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Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training

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.


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

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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

Mountaineering Training | High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training, often referred to popularly as HIIT training, have been featured in a few recent studies that concluded that a short HIIT workout was as or more effective at promoting cardiovascular health than steady state activity. The first paragraph of a recent New York Times article reads:

Think you’re too busy to work out? We have the workout for you. In minutes, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will have you sweating, breathing hard and maximizing the health benefits of exercise without the time commitment. Best of all, it’s scientifically proven to work.

Despite the recent attention, interval training is not anything new to seasoned athletes and coaches who have understood the benefits of repetitive high intensity workouts for a long time. Many of the recent studies have focused on previously sedentary people trying to improve basic cardiovascular health, rather than on elite athletes striving towards a performance goal. With that said, we have and continue to encourage climbers to utilize interval training (by it’s nature high intensity) as part of a well-designed training program.

Interval training can accomplish a wide array of tasks and works best when the focus of a workout is clear:

Longer intervals, from 5 to 8 minutes, at 70 – 85% of max heart rate work to improve the lactate threshold, the body’s ability to metabolize and clear lactate build up from muscle cells, increasing the amount of work that the body can perform sustainably. A good example is an elite level marathon runner, who is able to sub six-minute miles for over two hours during a race. The intensity that they are working at is very high, yet the body is able to sustain it over a very prolonged period of time.

Shorter intervals, from 20 seconds to a few minutes, performed at 85 – 95% of max heart rate (very intense!) increase the body’s anaerobic threshold, it’s ability to perform work while in oxygen deficit. Think Olympic swimmer in the 50-meter butterfly: the intensity that they race at surpasses the body’s ability to clear lactic acid and to provide enough oxygen to the muscle cells for them to continue that pace for a long period of time. The race is very short, however, and for that 20-something seconds, their muscles are able to put out an immense amount of power in oxygen deficit.

It may seem as though interval training isn’t as applicable to our sport of mountaineering. We tend not to sustain the very high levels of output, but instead operate for far longer periods at moderate intensity. It is the very definition of an endurance sport. Interval training provides other physiological adaptations however that go beyond the abilities of the skeletal muscles. Interval training is shown to increase cardiac output, by increasing the size of the left ventricle, the stroke volume and the overall contractility of the heart. Increased cardiac output supplies more blood to muscle cells, delivering more oxygen and removing more waste. Additionally, interval training has been shown to increase the size and density of mitochondria in the muscle cells. Mitochondria use oxygen to convert glucose to ATP (the cells’ energy source). Both of these adaptations help endurance athletes go longer, faster and with less effort, and ultimately help us in the mountains.

Interval training is harder on your body than traditional steady state workouts and requires longer to recover from as well. Therefore, too heavy of a focus on interval training can lead to overtraining and injury. More of a good thing isn’t necessarily better. It’s important to realize that a good training plan maintains a balance of high intensity workouts and lower intensity steady state workouts.

As part of the recent HIIT hype, people have championed the fact that HIIT gets more done in less time, even as little as 10 minutes. This may be true for an average person whose goal is to improve overall cardiac health, but for athletes working towards goals in the mountains, remember that there are no short cuts. Time invested in your training will lead to a more enjoyable and successful climb.


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Mountaineering Training | Training for Vertical Gain

When training for any sport, the best training advice is that you need to “do the sport.” If you are training to run a 5k race, you should spend a significant amount of your training running. 24 hour mountain bike race? You are going to spend a lot of training time on a bike. Crossfit competition? You’d better flip a lot of tires, do a lot of burpees, and swing a lot of ropes. So what do we do when our chosen sport is mountaineering?

For the lucky amongst us, we have mountains and hills nearby. We can lace up a pair of boots, put on a weighted pack, and head out the door for a several hour hike. So many of our climbers don’t have the luxury of living nearby mountains (for many, not even many hills), yet so much of our training advice relies on gaining vertical elevation throughout the workout. For flatlanders, one of the best options to still achieve vertical distance during a workout is to use a treadmill set at its max incline.

