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Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training

August 29, 2014

Mountaineering Training | The Art of the Taper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 31, 2014

Mountaineering Training | RMI Guide Lindsay Mann Talks Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MM: Would you explain the rest step?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 21, 2014

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

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

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

The main concerns we see with hydration systems are:

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

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

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

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

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

Not to mention that if you put something other than water in the hydration pack, it can get a bit more complicated to clean-up after a few days on the trail.

Posted by: charles on 7/23/2014 at 4:33 am

July 7, 2014

Mountaineering Training | Moving Air: Breathing For Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2014

Mountaineering Training | The Motivation Factor

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

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

First, I just want to say I am looking forward to meeting everyone on this climb! I hope we will be able to summit and the weather doesn’t stop us from achieving that goal.

Kevin M.-when do you and your brother fly in to Seattle? I live in Washington and might be willing to pick you both up at the airport if you arrive at a decent time. Let me know.

See you all in July. Safe travels to you all.


Posted by: Steph on 6/13/2014 at 2:53 pm

Hello all, My brother and I are coming from out of town for this climb but we are running into issues with getting out to Rainier. I’m curious, How are the rest of you reaching the park? and also, would any one be willing to carpool?

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

May 5, 2014

Mountaineering Training | Nutrition For Mountaineers

There are several schools of thought on the best nutrition plan for mountaineers. Serious mountain climbers need to focus on endurance while hobbyists have a bit more room to formulate their nutritional needs based on many factors. It is important that mountaineers plan their nutrition differently depending on whether they are about to start training, are currently training, climbing or recovering. The most important factors to consider are your energy needs and adequate hydration.

It is advised to start on your training diet a few days before actually starting to train. The reason is because carbohydrates are the best source of fuel for training and are stored as glycogen molecules in the muscles. A carbohydrate loaded meal the day of training will not provide the energy stores needed to reach peak performance. Therefore a carbohydrate-rich diet should be started at least a few days before beginning training.

Training nutrition should focus on muscle building. Many people think that protein is all that is needed to build muscles, but carbohydrates are the energy needed to make it happen. Therefore a combination protein and carbohydrate-rich diet is essential for training. Some healthy foods that can bulk up the daily carbohydrate content in your diet include: whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads and fruits. Make sure to eat vegetables since they are needed for cell repair for a body under stress. Also, to get some extra protein, eat more meat, dairy and beans, if you are not a meat, dairy or bean enthusiast try a whey protein powder shake daily. For strength training you need about 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. And don’t forget fats. Fat is a necessity since it can enhance your performance. Try mega doses of healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil on salads and use coconut oil for frying and sautéing.

Remember that the nutritional needs of athletes in training must be met daily and not just on actual training days in order to ensure sufficient energy storage. On training days some people like to use sugar to enhance endurance. Sugar just prior to training may provide some additional energy but this depends on the athlete. Each athlete would do well to experiment with this strategy to gauge their blood sugar reaction. Sugar can be a quick source of energy immediately before training, but for some people it can cause a real energy drain if it wears off in the middle of the training session.

For climbs, there are plenty of well-balanced pre-packed meals to ensure you get adequate nutrition. Protein is especially important for athletes to optimize the benefits of carbohydrate storage and to repair muscle tissue broken down during mountain climbing. Endurance athletes have a daily protein requirement of 0.6 to 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. It is vital to athletic performance to remember the importance of quality protein. For example protein from fish, chicken, milk and peanut butter will serve you well. And of course for a climb, increase your carbohydrate intake to get adequate energy; try rice, pasta, bread and fruits. Staying well hydrated will provide a little extra energy, so keep drinking. A study shows that drinking tea will not dehydrate a climber but can improve their mood, so try taking some tea on your next climb.

Recovery nutrition is often the most overlooked aspect of mountaineering. When you finish climbing and no longer need the extra energy, it is still not time to let up on eating correctly. Immediately after the climb your body needs to replenish its energy stores and repair muscles. So go back to your pre-training diet for a few days after a climb. Since recovery nutrition keeps you prepared for the next climb, after those first few days keep on with your balanced nutrition plan and stay hydrated to maintain muscle strength.

The love of mountaineering can be enhanced when the body has all the necessary tools to thrive. Finding the right combination for your body may require a little experimentation to find just the right nutritional plan for you. Be sure to incorporate a balance of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Most of all, don’t forget to stay hydrated.

Read the Q&A with Dietician Sally Hara about nutrition for mountaineering training…

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

This post was written in collaboration with Whittaker Mountaineering.
Relevant Studies:

- Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient Timing. 2008;5:17.
- Major GC, Doucet E. Energy intake during a typical Himalayan trek. High Altitude Medicine & Biology. 2004;5(3):355-63.
- Montain SJ, Shippee RL, Tharion WJ. Carbohydrate-electrolyte solution effects on physical performance of military tasks. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine. 1997;68(5):384-91.
- Westerterp KR. Limits to sustainable human metabolic rate. Journal of Experimental Biology. 2001;204(Pt 18):3183-7.
- Zamboni M, Armellini F, Turcato E, Robbi R, Micciolo R, Todesco T, Mandragona R, Angelini G, Bosello O. Effect of altitude on body composition during mountaineering expeditions: interrelationships with changes in dietary habits. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 1996;40(6):315-24.

