Posts for Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Mountaineering Training | Guide’s Perspective: My Training For Aconcagua

Posted by: Mike King | December 16, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

At the end of a long season on Mt. Rainier I enter my off season; sleep deprived, constantly hungry around midnight (breakfast time at Camp Muir), fuzzy on what my role is at home after being away for 5 months and physically worn down.  I am in great shape to walk uphill slowly with a heavy pack, but that’s about it.  All of my attempts to continue my strength and conditioning during the Rainier season can’t override my body’s need for rest.  Yet when my guiding season ends, training season begins.

Personally, I hate the monotony of traditional gym training, which is why I use CrossFit.  The workout is different everyday and the community is supportive and at the same time competitive.  I am asked to improve my competency in the following fitness domains: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.  I have coaches who hold me accountable to my goals and adapt the programming to my needs.  It is a tricky balance though, since diving into this type of programming after being absent for five months exposes me to injury.

I typically have two and a half months starting in October to train for the Aconcagua season. For the first week my schedule is 2 days on, followed by 1 active rest day. The 2 days involve attending a one-hour class, which incorporates a 15-minute warm up, 10 - 15 minute skill session followed by the 7 - 20 minute workout.  The class finishes with mobility and recovery exercises.  My active recovery day might be a long run, mountain bike, or climbing.  My goals during this first week are to work on the ten fitness domains and get plenty of sleep. The active recovery days are designed to give me a break from the intense workouts, but are certainly not a day to sit on the couch. 

For weeks 2 - 6 I increase my training to 3 days on followed by 1 day off.  My off day will usually be an active recovery day.  During this phase I continue to build on the previously mentioned fitness domains.  Increasing intensity and output allows me to embrace the suffering of the next set, mile, or hill climb.  This helps me address the mental side of climbing mountains. 

During weeks 7 - 10 I continue with 3 days on followed by 1 rest day.  On Monday and Wednesday I will complete a one-hour class in the morning and that evening o an additional hour of interval training; either running or rowing.  My rest day is just that, a day to recover and prepare from the two-a-days.  I program eight workouts per week to train my body and mind to work hard when I ask it and better utilize rest when available.  Interval training provides the most direct correlation to how I exert myself in the mountains.

When I arrive in Argentina I am confident that I am prepared physically and mentally for the expedition.  I may still struggle with altitude or fatigue at times during the 20-day trip, however, I have trained my body and mind to work hard when needed and (as importantly) rest when opportunity arises.

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Mike King guides around the world for RMI Expeditions, from Argentina to Alaska.  He has climbed and guided across the country, thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, and ridden his bike across the country.  Mike now lives with his wife in Bend, OR, where she owns and runs Fearless Baking.  Mike will be guiding an Alaska Mountaineering Seminar next May, and is headed to Aconcagua on December 20th with Jake Beren.  Follow them on the RMI Blog!

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

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Mountaineering Training | Training Zones Explained

Posted by: | December 02, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

One of the most important things to remember about training is that successful training is a conglomeration of various activities and intensities that as a whole improve your body’s physiological performance.  While many people may consider going for a half hour jog each day as “training”, when you are preparing for an activity like mountaineering, your training needs to go beyond this.  A major component of successful training is varying the intensity of workouts.  Some workouts are hard, some are short bursts of maximum effort, and many are long and slow endurance sessions.  A great way to think about these sessions is through the concept of training zones. 