On Mt. Rainier we aim to climb at a pace of about 1000 ft/hour. We use this measure because our pace varies with the terrain. In flatter terrain with less rise per step, we’ll up the tempo and move a bit faster. As the terrain gets steeper and the effort increases, we back the speed down somewhat, all in an effort to continue to move efficiently. 1000 ft/hour, therefore, is a useful benchmark in your training.

A treadmill typically has a max incline of 15%. To climb 1000ft. on a treadmill therefore, you need to walk roughly 1.25 miles of horizontal distance (what the treadmill measures). Setting the pace to 1.25 miles per hour on the treadmill will approximate the pace of the climb, at least on paper.

There is a physics argument around frame of reference that argues that a treadmill should be the same effort as hiking outside (the same argument is made for stairmasters), however, physiological studies show that heart rate and oxygen consumption (a way to measure effort) are lower on a treadmill for the same pace on solid ground. This suggests that a treadmill then requires somewhat less effort and is in effect easier. How much easier? This is a difficult question, that doesn’t have an answer. With this knowledge, we can simply set our pace to be faster than 1.25 miles per hour and increase the difficulty through speed. If we increase the difficulty enough, we will approach the difficulty of the climb.

Other great options for tailoring your training to the vertical gain involved in climbing include stadium or office building stairs. In this case, you are moving your center of mass uphill, just like in mountaineering, so 1000 ft/hour will feel similar to the actual effort. Embrace the options that are available to you, grab a pack and some weight, and see how much vertical you can incorporate into your training!


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I love your training articles. However, once again the article I received 1/20/2020, “Training for Vertical Gain.” perpetuates an incorrect notion about training on an inclined treadmill, “Keeping your body in place while moving your feet to keep up with the treadmill is easier than actually climbing that same incline however, since you don’t have to actually push your weight up the hill with your legs.”

This is just incorrect. One does push one’s “weight up the hill with your legs” on an inclined treadmill. Because the platform is moving down you must lift your body up to keep from falling off the end of the treadmill. If the statement I quoted from your article was correct, it would not be any harder to walk on an inclined treadmill than a flat one. You do not need to be a physicist or engineer to understand that—go walk on a flat treadmill then incline it to a 15% grade—It is easy to feel it is harder and that is because for all intents and purposes you are walking uphill.

I would agree that it is harder to ascend a mountain than it is to walk on an inclined treadmill but that is because the mountain has an irregular surface, you never walk in a perfectly straight line, you are always stepping down some even if you are largely ascending, etc.

If you do not agree with me, please talk to a physicist, an exercise physiologist or a mechanical engineer and stop putting this idea in your articles about walking on an inclined treadmill or a stairmill / strair-stepper. People (me included) consider RMI an authoritative source so it is important that the info you distribute is correct.

Thanks for listening to my long comment.

Posted by: Robert Taylor on 1/21/2020 at 5:37 am

Hi Glenn,

We totally agree that climbing stairs with weight is a very effective way to train for climbing as well (and you get the descent with weight which uses a different set of muscles and is equally important!). We struggle to convert stairs to miles as well, but what we really care about in the mountains is vertical gain rather than horizontal distance. Thought of this way, we tend to pace ourselves to climb at approximately 1000ft/hr. One story in the US tends to be about 10ft. so if you could climb 100 stories in an hour, that would be very close to the effort of climbing.

But for the sake of curiousity, the average stair in the US is 7 inches high and 11 inches deep. That means that the hypotenuse is about 13 inches. It sounds like the stride length for stairs that you found overestimates it by a bit. With that distance, that leaves you climbing 325 flights of your stairs to climb a mile as measured by the hypotenuse. Yikes!!

Good luck and happy training!

