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Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Training with a Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitors are a useful tool for planning, executing, and tracking your training. By tracking your heart rate throughout a workout, you can get a more accurate idea of the real intensity of the activity versus the perceived, and can adjust your current or future workouts to accordingly. Not all heart rate monitors are the same however, and they aren’t anything more than a tool to be more informed about the progression of your training.

Smartphones can do almost everything now and indeed, some of the newest phones include a small finger scanner that can detect your heart rate. Watches have also evolved to track your heart rate from your wrist without the chest strap that used to be required, though the top models still use a chest strap, albeit with improved technology. The difference between the three styles really lies in the accuracy of the measurement. While it’s nifty to be able to see what your heart rate is on your phone, it can’t track your heart rate throughout a workout, only at discrete points in time when you choose to scan it and to be effective for training, it’s best to have a picture of what your heart rate looked like throughout the workout.

Watches that measure your pulse through your wrist generally use reflected infrared or LED light to measure changes in the size of capillaries as an indication of a heartbeat. While these watches will track your heart rate throughout a workout, they tend to not be as accurate as the models that use a chest strap since you move and bounce while you exercise. Ultimately it offers only a rough picture of your pulse throughout. For an accurate idea of your training intensity, newer dedicated heart rate monitors with chest straps use conductive fabric and microprocessors that analyze your EKG, giving a detailed and accurate picture of your entire workout.

What does using a heart rate monitor get you? First and foremost, a heart rate monitor gives you the ability to track your training more accurately. Heart rate monitors use versions of the 5 training zones that most athletes utilize, so you can begin to build an accurate picture of how much time you spend in each zone and how effective a given period, week, or workout might have been for you. A heart rate monitor can also help you to hit your target intensity zone for a given workout. This works in both directions; it can help you to tone it down on your long level 2 endurance training if you start to push a little hard, or it can let you know that you need to push even harder to make it to your target L4 zone on a set of intervals. Tracking your heart rate over a period of time can also give you a picture of your overall fitness. As your training pays off, your resting heart rate should drop, and you will find yourself covering more ground and going faster, but at the same intensity. Conversely, a sudden spike in your resting heart rate may indicate that your training load is adding up and that you need to focus a bit more on recovery. A heart rate monitor won’t make you fitter, but it can give you a lot of valuable information that allows you to create a more informed training plan.
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Prepping for Alpine Climbing: Basic Rock Movement

Alpine climbing requires a lot of different skills.  Alpinists are constantly route finding, assessing hazards, protecting exposed areas, and moving efficiently in the terrain. If you’re climbing with a qualified guide, they’ll take care of the big picture and you’ll just need to focus on the movement skills. Moving efficiently in technical terrain is what makes climbing challenging and fun - there’s always something to learn and ways to improve.  The better you move, the less energy a climb will take and the more you’ll be able to focus on what’s going on around you and enjoy the climb. 

On classic alpine climbs, like Forbidden Peak’s West Ridge, Sahale’s Quien Sabe or Shuksan’s Fisher Chimneys, basic rock climbing skills are the key to moving efficiently on summit day. These skills only get better with practice, and adding some balance and rock movement skills to your training regime can give you a big leg up. With a few pointers and some practice, you can develop your rock movement skills so that you stay on your feet, use less energy and are more confident on rock before you arrive in the mountains.

Basic rock movement is similar to how you walk already, with a little more attention paid to the physics at your feet. Here are some techniques that you can use to effectively move on rock:

Climbing with your eyes
I constantly remind my clients to “climb with their eyes.” Look around the terrain, find the easiest path, and plan it out a few steps ahead of time. Finding the easiest way up takes a good deal of focus while you climb, but it’s a great way to stay engaged and it saves a great deal of energy over the course of a long day.

As you climb, look for features that resemble stairs – level platforms that you can get your entire boot on. This allows you to use a minimal amount of energy for balance and makes it easy to use a technique called the rest step.  If you can find a natural staircase up the mountain it’s just walking!

