be fooled into thinking you are training by using that approach. Which one you choose determines not only your path but also your destination.

Today, our books and our website are the continuation of our mission of openly sharing proven training knowledge for the outdoor sports we love.

If you are ready to have your training transform you and explore your own boundaries, myself, Scott and the coaches at Uphill Athlete will be honored to share our knowledge and help you do the most effective training to meet your big-mountain goals.

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You might also be interested in the following articles:

 

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Mountaineering Training | At Home Strength Workouts from Uphill Athlete

We at RMI hope that this email finds you well. As many across the country shelter at home due to COVID, it can be difficult to keep a regular training regime and maintain your fitness. While many of us are restricting our movements and trying to maintain distance socially, those necessary actions can be challenging both mentally and physically as the weeks go by.

We might be removed from the gyms, clubs, and training groups that we have come to rely on, but our friends at Uphill Athlete have put up a free set of Home Strength Routines on their webpage that can help to fill the void. There are three levels of difficulty, though the exercises are quite similar, so there is a logical progression that you can use to continue to build strength. The routines are very attainable, but plenty difficult to challenge yourself (or a group of your workout partners via web chat to push each other!). 

Check them out and best wishes from all of us at RMI. For those that are finding ways to get outside, please remember that first responder resources are already stretched thin. Stay close to home, take few risks, and enjoy the fresh air while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay sane. We're looking forward to getting back to the mountains once it is safe and right to do so.

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Mountaineering Training | Getting Out the Door

“Do you train?” A climber recently asked me as we descended the Disappointment Cleaver on Mt. Rainier. My answer: “Well, to be honest, training to most guides is a way of life.” We don’t HAVE TO go for a run, lift weights, and bike all day; we GET TO. Training and performing are both mentally demanding to do and to motivate for. My remedy is to remove the need to motivate and intentionally make training part of who I am. There are two ways to view the 5 A.M. wake up to go to the gym: The first - it’s a choice you make every day and the second - it’s what you do. Consciously removing the decision to get out the door and train makes the process easier. I was suffering from decision making fatigue just the other day as I tried to decide which Tillamook ice cream to buy, but had no problem walking out the door to get in a jog because it wasn’t a choice. On days when it seems harder to get moving, I tell myself; “Well, there is no decision to make. Here we go.” 

What do many of us guides do for training? You name it and guides are doing it: road biking, mountain biking, rock climbing, yoga, HITT, sprinting, jogging, swimming, skiing, weight lifting, sit-ups, bouldering, and on and on. The guiding lifestyle lends itself well to activity and a solid foundation of endurance, and as a result our training may be less structured. We all make choices around what’s important to us. If I am building fitness for a specific climb however, I will be more organized about my approach, dividing my training into specific categories and foci to more efficiently reach the gains that I’m depending on. This is probably more applicable to many of the climbers I work with, for whom their next climb likely is one of the largest athletic feats they have taken on in their life.

Training takes time in what is often a busy schedule. What if we took 5 to 10 minutes from different ways we spend our time each day (time on our computers, socializing, food preparation, tv watching, house cleaning, shopping, sleeping, social media) and put that into fitness?  There is no way I can navigate your personal time management, but it is all a compromise and we can do almost anything but not everything. 

There are lots of good blogs here on types of workout and training preparation routines so I’m not going to outline specific workouts here but instead link to some of my favorite references:

https://www.uphillathlete.com/training-plans/

https://www.redbull.com/us-en/lindsey-vonns-training-regimen-will-wreck-you

https://www.rmiguides.com/resources/fitness-and-training

http://www.fitclimb.com/page/6-week-beginner-mountaineering

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Christina Dale has led climbing expeditions all over the world - from Everest Base Camp to the Mexican volcanoes to the summit of Denali. She’s skied from the top of Chilean volcanoes, peaks in Patagonia, and across Mount Cook. During the summer, she’s a regular on Rainier. She spends her winters ski patrolling at Crystal Mountain, with her avalanche search and rescue dog in tow.

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

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Mountaineering Training | Training Zones

UPDATED 4 NOV 2019

A major component of a successful training plan and regimen is varying the intensity of workouts in an organized way to create an increase in overall fitness and performance. Some workouts are hard, some are short bursts of maximum effort, and many are long and slow endurance sessions. As we consider the goals of different training periods and the types of training that they entail, workouts tend to be defined by their intended HR or intensity zone.