Posted by: The RMI Team on 4/12/2019 at 2:27 pm

Mountaineering Training | Training for Sleds on Denali

One of the unique aspects of a Denali climb is that it is one of the few big mountain climbs in the world where you can’t hire someone to carry some of your gear. There are no porters, donkeys, yaks, or other pack animals. This means that once the plane drops us off at Kahiltna Base Camp at 7,600’, we have to find a way to move three weeks worth of expedition provisions and our gear up the glacier, and this necessitates each climber pulling a sled.

The use of sleds is unique to Denali and Vinson Massif, and is a component of the expedition that we often overlook when we are preparing. On Denali, we typically use sleds to 11,000’, or for the first 3-4 days. While this is a small component of the expedition, those first few days can leave climbers feeling exhausted and depleted, with the bulk of the climb still to come. Spending some time training with a sled in the lead up to an expedition could help ease this.

On the mountain, we use plastic expedition sleds, not unlike a kid’s sled that you might find at a hardware store, but with a bit more length for added volume and stability. A typical climber has between 40 and 50 pounds in their sled at the outset, and we rig the front of the sled with a trace that clips to a single loop of webbing tied around the climbers backpack, preferably threading through the slot that houses the hip belt, so that the load pulls from low on the pack, about even with the hip belt. This transmits the climber’s pull most efficiently, and keeps the climber in a more efficient alignment, pulling from the center of mass.

To prepare for sleds, try pulling a mock sled during a handful of your endurance workouts (over an hour or so) in the few months leading up to the expedition. Climbing with the sled behind you not only recruits different muscles and requires strength in different areas than climbing without, but requires that we alter some of our movement patterns a bit to remain efficient. The biggest pattern to change is the bread and butter of the mountaineer: the rest step. Efficient movement with a sled involves keeping the sled moving forward steadily. Each time it stops, we have to overcome inertia to get it moving forward again. Therefore, we want to keep our hips moving forward steadily (which is a change from the rest step). We can still get some rest in our legs with each step, by locking out the back leg as we step forward, moving that leg under our hips. Using the resistance of the sled for balance, we can allow our hips to slowly travel over our back leg toward the front, while still maintaining the moment of rest on the back leg. As the hips arrive over the front leg, step up and repeat.

Climbers have found a number of sled type devices to train with; the two most common are a car tire and a plastic sled loaded with some sort of weight (even the kids!). Plastic sleds slide on grass pretty well, while the car tire doesn’t slide as well and tends to add more resistance. Using the mock sled during some of your endurance workouts is most similar to what we’ll experience while climbing, but pulling a sled during an interval workout is also a creative way to add resistance and effort. Happy hauling!


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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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Rich - We totally agree. Thanks adding even more context to agility training!

Posted by: Pete Van Deventer (Guide) on 2/22/2019 at 12:05 pm

I find training agility to be an excellent adjunct to the monotony of steady aerobic training.  With the right parameters, it can be used as aerobic or interval training.  In addition, breaking down the components used in developing agility such as the feet, knees, hips and trunk can greatly enhance the results.  For example, if the feet are limited in pronation or supination, it can greatly limit the strength capabilities of the muscles of the knees, hips and trunk.  When both feet have optimal strength in all motions, then power increases and fatigue decreases.  Training to climb mountains is challenging, but it leads to great rewards when the body is in fantastic condition.

Posted by: Rich Rife on 2/21/2019 at 11:59 am

Mountaineering Training | A Successful Climber’s Perspective on Training for Mt. Rainier