When you can’t find large stair-like features in the rock, you have to lower your standards. Instead of using a perfect stair, you may be reduced to placing the edge of your boot onto a tiny feature.  This is called edging.  The smaller the features you are edging on, the more effort and balance it takes to keep from slipping off.  Keep climbing with your eyes and look for the biggest features possible!

Edging allows you to climb very steep, relatively blank rock faces. It’s tougher physically and much less secure than stepping onto boot-sized platforms.  With some practice you’ll be able to get up steep, technical rock and begin to feel comfortable on it.  The more time you spend practicing on different sized edges and on different types of rock (granite, limestone, sandstone, basalt, etc) the more you’ll recognize how secure you are on those features.

Check out this video from Eastern Mountain Sports on edging skills!

Smearing uses the friction and adhesion between your boot soles and the rock grip surfaces that are too smooth or sloped to edge on. To get maximize your grip you need to do two things:
1. maximize the contact area between your soles and the rock
2. make sure the force you’re exerting is perpendicular to the rock surface.

This means putting the rubber to the road, or in this case, the boot sole to the slab.  Articulate your knees and ankles so that the sole of your boot matches the angle of the rock.  By putting as much rubber on the rock as you can, you increase the adhesion of the rubber soles to the rock and can grip some surprisingly steep slopes.

Make sure to apply your body weight as close to perpendicular to the rock as you can.  This boils down to keeping your weight directly above your feet by keeping your posture upright.  With your back straight and your head high, your weight will naturally rest directly above your feet.  This keeps the normal force of your bodyweight pushing into the rock, which increases friction.  The more friction, the better the grip and the more you can relax and look around to plan your next moves.

This body positioning is counter-intuitive for most people.  Climbers that are unaware of their body position often lean forward, putting their body weight uphill of their boots, changing the direction of the normal force towards parallel with the rock, and reducing friction, resulting in a slip.  It’s very common, especially when terrain gets steeper, to want to lean in toward the rock – resist the urge and climb strong!

Here’s another EMS video showing smearing skills.

With both edging and smearing, the more practice you get the more comfortable you’ll be on challenging rock. You’ll develop a more realistic assessment of how secure your foot placements are and that will make a huge difference in how efficient you are.  Being more confident with your foot placements will allow you to relax on difficult terrain and you will save a ton of energy.

You can practice these techniques at home. Get started at your local climbing gym or sniff out small rock outcroppings if you don’t have access to a rock gym.  Keep your practice low on the rocks so that you don’t get stuck on top of something- it’s always easier to climb up rock than it is to down climb!
Zeb Blais is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. Zeb splits his time between the Sierras in California and the North Cascades of Washington. He guides worldwide for RMI, from Aconcagua to Mexico, Rainier to Alaska. A passionate skier, Zeb spends his free time pursuing personal adventures around the world, including an attempted traverse of the Fedchenko Glacier of Tajikistan. 