Training zones have traditionally been distilled into five categories, based on their physiological effect and the corresponding effort they require. While it’s not a particularly exciting way to label them, the categories are named Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3…you get the idea. For those that train with a heart rate monitor, percentage of max heart rate (MaxHR) is a common way to help identify your training zones. The most common method to determine your MaxHR is to subtract your age from 220. This can provide somewhere to start, but MaxHR shows a high degree of variability between people, mostly due to genetics. It does decrease with age, and level of fitness actually has very little effect on one’s MaxHR. As you get further into your training plan and have some HARD workouts, you’ll get a sense for where your MaxHR more realistically lies. If you see a higher MaxHR show up on your workout than the formula says you should, go with that. If you can’t get anywhere near your calculated MaxHR despite the hardest workouts, go with the highest value you’ve seen.

While MaxHR is one of the most common ways to determine an individual’s training zones from common software platforms such as Strava, TrainingPeaks, etc, there are other methods that can offer a bit more refinement. These include the HRR or Heart Rate Reserve method, or completing an Aerobic Threshold Test and Anaerobic Threshold Test.

Heart rate monitors are great training tools, but are not necessary to train properly. Another method of setting the zones is to use perceived effort. The zones are described as follows:

Zone 1: Zone 1 is described as the aerobic recovery zone, and is between 50—60% of MaxHR. At this intensity, the body burns fat for energy and allows muscles to replenish their glycogen stores. On a perceived effort scale, this workout almost feels like a non-workout. At the end you should feel that you didn’t go hard enough to accomplish anything perhaps. In reality, this is a great intensity for building your aerobic base and to aid muscle recovery.

Zone 2: 60—70% of MaxHR is where the body is most efficient at building endurance. This is still a purely aerobic effort, and for those without a heart rate monitor, it is a pace that you can carry on a conversation while exercising. Since this is the best physiological zone for building your aerobic capacity, a lot of your long workouts will take place at this intensity.

Zone 3: Zone 3 is between 70 and 80% of your Max HR, and generally is the zone when you stop being able to talk in full sentences, but can still get out short bursts of words at a time. Physiologically, Zone 3 is the space between your Aerobic Threshold and your Anaerobic Threshold. It can bring powerful training improvements to both aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold, but the benefits quickly plateau over the course of a training program, so use it sparingly. It is useful for some tempo workouts and interval training, but is probably the zone to spend the least amount of your training time.

Zone 4: Here, we are talking about speed, discomfort, and shorter efforts. Zone 4 is the anaerobic threshold zone. At 80 to 90% of MaxHR, your body burns significantly less fat, using the glycogen stored in the muscles instead. This form of energy transfer is less efficient (lack of oxygen!) so lactic acid is a byproduct. Above your anaerobic threshold, your body’s ability to remove and process lactic acid is overwhelmed, and it begins to build up. This intensity becomes unsustainable over the course of an hour or less. This translates to your race pace, and feels like an effort that you won’t be able to keep up for very long, and what you’d like most to do is slow down or stop.

Zone 5: 90 to 100% of MaxHR. This is for pure speed and all out effort. It typically involves intervals, or short bursts of max effort, and is useful for increasing your anaerobic threshold and increasing your body’s ability to cycle lactic acid and recover from hard efforts. It is difficult to measure Zone 5 with a heart rate monitor because the body’s ability to maintain zone 5 is on the order of several seconds, and there tends to be a lag in the HR response to the effort. Needless to say, these efforts are all out and explosive, 10 to 15 seconds long.

Training zones are a great way to set the goal for a workout and ensure that you are getting maximum benefit from your training sessions. Identify which zones you’ll be working out in before hand to design the day’s workout goals, and afterward assess yourself to see how you did - were you able to maintain your effort in your planned zone(s) throughout the workout?

The description of the zones is not set in stone. If your heart rate monitor says that you are in Zone 2 but you are having trouble carrying on a conversation, then you should scale back what you consider Zone 2 to bring it in to line. If you are going as fast as you possibly can but can’t make it to Zone 5, then your MaxHR estimation might be a little high, and you can scale it down. Once the levels are dialed in, they are a great way both to design and track your workouts going forward.

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This is most helpful. I did a CPET (cardio pulmonary exercise test) to possibly identify some breathing-lethargy issues after a 5600m Andean trek. (As with all my many other tests it was all good to excellent.)

The CPE Test has so much information but I only got a cursory overview from my health professionals as they were only interested in identifying ‘illness’.  (NB: post-pandemic I wish to continue hi-alt trekking.)

Can you please assist me to interpret the results i.e. what are the most useful numbers, graphs or tables, and, what can they indicate etc? It just seems a waste to have all this information but only consider a fraction of it.