Ady Peterson I summited Mt. Rainier a few years ago with RMI. I won’t lie to you: it is to date the HARDEST physical challenge I’ve ever taken on (even as a collegiate athlete, and a yoga, barre, and spin instructor). But, I can also tell you, it was COMPLETELY worth it. And I can tell you what got me to the top: the right preparation. First of all: STAIRS, stairs, and more stairs. Whether you find them at a local stadium, in your apartment building, or even the stair climber at the gym, stairs are a must (I lived in Seattle when I summited, but I’m in Texas now. I know that you might have to get creative depending on where). Put some weight in your pack (immediately) and just start climbing. You can increase the weight in your pack as you get stronger. One thing that I wish I had known as I trained on all those stairs is the “Rest Step”. The Rest Step is exactly what it sounds like: you take a step, rest, take another step, rest. Over and over at a quick tempo-- rest, step, rest step, rest, step. If you’re not familiar, do a quick search on YouTube for “Rest Step Climb” for a visual. With just a little practice, you’ll have the Rest Step down—it’s a vital technique for conserving energy, and that’s what an endurance climb is really all about. Which leads me to my next training tip: YOGA. Yoga helped me develop a greater awareness of my breath and lung capacity. When the air gets thin 14,000 feet up and you feel like your lungs are collapsing, you’ll be grateful for your practice breathing deeply and evenly. I was doing yoga about 3 times a week leading up to my climb, and I had very little trouble with altitude. Speaking of altitude—that’s what breaks new climbers down the most. It shows up as shortness of breath (see above), but also as fatigue and nausea. For these last two, help yourself: pack REAL FOOD—ideally food that you LOVE, so that you’ll be willing to eat, even when you don’t want to (trust me, at times you WON’T want to). All those goop packs you can get at REI are great, but they’re not meant for 2-4 day adventures. I’m gluten-free and vegan, so I packed dried fruit, trail mix, LARA bars (or homemade date balls! My favorite!), and pre-made quinoa. I also had some rice tortillas. Remember, this is mountain climbing, not a walk in the park—calories are your friends: get a good balance of sugar, carbs, and protein, however works for you. I’ve done quite a bit of hiking, so I had an idea of what go-to foods I’d want on the climb. If you don’t, I’d recommend taking some test-foods out with you on a few hikes or stair workouts, so you can see how your body reacts to certain foods or proportions in the middle of long workouts. Stairs, Rest-stepping, breathing, and food prep. If you’ve been preparing with marathon runs and Olympic weightlifting, these training methods might sound like small things. But then…“It’s not the mountain ahead that wears you down, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammad Ali _____ Hi! I'm Adrianne. I've been an athlete my whole life, starting as a dancer at age seven. Eventually, I danced at the Olympics in Sydney 2000, but after juggling dance and soccer for years, I eventually chose to focus on soccer. Soccer got me a college scholarship, and I played for four years as I earned my degree. After college, I desperately sought to maintain my sports brain (and body) and soon I discovered yoga. Before I knew it, I'd completed three yoga teacher trainings--I've been teaching yoga since 2010! My love for teaching grew exponentially during this time, so I sought other ways to grow as an instructor. That's how I discovered FlyBarre--on the first class, I was HOOKED! I then began teaching Indoor Cycling at Flywheel in Austin and cannot imagine my life without a coaching aspect to it. I summited Mt. Rainier in the midst of all of this and can honestly say it was the hardest thing I've ever done and my 3rd most accomplished (after the Olympics and soccer scholarship). I love the outdoors and anything to keep me out there is always forefront in my mind. I would love to help you on your journey to summit ANY mountain you have your sights on. You can follow me on Instagram @thirtyish_ and check out my blog thirty-ish.com. Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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I’m glad somebody finally realized that actual stairs need to be done, not just walking on a Stairmaster since it doesn’t reproduce the motion of lifting one’s whole body against the gravity exerted by Earth, just the legs.  But while I’m on legs, think of adding ankle weights to this workout to simulate the weight of boots/socks/gaiters/crampons/whatever else you’ll have on your feet.