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

Cross Training For Mountaineering

As athletes, we tend to preference the training activities that we enjoy doing and are also best at. It’s entirely natural for these tendencies to crop up, but often they do so at the expense of those workouts that we don’t enjoy as much or struggle with. This can affect both the quality and quantity of those less enticing activities. For instance, as people that enjoy spending time in the mountains, your weekend five-hour hike with a pack may be the highlight of your whole week and you may find yourself pushing those five hours to six or seven, seeking out new destinations. The mid-week weight room or interval workout that you dread however may be the first item on your calendar that is expendable, pushed out by the sudden schedule conflict that arises.
Cross training is a great way to find new ways to accomplish the workouts that you don’t enjoy, and to focus on an underserved portion of your training. In general, while we want to keep the bulk of our training focused towards mountaineering (walking up and downhill with heavy weight), some training outside of that goal will still bring benefits. If you have been training a lot of cardiovascular, working on leg strength is going to help you carry your pack. Flexibility will help to prevent injuries, and keep your muscles working optimally. Thus, seek out opportunities for interesting new ways to accomplish your training goals.
Anaerobic: Nearly all ball sports have a heavy anaerobic interval component to them. Think about the last time you watched or played a soccer game: players spend a good portion of the time walking or jogging up and down the field without the ball, interspersed with flurries of dead out sprints to or with the ball. Pick your favorite and try to find a pickup game or league nearby. Similarly, tennis, racquetball, and squash all will get you to that anaerobic zone. Mountain biking is another great natural interval sport, as it boosts your heart rate on nearly every climb, with a recovery roll afterwards.
Strength: Rock climbing gyms and yoga studios are a great place to seek out alternative core strength options. Both activities engage a large part of the core and upper body, and have a great community component to them. While it has a strong cardiovascular focus, swimming also trains the core and upper body in a low impact way.
Flexibility and balance: Yoga is probably the most common flexibility activity that most people do today. There are lots of different classes with different focuses. If a class you tried wasn’t working, check out a different type. Often, studios offer a “yoga for athletes” class, where the focus on flexibility in the key problem areas for most athletes is increased. You can also jump outside of the box and join a gymnastics class.
Endurance: If you dread the long workouts, there isn’t a great substitute for them, but you can vary your activities. Start a rotation of running, cycling, hiking, swimming, and rowing. Give yourself another goal and boost by periodically signing up for races so that you have immediate goals that you are working towards. Ultimately though, there is no substitute for long endurance training.
Cross training won’t fully prepare you for your next mountaineering adventure, and it shouldn’t make up the bulk of your preparation, but it can add some spice and give a boost to a neglected portion of your overall training. Seek out the fun opportunities and figure out how they fit into your plan.

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

The Flatlander’s Guide to Training for Mountaineering

The vast majority of climbers that come climb Mt. Rainier with us live in decidedly unmountainous places. As a former fellow flatlander, I can sympathize. There is actually a surprising amount of training literature out there targeted at folks living in mountain towns (think gaining 3,000 feet twice a week), and recently, folks training for high end alpinism (think Steve House). But when it comes to “Joe Climber” living in Kansas hoping to be strong on Denali or Mt. Rainier, in my experience there is a real gap in available resources. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I certainly have strong opinions as to how best to go about this type of training, based on my own personal experience. And so, without further ado, I present to you the 4 principles of the flatlander’s guide to mountaineering training:

Diversify your training. Face it. You live in the Midwest. The terrain that directly simulates your mountaineering objective does not exist in your backyard. Therefore no single exercise or activity can adequately prepare you for that objective, which means that you must pursue a wide variety of training activities. If all “Joe Climber” does to train for his Rainier climb is run, he will be in great shape for running. But he will not be in great shape for Rainier. Which leads me to the second principle…

Emphasize strength training. When we say you need to be strong for the mountains, we mean that quite literally. Carrying big loads uphill and downhill day after day requires a significant amount of muscle recruitment, and you can’t recruit it if it’s not there. The majority of my time training in the flatlands is actually spent in the gym, performing exercises that emphasize muscular and core strength. I’ll save my personal lifting program for another article, but I’m a big believer in free weights and olympic lifting, rather than machines. Performing a squat using perfect technique not only builds strength in your butt, quads, and calves, but also strengthens your core/low back and improves your balance. No single machine can do all this, and machines can even lead to injury by over-strengthening certain muscle groups at the expense of others.

When it comes to cardio, think long duration/low intensity. As a mountaineer, we work best in our aerobic zone. This is why we pressure breathe, rest step, and do everything we can to conserve energy in the mountains. So when we train, it makes sense to maximize our output in what Steve House and Scott Johnston refer to as “Zone 1.” To quote their book, Training for the New Alpinism, “Improving [Zone 1 fitness] will pay bigger dividends in alpine climbing than time spent improving any other quality because it allows you to sustain higher submaximal climbing speeds for longer times” (58). And to reiterate my first principle, mix it up! I’ll run, I’ll swim, I’ll bike, I’ll run up stadium stairs if available. But when I do, I’ll shoot to be moving for at least 90 minutes.