Training zones have traditionally been distilled in to five categories, based on their physiological effect and the corresponding effort they require.  While it’s not a particularly exciting way to label them, the categories are named Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3…you get the idea.  There are a number of different theories and ways to define these zones floating around in the training world; Google training zones to find all the reading you could want to do on the subject.  For those that train with a heart rate monitor, percentage of max heart rate (MaxHR) is a useful way to help identify your training zones.  There are a variety of formulas to determine your MaxHR, but a good approximation for most people is to subtract their age from 220.  Heart rate monitors are great training tools, but are not necessary to train properly.  Another method of setting the zones is to use perceived effort.  The zones are described as follows:

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

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

Zone 3: This is a bit of a gray area.  Zone 3 is between 70 and 80% of your Max HR, and generally is the zone when you stop being able to talk in full sentences, but can still get out short bursts of words at a time.  It’s a bit too fast for really building endurance, and not fast enough to develop speed or anaerobic capacity, so most serious people spend little time training at this zone.  It is useful for some tempo workouts, but is probably the zone to spend the least amount of your training time. 

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

Zone 5: 90 to 100% of MaxHR.  This is for pure speed and all out effort.  It typically involves intervals, or short bursts of max effort, and is useful for increasing your anaerobic threshold and increasing your body’s ability to cycle lactic acid and recover from hard efforts. 

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

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

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

Clouds billow over Little Tahoma below an RMI Climbing Team (Katrina Bloemsma).

Mountaineering Training | Picking Favorites: RMI Guide Adam Knoff Discuss Balancing His Passions

Posted by: Adam Knoff | November 18, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adam Knoff is a senior guide at RMI, husband, father, and fish wrangler.  A versatile and talented rock, ice, and big mountain climber, Adam has climbed and guided throughout the world, in Alaska, the Himalaya, and in his backyard of Bozeman, MT.  Adam is guiding an upcoming Mexico’s Volcanoes trip, Expedition Skills Seminar - Ecuador, and will be leading a team on the West Buttress of McKinley next June.

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

RMI Guide Casey Grom coils his rope on the summit of Antisana, Ecuador (Adam Knoff)

Mountaineering Training | Playing With Speed: The Fartlek

Posted by: | November 11, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

In the 1930s, Swedish running coach Gösta Holmér was trying to find a way to kick start a floundering national cross country running team that had been thoroughly trounced by a strong Finnish team throughout the 1920s*.  Part of his answer was an interval workout with a name that most Americans have trouble saying with a straight face: fartlek.  Fartlek translates to English as “speed play”, and the workout is just that.  A free flowing and loose type of interval workout, Fartlek has many incarnations and can greatly benefit climbers as part of a workout plan.  

Fartlek workouts have gained popularity in the sports of running and nordic skiing (both heavily Scandinavian sports) since Holmér’s creation, but they can be accomplished in a wide variety of activities: swimming, cycling, and walking are all conducive to playing with speed.  
 
Completed within a continuous workout, such as a longer run, the fartlek portion typically lasts for at least 45 minutes.  After a good warm-up, many people begin the fartlek with a few minutes of a sustained increase in effort.  This effort shouldn’t be all out, but a bump of 15 to 20 seconds per mile from your normal distance aerobic pace.  This continues the warm-up process and readies your muscles and body for the gear changes that make up the fartlek workout.  After this period, you are ready to play.  The fartlek consists of increases in pace of varying duration and intensity, always returning to your aerobic distance pace.  This could be a few quick steps thrown in every 50 meters - to simulate a bump in pace or a few difficult steps to get through an awkward section of Disappointment Cleaver - or a sprint of 50-60 meters every few hundred meters, simulating a short stretch of steep climbing.  Longer efforts of one to several minutes can be used, as well as harder efforts up hills, with recovery over the top and on the descent.  One of the main points of the fartlek is that it is continuous.  After your harder efforts, you should return to your aerobic distance pace.  If you can’t sustain this and you find your pace slowing, back off the intensity of your harder efforts.  
 
This is a great workout to do with a partner or group.  Switch leaders often, vary the length and intensity, and have fun.  Pick different points to push to; racing to signposts, up hills, and racing mailboxes (push for two mailboxes then back off, then push for four, and back off, etc.) are all great ways to keep the workout entertaining and fun.  Checkout these different fartlek ideas on Active.com and Triathlete.com for inspiration. 
 