Posted by: Jim Pasterczyk on 3/4/2019 at 10:00 pm

Thanks for these comments from the two re: climbing Mt. Rainier!! I have done hot yoga for a few years, awesome to hear it will be helpful :-) It helps and enhances EVERYTHING; so…great news re: that. I do have a question re: Ady saying “throw weight in your pack now”. I am JUST getting started on working on my leg and back muscles to strengthen them…I have questions re: do I go rent/buy a pack now (was planning on renting one for the hike), or? I have heard another good way to train is a weighted vest…Anyway..a little feedback re: the rationale of throwing weight in a day pack now…I don’t think it would be distributed evenly, etc. I have NEVER backpacked; and honestly carry any weight when bike riding on paniers/ NOT on my back if I can help it..thanks!

Posted by: Shelby Schneider on 10/1/2018 at 5:14 pm

Mountaineering Training | Upper Body Strength Training for Ice Climbers

Ice season is almost upon us here in Bozeman, Montana with many other U.S. ice destinations soon to follow. I find it very difficult to train for ice climbing this time of year - you want to get comfortable on your tools again, but there isn’t any ice forming yet. These are a few of my favorite pre-season workouts that can get you stronger before you get to swing those picks into a column of ice. First, I say any climbing is better than no climbing. The rock gym can be a great place to start building upper body strength, balance, and grip strength. I usually warm up by pulling on plastic for an hour or so, mostly easy to moderate routes with two or three that really push me. The goal is to get a little pumped but not so spent that I can’t do a workout after. I take 10-15 minutes to cool down, drink some water, get out of my climbing gear, and transition to the weights. When I am training specifically for ice climbing I focus most of my efforts on forearms and triceps with some shoulder and bicep work to stay balanced. In my opinion, the best exercises mimic the actual motions done in ice climbing. So, my first go-to ice climbing workout is simply to grab a light dumbbell, 6-12lbs, and hold it like you would an ice tool.  If you can watch yourself in the mirror it can help to make sure you maintain good form.  Loosely hold the weight in one hand and cock it back over your shoulder, keep your wrist, elbow, and shoulder all in line, and slowly swing the weight like you would an ice tool. Finish with the wrist flick so the weight is just in front of your body, I like to keep my other hand touching my elbow, which helps to encourage good form.  Dead hangs are another great exercise you can do almost anywhere. If you can use your tools that’s the best; I put the picks of both ice tools over a pull-up bar, grab both tools, and hang with elbows slightly bent for 10 seconds. If you are doing it correctly your shoulders should be engaged. I try to draw my shoulder blades towards each other. Do this for 10 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 10 rounds; that is one set for me, and I try to do 3 sets per workout. Don’t push yourself and tweak a shoulder though, or all this training is for nothing. Start with what makes sense for you and then slowly add repetitions, sets, or increase the time of each dead hang. I often integrate sets into my whole workout so I don’t get too bored. Next: pull-ups. Find out what your max is and then go for 50-80% of that for three sets. If 10 pull-ups is your threshold, do three sets of 5-8. Try to increase this number over time. Again I mix these into the whole workout so that I have some time to recover. There are a number of great exercises for grip strength and forearms; I constantly switch it up. The standing bar – rope - weight workout is a great one. With a small bar, stick, or dowel, tie a 5-foot rope to the center and a weight on the other end of the rope. With your arms straight out in front of you slowly twist the bar in your hands to wrap the rope up and lift the weight then reverse the motion to lower it back to the ground. Maintain good form and keep your arms parallel to the ground.  Another forearm workout that I really like is to grab two dumbbells of moderate weight, 5-15 lbs, and hold one in each hand. Slowly I let the weights roll down my palm and fingers until they are close to falling out of my hands and then bring them back up.  The first few will leave you asking, “what is the point of this?” by rep 20 you will be screaming for mercy.  The plate pinch is both a forearm and grip exercise. Grab two plates, 2.5, 5, or 10lbs, and position them together so the smooth sides face out.  Simply pinch them together with one hand and let them hang by your side.  You are going for time here, see how long you can hold it first and then aim for three sets in each hand.  Gradually add more and more time over a few weeks. Finally, another fantastic grip strength workout is a spring or rubber doughnut trainer. I keep one in my car and try to use it at every red light. These are just a few of the upper body workouts that I use when I am patiently, or not so patiently, waiting for temperatures to drop and ice to start forming. I hope you enjoy these and I look forward to seeing you all out on the ice soon. _____ Geoff Schellens is a certified AMGA Rock Guide, Apprentice Alpine Guide, and an avid ice climber. He lives in Bozeman, MT, and will be leading an expedition to Denali's Upper West Rib this spring. Comments? Questions? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
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Thanks for this. Definitely want to start implementing some of the techniques you mentioned. Applicable for more than ice-climbing!