The best defense against altitude is hyper-attentive self care before and during the trip. Altitude weighs heavily on most climbers’ minds pre-trip (particularly those climbers living in the flatlands), and for good reason: more than any other aspect of a mountaineering trip, how your body responds to altitude is the one factor you can’t fully control. But you can stack the odds heavily in your favor. Before the trip leaves, be sure you are on a consistent and complete sleep schedule. Be sure you are eating well. I’ve talked to guides who swear by airborne, or probiotics. Everyone’s a little different, but if you find a supplement that consistently keeps you healthy, go with it. On the trip itself, dealing with altitude becomes even more straightforward. Never let yourself get too cold. Force yourself to eat. Force yourself to drink. Force yourself to breathe. The climbers that take these four concepts to heart, nine times out of ten, are the climbers who summit.

So what do you do with these principles? Well, you construct a training schedule. My schedule, as a college student in Massachusetts training for Denali, looked something like this:


PM-water jug hill repeats

PM-circuit training/lift

PM-long run (90 min+)




There are a lot of ways to construct a solid training schedule. I was limited that year by classes, other obligations, and going rock and ice climbing whenever I got the chance. But keeping in mind the four principles, I was able to train my way into comfort on Denali, all while living in a flat location.

I’ll continue another week with my specific lifting regimen, so keep you eyes open. For now train hard, rest hard, and I’ll see you in the mountains!

Pepper Dee grew up in Missouri, but found his love for the mountains at an early age. Based out of Bozeman, he guides trips on Mt. Rainier, Denali, and abroad to Aconcagua. A long time flatlander, Pepper knows what it takes to prepare for a big climb without the luxury of mountains in his backyard.

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

Sleep Recovery for Athletes

In a busy world of managing work schedules, family, and training, sleep is often the first thing to suffer. As we pack more and more into our day, we try to get away with less and less sleep. While it’s difficult to manage schedules and sometimes a last minute crunch demands heading to bed late for a few nights, athletic gains from your training are a sum of your training load and your recovery from that load. This means that simply putting in the training hours and effort are not enough; you need to give your body the time and ability to recover from those efforts as well. Additionally, studies of sleep and performance have shown a significant cognitive effect from continual sleep “debt” or sleep restriction. This all leads to the conclusion that you need to hold your sleep time just as sacrosanct in your schedule as you do your training time. If you can stick to this, you will find yourself much more productive with your waking hours as well! To make sure that you are giving your body the recovery it needs from your training load, studies suggest you follow several principles:

Set a consistent sleep schedule: To get quality sleep and maximize your recovery, it’s important to stick to a consistent schedule. Try to head to bed at each night and wake up at the same time. Your body develops a rhythm to sleep, and when your schedule is altered it can make it more difficult to fall asleep, or the sleep you get to be more fitful. Similarly, try to match your sleep schedule to your circadian rhythm. If you are a night owl, embrace it. Heading to bed at 1 am, and trying to wake at 5 am for a pre-work workout is a recipe for sleep deprivation. Recognize your circadian tendencies and try to design your schedule around them to accommodate.

Create a constructive sleep environment: Light pollution and excess noise can prevent you from entering the deepest stages of sleep, in which the majority of recovery from your training load occurs. Consider using fans or white noise machines to drown out excess noise, and consider blackout curtains to create an environment for truly restorative sleep.

Disengage from your screens half an hour before bed: Try to put your screens down at least a half hour before you head to bed. That includes your phone, Ipads, kindles, and televisions. All of the electronics in our lives create stimulation that can make it difficult to fall asleep, keeping us up longer and upsetting our rhythm.

Get 8 hours of sleep: Studies show that while many of us may think that we can operate on less, 8 hours of sleep is the magic number to maximize recovery in athletes. This number creeps up a few hours for teenagers and younger children. While a single night of less sleep will probably not affect your training appreciably, consistently shorting yourself on sleep will reduce your recovery, and reduce the efficacy of your training.

Try a nap! In studies of elite athletes’ recovery, a half hour nap between 2 and 4 pm was shown to dramatically improve recovery. Furthermore, a cup of coffee consumed before that nap helped athletes to wake from it alert and ready to go. While it may not be practical for everyone’s schedule, see if you can sneak in a quick catnap; it may be the performance boost you’ve been looking for!