Cheers.

Posted by: Grahame Rowland on 9/18/2020 at 10:03 pm

John,

That’s a great question. The amount of time that you spend in each zone will vary depending on what period of training you are in and how long until the event. At the outset of training, nearly all of it should be aerobic base training, to build the foundation for intensity and specific training later on, closer to the event. During this building period, you will likely spend zero time in the Level 4/5 zone. Nearer to the event, as you enter a utilization and specialization period, you will spend some time, perhaps a session or two each week, doing some type of intensity training, which could certainly reach into Zone 4/5.

Posted by: petevandeventer on 1/15/2020 at 4:31 pm


Mountaineering Training | Hydration Stategies

Climbers heading to Rainier often ask the question, “water bottles or hydration system?” If you look around your local trail, chances are that most runners, hikers, and general recreationists are using a hydration system. 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 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 not particularly effective, 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, 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.
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  • 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 climbing, 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, plastic 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!

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I use a bladder in winter here in the north east and have done so for years. Just have to be mindful to mitigate freezing.

I spend up to multiple weeks solo on snowshoes and it gets pretty cold out here.

We had a week straight where temps hovered in the mid -20s °F last season.

I was on trail and had no problems.

My hydrations sleeve is lined with reflection film(did that myself) and I fill the bladder with warm water on cold slogs.

This is not the pack sleeve that is lined but the separate sleeve that came with my Camelbak.

As long as you blow the line out it works fine.

My sleeve that runs on the feed line is modified as well.

A bit is also dependent upon how the bite valve is set up.

Also, the being able to see what is in your nalgene is out of the proverbial window to a large degree if you utilize and insulated sleeve on your 1L(ie OR/Nalgene.)

Granted you can look down into the bottle but its still a crap shoot unless you take the bottle out of the sleeve and look or try to line the water lever with your finger on the outside of the bottle.

I can see the whole distraction thing while on the move but if your stagnant in a congo line you cant take a sip out of a bottle without dropping your pack to get to the bottle being you dont know how long you will be static.

With a hydration system this is a non factor.

There are pros and cons to both approaches as with anything.

Posted by: Loco Raindrops on 8/13/2019 at 9:58 am

Boris,

For the sections of glacial climbing that we do on Rainier, we ask climbers to have all water bottles inside their pack, as anything that finds a way to escape the pack potentially becomes a projectile (not unlike a rock) that can injure climbers below us. Great thought though.

—The RMI Team

Posted by: The RMI Team on 7/26/2019 at 11:10 am


Mountaineering Training | Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome

Lost in the noise of the next great exercise fad and short cut to greatness are truths that endurance coaches and athletes have known for about a century, gained through hundreds of thousands of hours of trial and error. An important one for mountaineers to remember is that there is no substitute for aerobic base training, gained through many hours of long, slow work. The aerobic base is the key to being able to maintain activity for hour after hour, climbing stretch upon stretch to the summit and descending safely back down. When the proportion of training is off and an athlete does too much high intensity training and not enough aerobic base training, the result is a condition coined by Dr. Phil Maffetone: Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome or ADS.

How does ADS manifest itself? These athletes may feel that they are at peak fitness. During their hardest workouts, they lift more, move faster, and break their own PRs, because of the focused high intensity work that they have been doing. When they make it to the climb however, they are surprised by how quickly their heart rate rises with a relatively slow pace. A few hours into the climb, they are running out of gas, they feel the lactate building up, and they can’t keep the pace. These athletes have a well trained anaerobic system, but their aerobic system is woefully lacking.

When we don’t train the long slow miles enough, we don’t stress the slow twitch muscle fibers, the backbone of endurance. Slow twitch fibers are responsible for a cascade of physiological events that lead to endurance performance: slow twitch fibers have a remarkable ability to oxidize fat into ATP, leading to energy without the buildup of lactate, and the mitochondria they contain can metabolize the lactate that results from oxidizing glycogen (carbohydrates). Even the leanest amongst us carries hundreds of hours of fuel in our bodies in the form of fat, and have the capability to go for incredibly long distances without fuel, provided that we stay in our aerobic zone. The question, then, is how best to optimize our aerobic system.