Chelsea | http://www.nootropedia.com

Posted by: Chelsea on 4/1/2018 at 3:50 pm

I will be 66 this May.  I am active mountain biking regularly am not overweight but live in New Jersey.
I’m a sea level baby.  A few years ago about 5 or 6 my brother-in-law who has summered Rainier dozens of times even Denali without oxygen took me up the mountain.  Within sight of Muir after sleeping around 9000 feet the next morning carrying my heavy pack I just ran out of gas.
I want to Summit Rainier.
This year I am very busy with trips but want to do it in 2019.
How should I approach this.
I want to use RMI.

Posted by: Norm Price on 1/8/2018 at 6:05 am

Mountaineering Training | Steady State Workouts

Building an endurance base takes more than just long easy-paced workouts. Long workouts create the muscular efficiency to deal with long miles, but moderate intensity intervals and steady state workouts are important for building a solid endurance circulatory system that, in concert with your long workouts, makes up your endurance base. A great aspect of steady state training is that you can incorporate it in a variety of training mediums: running, mountain biking, road biking, swimming, rowing, or hiking.  

A steady state workout encompasses a sustained period of hard effort, paced just under what you would consider your race pace or the maximum pace that you can sustain for a given distance. Sustained efforts between twenty minutes and an hour and fifteen minutes have been shown to be most effective for this type of training. There is an obvious difference in pace between a twenty-minute effort and an hour plus effort: the goal is to sustain the pace that you start the workout at all the way until the end of the workout. The pace is typically about 10% less than your maximum effort over a similar time period. You can use a variety of methods to measure your pace and success of the workout: heart rate monitors, your minutes per mile, or for those with more experience, basing your pace on perceived effort or feel, are all effective methods. Though the pace is below your maximum effort, this workout is uncomfortable, and one of the biggest challenges is to stay with the workout mentally and maintain the pace throughout without letting the pace drop. This mental component is also great training for climbers, since this is exactly the mental toughness that you need in the midst of a tough stretch of terrain.  

Note: As the intensity of your workouts increase, the importance of a quality warm-up and cool-down cannot be overstated. This is a really important aspect for preventing injuries.

Steady state workouts provide a couple of key training objectives. Accomplished over several months as part of an endurance building block, these workouts increase cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by the heart), decrease resting heart rate, and increase lactate threshold. To increase cardiac output, your body is stimulated to increase the capillary network that delivers oxygenated blood to your muscles, to increase the capacity of existing capillaries, and to increase your blood volume. These factors help your circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and remove waste products. An increase in your lactate threshold indicates that your body is able to remove lactate efficiently at higher levels of effort, so that you can exercise harder and longer before fatiguing. Finally, a drop in resting heart rate indicates that your heart is operating more efficiently, delivering blood to your muscles with less effort.  

The training gains from incorporating steady state training into your routine will help you push longer and harder in the mountains, and the ability to move more blood that contains more oxygen will do nothing but help with the effects of altitude as well! These are difficult workouts, but keep your head in the game and push hard all the way through the end and you’ll be amazed at your endurance gains!