The Canadian Sport for Life organization has published a detailed explanation of sleep studies as they pertain to long-term athlete development. Find it here: http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Sleep_Recovery_Jan2013_EN_web.pdf

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

Bikes and Trainers: Intervals without the Winter Weather

It is that time of year. Here in Ashford, my hometown, it seems like the rain never ends. While that means snow—a lot of snow on Mount Rainier—and I really should be heading on up and take advantage of some amazing backcountry skiing, there are three things I am absolutely passionate about: one is high altitude mountaineering; two is road cycling; and three goes hand in hand with the first two: suffering! If I cannot ride my bike outside, I ride indoors on my trainer. Today, I want to share with you my epic, indoor, high intensity interval-training workout that pushes my anaerobic and aerobic capacity to the max.

To start, many people see my BMC road bike and ask me, “What does BMC stand for?” The Bicycle Manufacturing Company or BMC as it is known is a Swiss company that builds what I believe are the best bikes in the world. However, I refer to my BMC as my Big Mountain Climbing Machine! So here is my “go-to” indoor cycling workout.

Before you get started:

• Make sure you have one, or more realistically, two water bottles.
• Have a towel at hand. You are gonna sweat!
• A television will help. I’ll explain later.
• Obviously your own Big Mountain Climbing Machine, a.k.a. a bicycle and an indoor trainer

This interval session takes about 40 minutes total and is extremely simple, yet so powerful. To help motivate me, I cycle in front of the television on which I play a recorded stage of The Tour de France. That way I can pretend I am beating Philippe Gilbert (one of the pro peloton’s strongest cyclists). Yes, I beat him every time!

The Workout:

Pain Scale: Use a subjective pain scale. 1 is Super Easy; 10 is “oh my gosh, I can’t take this!”

6:00 warm up (Pain Scale: 6): Pedal at an easy and fast cadence

15 Intervals as follows:

1 minute all out interval (Pain Scale: 9 to 10): Place your bike’s gearing so that you are pushing hard and fast!

1 minute rest (Pain Scale: 3): Spin easily and recover.

Do 15 intervals: One minute all out hard and fast followed by one minute of recovery and repeat it 15 times totaling 30 minutes.

4:00 Cool Down (Pain Scale: 3): With all 15 intervals complete, spin easily to move lactic acid out of your tired legs. If you are like me, your last or 15th interval will include that sprint where you beat Philippe Gilbert at the finish line of the Champs Elysees in Paris! Remember: beat him every time!

Fast, hard intervals like these serve to increase your anaerobic threshold. There are times in the mountains, say the fixed line section on Denali above 14,000 feet, where it gets steep and the climbing becomes very demanding at times. Interval workouts like these give me an extra gear to push with before I redline and become anaerobic, which at altitude is unsustainable. Mentally, I need to dig deep and push it to the top where I know the terrain mellows out again and I can relax, and the challenge of pushing through 15 sets of intervals helps me develop that frame of mind as well. Climbing isn’t always easy and at times you have to suffer a little bit before it gets easier. This interval training session not only allows you to push physically harder, but also develops the mental ability to push harder.

Incorporate this workout into your training plan, and you will begin pushing through those physical and mental barriers where you stop saying, “I think I can” to “I KNOW I CAN!” Now go out…or in this case in, and jump on your Big Mountain Climbing Machine and break through those barriers!

JJ Justman is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He guides expeditions to some of the highest mountains around the World. JJ just arrived in Mendoza to lead an Aconcagua climb (the first of the season), and will head north in May to Denali’s West Buttress. Based in Ashford, WA, JJ is a passionate road cyclist and can be seen on his “Big Mountain Climbing Machine” pushing the pace to Paradise and back down.

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

Mountaineering Training | RMI Guide Billy Haas’ Efficiency Techniques for the Mountains

As climbers we make every effort to be as lazy as possible.  We seek to accomplish our goals and objectives with as little effort as necessary, and will cringe at the idea of making something harder than it needs to be.  This may seem contrary to the image of climbing as an extreme activity during which many people find their physical and mental limit. However, a we often choose objectives that are at the peak of our abilities and thus we are required to maximize efficiency in our effort if we are to succeed.  What I refer to tongue-in-cheek as laziness is in reality efficiency: efficiency, which can be found in every aspect of mountain existence.  Whether it be the way a rock climber positions their body on a route or an alpine climber packs for an expedition, success in the mountains involves high levels of efficiency.  