April 28, 2014

Mountaineering Training | Mental Strategies For The Mountains

Mental preparation for mountaineering is just as important as the physical training. Often the mental hurdles of the mountains can be just as intimidating and overwhelming as the physical challenges. You’ll want to have some strategies to rely on when the climbing gets difficult and you can use your training to figure out what works to keep you mentally engaged and focused during the climb. Below are a few ideas we’ve gathered from our guides and climbers over the years: 

Break It Up
Instead of viewing the climb as single massive undertaking, break the trip into sections, and sub-sections, and sub-sections of sub-sections. If summit day is still days or even weeks away, don’t focus on it when you’re first shouldering your pack. Instead, break the trip in smaller portions: reaching Base Camp, moving to Camp 1, etc. Then segment out the day’s climbing into sections and concentrate on just the stretch you’re on. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the climb ahead but by breaking the endeavor into smaller sections of climbing you can separate it out into achievable parts. 
Climb Beautifully
When the going gets tough and you find yourself struggling, try focusing all of your attention on the physical movements. Dial in your cramponing techniques, concentrate on climbing in perfect balance, focus on  your footwork, pay attention to your rope interval. Turning your attention to these small tasks brings your attention to the immediate actions you are taking and keeps you engaged and focused. 

Focus on the Now
Much like climbing beautifully, try focusing on the immediate trail ahead and don’t go through the exhausting mental exercises of “what-if”, “maybe”, or “perhaps” of what is over the rise. Instead of worrying about how intimidating the crevasse crossing you heard other climbers mention might be, what the altitude will feel like, how long the descent is going to be, or any other number of possibilities, focus on the route in front of you. By staying focused you won’t burn mental energy exploring unknowns and you’ll stay engaged. When you get to those times of the climb or places on the route, you may just find that they are far more manageable than you led yourself to believe. 

When the going gets really tough, try counting steps. Many climbers descend from the mountains with tales of putting their heads down and counting a certain number of steps - 20, 50, 100 - before looking up again. Don’t lose focus of what you’re doing and continue to climb safely and in tandem with your team, but counting is another way to give yourself something immediate to focus on to help get through the challenging sections. 

On most climbs there are many moments such as the approach or the descent where you’re off of the technical sections of the mountain that require active focus and you’re simply walking up or down a trail. It’s okay to let you your mind wander! Stay engaged with what you’re doing so you don’t stumble, but let your mind think about things other than the trail ahead. Maybe it’s thinking about how to plant the garden, remembering quotes from your favorite movie, solving a nagging problem, or even what meal you’ll treat yourself to after the climb - anything that can give you a little mental escape. 

Every climber has different mental strategies that work for them. The trick is finding what works for you. Whether it’s a long weekend hike or a tough interval session, you can use your training routine to experiment with different ways of keeping yourself mentally engaged, even when the training get’s tough. 

Did we miss something? Share your suggestions on mental strategies and read past Weekly Mountaineering Training Series on the RMI Blog!

Awesome advice!  It all makes perfect sense!!!

Posted by: Tammy Doppenberg on 4/28/2014 at 8:50 pm

April 21, 2014

Mountaineering Training | Make The Most Of Rest Breaks

How do you utilize rest breaks in your training and climbs? Do you take a break to eat? And another when you are thirsty?  Perhaps when your legs get tired and uncomfortable? A quick bathroom break on the side of the trail?  It’s important to take care of all of these needs but they need to approached strategically to prevent rest breaks from turning an otherwise long endeavor into an epic.  Learning to manage your rest breaks and keep them efficient makes a big difference on summit day. 

At RMI, the oft-used cliché is that we take “maintenance breaks,” not rest breaks. Consider all of the needs that need to be taken care of mid-climb: you need to relieve yourself, take in enough calories to maintain your energy output, hydrate, adjust your clothing layers to changing conditions, perhaps take care of a hot spot so that it doesn’t become a debilitating blister, get a few minutes off of your feet, and just maybe snap a couple of photos.  This list can easily turn into a half an hour of tasks, even if each only took just 4-5 minutes to accomplish.  After thirty minutes your legs will likely start to stiffen and your temperature start to drop, not to mention that a few half-hour breaks together can turn a 10 hour day into a 12+ hour day in the mountains, stretching the limits of how long we can climb safely and maintain our focus. 

The moral of the story is that efficiency is key: we want to try to take care of all of our needs in the span of ten minutes to leave a few minutes to relax before getting back on the trail and making progress towards the finish line.  Ultra marathoners do this with “walking breaks,” slowing to a walk every hour to make sure that their body is primed for the next hour.  Mountainous terrain doesn’t let us take breaks on the fly, but the principle remains the same.  Taking short, deliberate, and consistent breaks keeps us climbing strongly throughout the day. Making rest breaks efficient takes practice. Learn to multitask in your breaks: take a couple bites of food while you shuffle clothing layers, relieve yourself before you sit down to start your other chores, and sip on water throughout the break.  As you get better at it, you’ll find that you’ve taken care of everything in the first few minutes, and you can relax and let your legs get a bit of recovery for the rest of the break. 

No matter how efficient you are, the time rest breaks take add up.  Taking efficient breaks too frequently can drain just as much time as taking a couple of long breaks. In the mountains, we try to maintain a consistent pace for an hour or so before stopping for ten to fifteen minutes to refuel and take care of ourselves.  This proves to be an effective interval for our bodies in terms of replenishing depleted stores yet still allows us to reach our destination.  Practice this interval in your training too and by your next climb it will feel like second nature. 

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

March 24, 2014

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

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