To build aerobic base capacity, the important piece is a large distance volume, done at zone 1 and 2. These workouts may not seem exciting, they certainly aren’t sexy, but as you accumulate those miles, the aerobic system's ability to do work increases and the base expands. Elite endurance athletes can build enormous aerobic bases, such that their aerobic threshold (the intensity at which they begin to accumulate lactate and start the countdown clock to a performance decrease) is incredibly high, perhaps only 10 or 15 beats per minute below their lactate threshold. The depth of their aerobic base allows them to do more work, for much longer, at a much higher intensity. It seems to run counter, but for these athletes, their speed comes from their long, slow training, not from intervals.

Including some intensity work helps to round out the training equation and reach maximum performance. With a well established aerobic base, some intensity training helps the body to optimize the systems that remove lactate, which is an endurance athlete's performance limiter. The amount of intensity training needed is generally far less than commonly assumed, however.

Remember that there are two main physiological systems for athletic performance, defined by metabolism: aerobic and anaerobic. Both can be trained, but in peak condition, optimizing one system comes at the expense of the other. For us in the mountains, chasing long summit days and lofty goals, the aerobic system is what we rely on.

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ADS, its causes, and its remedies are described well in the book Training for the Uphill Athlete, by Steve House, Scott Johnston, and Kilian Jornet. Also check out these articles from Uphill Athlete, and from the original describer of ADS, Dr. Phil Maffetone.

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Thank you for writing such a helpful article for all the aerobics lovers. Please keep sharing such content.

Posted by: Importance of physical activity on 8/28/2019 at 2:43 am


Mountaineering Training | Common Training Terms

There are several terms in training articles that get thrown around in confusing ways: aerobic threshold, lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold, aerobic capacity, VO2 Max, anaerobic capacity, and functional threshold power or pace. Many of these terms have definitions that are quite similar to each other, with minute differences that matter in the field of sports science, but are basically equivalent for athletes training. These terms all fit into three main categories that are important for us to understand as endurance athletes.

Aerobic threshold (AeT)

The aerobic threshold is defined as the intensity of exercise at which lactate levels in the blood begin to rise from their baseline. Lactate accumulation indicates that the metabolic pathways that are fueling our muscles with energy have begun to shift to a combination of aerobic and anaerobic mechanisms, and if the intensity that we are working at stays the same, or increases, lactate will continue to build. This is in effect an endurance limiter. Aerobic capacity is essentially the same term – it refers to the amount of work that can be performed before the athlete reaches their AeT.

Lactate Threshold (LT)

Lactate Threshold is the level of intensity at which lactate in the blood reaches 4 millimoles/liter. This is a tiny amount and is something that requires a blood test during exercise in a lab to determine. The more useful definition for athletes is that it is the intensity at which lactate production exceeds its removal. This is also the defining line above which, exercise can only be sustained at that intensity for short periods of time before fatigue and slowing set in. Consider this the upper-end limit to endurance. While the definitions are slightly different, this is essentially the same thing as Anaerobic Threshold (AnT) anaerobic capacity, and functional threshold. They all refer to the point at which the metabolic pathways switch to a primarily anaerobic pathway that burns glycogen (carbohydrates), and the ability to sustain that intensity will be limited.

VO2 Max

VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can utilize for energy during an all-out effort that is well above their AnT. Theoretically, the better your body is at delivering oxygen to where it needs to go, and the better adapted your muscle cells are to exercise, the more oxygen they will be able to utilize to make ATP (energy) and the more energy they will have to do work. Sounds simple enough right? VO2 Max has been a big focus in endurance sports for a long time, partly because it is easily quantifiable. However, ask elite coaches, such as those at Uphill Athlete, and they will tell you that VO2 Max doesn’t correlate very well to performance, and seems largely determined by genetics. Athletes for decades spent considerable effort training to increase their VO2 max, but recent studies suggest that that time would be better spent increasing the aerobic threshold.

Why do these terms matter? One dispels a popular myth related to training (VO2 Max), while the other two are the categories where we as athletes have the greatest abilities to affect our metabolic and motor pathways to achieve better performance. The balance of aerobic threshold and lactate threshold training that we do as we prepare for a large climb will determine how we perform. We’ll be diving into these two topics in more depth in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

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There are several great resources that provide a lot more information on these topics. For this article, we pulled from Joe Friel’s blog and from the recent book, Training for the Uphill Athlete, from the folks at Uphill Athlete. We can’t recommend the book enough if you are serious about training for endurance mountain sports!

Comments? Questions? Share your thoughts here in the comments!

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Mountaineering Training | Ladder Intervals

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.

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Need a refresher on interval training? Learn more about general interval training…

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here!

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very impressive post for mountain climber like me.i am very excited to do my next expedition after reading your article.
Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Rajendra Timalsina on 5/14/2019 at 8:18 am

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