There some methods of efficiency that don’t directly involve the physical act of climbing but rather things you can do prior to and while climbing that can give you a leg up. I refer to these as “putting money in the bank.”  I think that saying came from a high school teacher referring to gimme questions on an exam, but for me “money in the bank” means any techniques or tricks that can give you an efficiency advantage in the mountains.  I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned from my time in the mountains with a specific focus on climbing Mt. Rainier:

  • A great place to start improving your efficiency in the mountains begins with your equipment: what equipment are you using and does it work for you? Place a high priority on critical items such as boots and or packs, and worry less about items such as a fancy headlamp or spork.  For me, a well-fit boot that is designed for the type of climbing I am doing is imperative.  A good boot can mean the difference between a successful summit and a failed attempt; blisters and cold feet should never thwart a climber’s chance at the summit.  In addition, find a climbing pack that carries weight well and fits you properly.  Forget all the fancy features and pockets; a simple and minimalist pack that fits and carries weight well is what I look for.  You might be able to get by with an old pack or a warm weather climbing boot, but why chance it? Having the right gear for the task makes for one less thing that could slow you down.
  • Maintaining your gear makes a big difference too.  I regularly spend a few hours taking care of small issues that have cropped up with my equipment to make sure that everything is going to work well when I need it to and not fail when it really counts.  I trust my life to my equipment and so do others.  For example, I frequently re-waterproof my gloves and Gore-Tex jackets.  A headlamp is no good if your batteries run out, and a boot will not work as well if the laces snap.  Not every piece of equipment needs to be new, but it does need to work properly.  Climbing is too much fun to be hampered by equipment issues!
  • With the right gear and everything dialed in, you need to pack it all up.  As guides, we seem to have a magical ability to pack 50 liters of gear into a 30 liter pack, but what may seem to be magic is really just some good common sense.  My favorite metaphor for packing is “brick and mortar.”  Some of your items are going to be bricks (eg: sleeping bag in stuff sack) and some are going to be mortar (eg: puffy jacket).  When packing, also consider multi-use items.  A 1/2 liter nalgene makes for a great coffee mug and can also carry an extra 1/2 liter of water when you need it.  You want to maximize space and value in your pack.  Crampons don’t need a crampon case, since quite often wrapping them in your gaiters works just fine and saves space and weight.  Putting some time and thought into a well-packed kit can often fit in a smaller pack.  Smaller packs equal lighter packs, giving you a little more money in the bank.
  • With packing complete, there are still a few more things you can do before a climb that will get you ahead.  For me this starts with my nutrition and hydration.  On Mt. Rainier, I’ve found that from the time I leave home in the morning to the time my team is hiking out of Paradise (approx. 1.5 hours), I can easily sip down a liter of water.  Don’t chug water, but slowly sip a liter in the morning and on the bus ride to Paradise. This will help make sure that you are hydrated for the beginning of your climb.  Pre-hydration, which can start as early as the night before, allows me to bring less water during a climb (less weight), and helps prevent dehydration.  I can recover more quickly, and can focus on other aspects of the climb instead of staving off dehydration.
  • With regards to nutrition, my best suggestion is to learn your own body.  I know how much fuel my body needs at a high level of activity, which is less than some of my friends but definitely more than others.  For two-day trips such as Mt. Rainer, I try to be as precise as I can with the amount of food I bring.  Start by factoring around 200 calories per break and then adjust from there to your specific needs.  In addition to that, bring foods you enjoy eating and can eat while exercising.  I love pizza, but definitely wouldn’t want a slice in the middle of a climb.  Remember; when we climb at altitude the effort is roughly similar to how our bodies feel during a slow jog.  Focus on foods that hold a lot of caloric value.  By bringing the right food and bring only the food you’ll need, you’ll save space and carry less weight.
  • Lastly, be efficient with your time.  When taking a break, maximize your time resting and recovering. Get your self-care chores done early and quickly so that you get as much time off of your feet as possible.  This applies to getting to camp also.  Take care of business first so that you spend a maximum amount of time recovering later.  Use momentum to your advantage: we take short breaks so we do not lose our momentum, and when you roll into camp use that same momentum to set up and settle in before you are too tired to do the things you should have done.  This might be setting up camp or dealing with a pesky blister; the sooner you get it done the sooner you can rest.  Keep in mind that even if we feel great we still need to recover!