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

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Hello Jon! I am actually looking for training information for Mt. Rainier, next June, 2019. I came across your comment posted in January of 2018, re: Mt. Kilimanjaro. My son’s girlfriend and her aunt just completed Kilimanjaro!! There were a couple 53 and approx. 55 year old women on this climb; including my son’s gf’s aunt! It was challenging; but they did it! I think you can access the notes from the climb. Go for it! I am looking to get strong and ready for Mt. Rainier next June; I will be 61, I totally understand your questions! :-) Hope you got to move forward on this, and either have since completed Mt. Kilimanjaro, or will soon!

Posted by: Shelby Schneider on 9/19/2018 at 5:55 pm

I am a previous customer of RMI, having climbed Rainier a few years ago.
I am interested in the Kili trek.
What is the average age of the group, typically?
I will be 64 in August.
I dont want to travel half way around the world and spend all that $$$$ and not complete the mission! I dont want to be the guy ‘holding up the expedition’ so to speak.
What is your feeling about the trek vs. my age
PS: I am in good physical condition, and work out daily.


Posted by: Jon Mitovich on 1/18/2018 at 1:28 pm

Mountaineering Training | Mindful Movement

As a skiing and climbing guide, athlete, and yoga instructor, I am continually impressed by the correlation between success in the mountains and a regular yoga or meditation practice. In my personal experience, by taking time each day to completely focus my attention on simple movements in conjunction with controlled breathing, even for a just a short period of time, I have found that I can dramatically increase my ability to handle a higher mental stress load and consciously reign in a respiratory-system-gone-rogue.

The primary intention behind a yoga practice is the alignment of a series of movements with the coordination of the breath. Beyond the poses, aside from the stretching, before the flow, and without regard to the brand of clothing you choose to wear or the space in which you practice, is the synchronization of intentional movements with focused and controlled breathing. That is the essence of yoga.

One of my favorite quotes is by Sharon Gannon: “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you areas where you are resistant in your natural state”. Instead of hand-eye coordination, think body-breath coordination.

This training allows the individual the ability to more easily and calmly focus on a specific task and execute difficult movements with precision—especially, and perhaps most importantly—when pushing towards exhaustion.

The goal of starting a mindful movement practice is in taking this basic principle and applying it to any activity of your choosing.

I understand yoga is not for everyone. Personally, I love the quiet space, the dance of a well-sequenced vinyasa flow, and in the winter months I crave the warmth and full body lymphatic cleanse of a heated studio; they are always significantly cozier than the mid-January temperature of my 1920’s craftsman and warm my core after a day of skiing far better than even the highest, most overworked setting of my Subaru's seat-heating capabilities. That being said, I know plenty of guides and world-class athletes who firmly believe that yoga—of any sort—is not, and never will be, for them.

The secret is that these individuals find other activities with which to strengthen their mental game and incorporate mindful movement. Biking, running, swimming, pilates, even those post-work hikes with a heavy pack, all provide the opportunity to spend a few moments really thinking about and tuning in to your body positioning, your motor patterns, the rate and quality of your breath, all while tuning out the external static of life.

So my challenge for you in writing this blog post, if not to inspire you to rush off and attend the nearest yoga class, is to move through a few minutes of your next workout focused on not just exercising, but moving with intention, breathing in coordination with the efforts of your activity, and turning off the music in an effort to quiet your mind and direct your attention entirely to the task at hand. By practicing mindful movement in your daily tasks and familiar workouts, you will increase and strengthen your ability to use those same techniques to lower your respiratory rate and remain calm, thus allowing you to be more relaxed and move more efficiently when confronted with new and/or difficult tasks in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment for a longer period of time: situations much like those found on Mt. Rainier and other alpine objectives around the world.


Solveig Waterfall is an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide and has been working professionally in the mountains for 12 years. She guides in Alaska as well as the continental U.S., Ecuador, Mexico, and Argentina.  She also teaches backcountry skiing programs and ski mountaineering courses for RMI. Outside of guiding, she instructs yoga and fitness classes designed to complement an active life outdoors.