These are just a few theories on how to be more efficient while climbing.  Climbers are constantly in opposition with gravity and time, so a light pack will allow us to expend less energy, and quick recoveries will make us stronger for the next day.  Every bit of money in the bank you can save will give you a better chance of success on the mountain, and will be one less issue to worry about.  Learn from others, and learn what works best for you.  Take the time to find the right gear, pack well, eat and drink right, and maximize your rest because the climb is not getting any easier and the mountains are not getting any smaller!

Billy Haas guides trips on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, and abroad for RMI Expeditions. When not traveling to mountains around the world to climb or ski, Billy guides backcountry skiing and teaches avalanche courses in Salt Lake City, UT.

Questions? Comments? What are your suggestions for staying efficient in the mountains? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog

Mountaineering Training | My Go-To Workout

There is no way around it: there are some days where fitting my planned workout into my schedule is impossible.  On the days when chores and errands catch up with me and I don’t have much time to do a workout, I have a go-to workout that I know I can do in 45-50 minutes.  On a day when life feels too busy and I’m tempted to blow my workout off, having a quick workout ready helps me to stay motivated and get out the door.

My workout involves a short, 10 minute running warm-up, 15 minutes of short intervals, a 5-10 minute cool-down, and a short series of core exercises.  Depending on what phase of training I am in and what my goals are, I may alter the pace, number, or duration of my intervals.  During my aerobic building phase, I might run at a tempo that is slightly slower than my 5k race pace for 2 minutes, recover at a light jog for 1 minute, and repeat 4 more times.  This bump in pace helps to mix up my tempo and keeps my legs feeling a bit quicker, but the effort isn’t so hard that I’m building up large amounts of lactic acid.  Later in the season during an intensity phase, I might push the pace of those intervals right to my threshold, or do shorter 1 minute, all out efforts, with a full minute of recovery in between.  This helps to build my anaerobic threshold, and develop my ability to recover as well.  The warm up and cool down are really important for preventing injuries, and I try to resist the temptation to skip or cut short either. 

The light core session to close doesn’t necessarily build a lot more strength, like a dedicated strength session would be designed to do, but it gives me maintenance.  I mix up the exercises, but an example workout might be:

  • 3 sets of 50 crunches
  • 3 sets of 20 pushups
  • and 3 sets of 20 dips

I always end this workout with the same series, something that we used to call a “super set” on the college ski team. It consists of:

  • 100 crunches (feet on the ground, curling my torso towards my knees, but not a full sit-up)
  • 50 sit-ups to the side (alternating sides)
  • 25 leg raises (some straight on, some to either side)
  • and 100 more crunches to finish

Having one piece of my routine that is exactly the same each time lets me develop a benchmark for how my core strength is feeling. 

While your go to workout doesn’t need to mirror this, try to develop a workout that has definitive goals.  If your time is pressed, a short series of intervals will be more beneficial for your fitness than a 30 minute easy jog, most of the time.  Having some goals allows you to be focused during the workout, even if it is just for a short period of time.  Your go-to workout can be any genre: cycling, running, swimming, or spinning are all good options depending on where you live and can do readily.  Remember to build up your strength over time; trying to jump right into a “super set” tomorrow if you haven’t been doing a lot of core strength is a recipe to get injured.  Good luck with your training, and stay motivated: it will pay you back in enjoyment many times over on your next climb!
Pete Van Deventer is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions, guiding climbs on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, and abroad. He calls Aspen, CO home, where he also teaches avalanche courses and is a fully-certified ski instructor.

Mountaineering Training | The Final Countdown

As your next climb approaches, it’s a great idea to revisit your training plan with a critical eye and make a plan for how you are going to tune-up for the big event. Within four to six weeks of your climb, assess what is going well in your training and what could use a boost. This might mean entering a race or checking back in on a set of benchmarks that you’ve been using.