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

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

I have been taking yoga classes for the past 10 or 11 years now I don’t know perhaps longer and I can seriously identify with all the techniques Strank’s and benefits that you ascribe to taking yoga classes with regard to clarity of thought power of intention and overall mental strength conditioning as you delineate the Power of Yoga elementals.

Possibly the greatest payoff to the sports enthusiast is the concept of correlation of each of the aspects you point out into an efficient unified focused and energized state of mind!

These Very qualities derived from my own Baptiste Power Yoga practice have been an important element of whatever success I’ve had in Mountaineering, and many other strenuous, challenging and sometimes dangerous pursuits

I’d like to share a specific example from a recent Guided Assent of Mt Baker, North Face with RMI August 25-27 2019

This Climb was considerably more challenging than my previous RMI Guided Assents of Rainiers DC Route or Kautz route, which I did with you Solvieg in 2017

I was not aware of just how much more challenging it was going to be

As our 6 person team got higher and higher on the mountain, the route became steeper and steeper until we were Climbing vertical ice cliffs!

The Glaciers were pretty bare and we had to retrace our steps several times as what was an uninterrupted route up the Mountain had become a very broken route up the mountain…

What all this absolutely reinforced was the essential Need to Completely Trust the Skill of the Guides and execution of ALL instructions from the guides immediately and without question!

Absolute Resolution of Focus and consistent galvanization of thought to decision to action!!

Every Single step, Every single ice pick thrust… spacing of turns, rope slack, managing challenges, breaks, managing each emerging concern as they arise…

One of the strongest contributors to success on that kind of Expedition, on that Kind of Mountain for me was the years of Learning and practicing the Yoga strengths and tools you so eloquently pointed out

Looking forward to another Rainier Assent in 2021 and hopefully a Denali Assent 2022

Posted by: Ken Tessier on 3/3/2020 at 7:36 pm

Beautiful article!  You inspire me.

Posted by: Patti sandow on 10/12/2017 at 9:11 pm

Mountaineering Training | Building a Training Community

There are few elite athletes in the world who train alone. They have a community of other athletes and coaches that are there alongside them for much of their training. It’s difficult to quantify the motivational role that that community provides, but needless to say, it is a huge part of athletes’ success. How often after a big event do we hear someone thank their coaches, their partners, and their teammates. Whether it’s a teammate suffering alongside you or a coach challenging you to do one more, we train better when we have a community. Many of us don’t though. Whether a result of where we live, the hours of the day that are available for us to train, not knowing any like-minded athletes that are working towards similar goals, many of us train in a vacuum relying solely on the motivation that we can conjure up. That motivation for most of us is incredible. Year after year, we climb with thousands of climbers who have performed monumental feats of training with only a voice in the back of their head as motivation and that is inspirational. Could it be easier though, could it be more effective? Absolutely. The interconnectedness of our lives with the Internet can be a really strong tool. While we might not have a training partner physically there with us, we can see what they’ve done, look at their stats, maps, and efforts, and use that to motivate and challenge ourselves. When we post that back to the community, our effort can serve as someone else’s motivation, and as a group, we all train harder, smarter, better, and show up fitter and ready to climb.  As an attempt towards creating this sort of community around us as climbers, we’ve created a club on Strava that we invite everyone to join. You can find it at https://www.strava.com/clubs/rmiexpeditions. Post your workouts, peruse those of others to gain inspiration, and have discussions about training plans and ideas. We accomplish some amazing feats, and we also all go through dark days in our training when things don’t seem to be going right. Let’s let this community strengthen us. As such, let’s keep our conversations positive and constructive. For some, it may be intimidating to post their workout in an open environment like this, but realize that inspiration from your workout may be just what someone else needs to take a step up in their training. Get motivated, have some fun, and enjoy some friendly challenges. We’re excited to see what everyone is up to! _____ Questions? Comments? Check out the RMIExpeditions Club on Strava and share your thoughts there or here, on the RMI Blog!
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