It’s difficult to make an effective difference in your endurance base at this point—there simply isn’t time. Cramming in all of the hours that you wish you had done earlier is more likely to lead to injury or showing up to the climb already fatigued.  Have confidence that you’ve done the job of setting yourself up with a good base and look to these other areas of your fitness for the final tune-up:

Core strength: Your core is comprised of all of the muscles that surround your spine, the side muscles, pelvic muscles, the glutes, as well as (but not just!) the abs. These muscles provide the link in the kinetic chain between your upper and lower body, and thus, nearly any movement you make ripples through the core. In climbing, a strong core helps to link the movements that we make rest stepping uphill with the stabilization of the upper body, including a heavy pack. Add an extra workout or two per week of core strength—focusing on the whole core not just the abs—in the weeks leading up to your climb. The extra strength that you build will help you to climb more efficiently, for longer!

Anaerobic threshold: Your final weeks of training should include some tune-up interval workouts. Try to find a mix of slightly longer level 4 interval workouts to increase your anaerobic threshold, and shorter, speed oriented workouts to tune-up your fast-twitch muscles. Emphasizing some harder intervals and speeds during your final weeks can give you a greater ability to recover from hard efforts during your climb and give you a few more gears should you need them.

Flexibility: A focus on strength training often comes at the expense of flexibility. As the muscles are broken down by training and recover again to build strength, they tend to tighten. If you haven’t dedicated much time to stretching and flexibility, use this opportunity to build it. Building flexibility will help your muscles work more efficiently during the climb and can help to prevent injuries or discomfort that may arise from the effort.

In your final tune-up don’t leave out your long workouts completely, but you can reduce your training volume or hours, and in doing so free up some workout time to focus on these areas. Though mountaineering is an endurance sport, strength, flexibility, and your capacity for high output activity are all important and the effect of your training can be greater in these areas over this last period of preparation. Pick out the elements that could use a tune-up, and take this opportunity to maximize your gains and head into your climb feeling ready and prepared.

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

Put a Breath of Fresh Air in Your Core Strength Routine

The gym is a staple of many people’s training routine. For many who live in the city, or are simply trying to balance packed work, family and training schedules, the gym is the perfect place to get an efficient and high quality workout in. Really progressing in your training takes a lot of discipline and determination. While the gym provides a great venue to get a lot of work in, it can also be a place full of distractions and a place where routine starts to set in and your progress can begin to feel like it is stagnating. Alternatively, there are those who are almost allergic to gyms and avoid them completely. Regardless, after months of training towards your goal, if you live in a locale that isn’t currently anchored in a deep freeze, taking your strength workout outside is a great way to break your routine and inject some new energy to your training.
Pick your favorite short jogging loop, and rather than just going for a 45 min jog, turn it into a core strength session.  Set out for a good warm-up, jogging at a gentle pace that is still conversational. After 10 or 15 minutes of jogging, set your sights on a comfortable spot (grass or a forest floor are much nicer than concrete!) and pick two exercises to do a set each of (pushups and crunches for instance). This style of workout will build more endurance strength since it utilizes body weight, so try to pick a number of repetitions that you can do several sets of with recovery, but still push you hard in the individual set. 60 full crunches and 40 pushups is a great example. Once you have completed both sets, return to your feet and jog easily for 200 meters. Rather than a standing recovery, 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. After the active recovery, pick another comfortable spot and pick two more exercises to do a set of each (dips on a park bench and side planks). After completing the second round of sets, jog again for another 200 meters before doing a third set of exercises. 6 exercises is a great number to start with for your total workout. Continue the process until you have done 3 sets of each (9 total strength stops). Once you are done, finish the loop to 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 week to week, so that you stress muscles in a different way. This a great workout to do with partners. You can spice it up by having different partners choose the exercises for a given set, which can add variety, an element of surprise, and show you some new exercises to add to your routine. Your local park or parkway is a great place to head to for this workout. 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!
These resources have a number of good core exercises for inspiration:

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