Fartlek has benefits for climbers throughout the different phases of a training plan.  Early on in training, the goal is base fitness and building aerobic endurance.  While aerobic endurance is incredibly important to the sport of mountaineering, the long slow nature of these workouts can leave athletes feeling sluggish and with a difficult time increasing the pace.  During this phase, fartlek is a great way to maintain your ability to switch gears mid workout.  As you move into your threshold building phase, fartlek is a great mid intensity interval workout that helps train your body to recover between efforts - important in a sport where a few more difficult steps at altitude can leave you gasping for breath.  Experiment with different formulas, and try throwing these workouts into your plan once or twice a week.  The fartlek workout is a great way to add some creative freedom to your weekly training regimen.  Lastly, don’t forget the “play” in “speed play”!  
 
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*Source: Wikipedia article “Fartlek”.

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

An RMI Team climbing Ecuador's Cotopaxi (Mike Walter).
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Mountaineering Training | Strength Training Beyond The Gym

Posted by: Lindsay Mann | November 04, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

When most people think about strength workouts, they think about joining a gym and lifting weights to build muscle mass. I grew up as an alpine ski racer and continue to stay involved in the sport now as a ski coach. If you have watched an alpine ski race, in person or on TV, you know that ski racing is all about leg strength. Although mountaineers don’t need to be hitting the weight room to the same extent as a ski racer, strength is a key component to climbing. 
 

Traveling around the world as an athlete, coach, and guide, I do not always have access to a weight room. During the season I still need to do exercises to maintain strength. I make use of local parks or playgrounds (where the entry fee is free) or even my own living room.
 
Below are a couple of key exercises that you can do either in a gym or in the comfort of your own home. Remember, whenever doing strength workouts, it is important to get a proper warm-up and cool-down and listen to your body in order to stay injury-free and get the most from the workout.
 
Warm-Up: This involves 15 - 20 minutes of running or biking to get your muscles warmed up. This is imperative since diving into strength training cold is a great way to hurt yourself. This time can be spent on a stationary bicycle, a couple laps around the neighborhood on a road bike or mountain bike, a few laps around the track or soccer field, or a jog around the neighborhood. 
 
Body Weight Squats: Start your workout with two legged squats, feet hip width apart, with no weight. As you up your training, adding weight is a viable option as long as your form and technique stay correct. Jugs of water, rocks, or chunks of firewood all make good weight additions.  To maintain form and avoid injury, make sure that your knees are stacked over your ankles. Start with doing three sets of 10 reps. I usually go down for a count of 2 - 3 seconds and up for the same count. 
 
One-Legged Squats: These are my personal favorite; still a leg strength building exercise, one-legged squats also add a balance component. In order to protect your knees during any squats, I recommend going no deeper than a 90-degree bend in the knee (doing these in front of a mirror when you first start can be beneficial).  Start out with the non-weight bearing leg parallel to the standing leg. As you master this, play around with the position of the leg in the air. It can be in front, out to the side, or back. Now not only are you working on leg strength but you are also working on balance. Work up to 3 reps of 10 on each leg. Depending on your baseline strength you may start with 2 reps of 5 on each leg and then slowly work up. 
 
Again as this gets easier for you, add weights in your hand or try these on grass or sand. All of this will change your balance and the difficulty. 
 
Wall-Sits: Simply sit against a wall with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle like you are sitting in an invisible chair with your back and butt against the wall. This is a real thigh burner. Start by holding this for 30 seconds to a minute and doing two or three sets, shaking your legs out in between. As you get better at this, increase the time you are holding to up to a few minutes. Another way to increase the difficulty is to hold an object straight in front of you, such as a ski boot or climbing boot. 
 
Lunges: With an emphasis on quad-strengthening exercises it is important to incorporate some hamstring-strengthening exercises as well. One suggestion is lunges. The key to these is that they are done slowly; you are building strength as you lower your body weight and raise it again. Make sure that your knees are lined up above your ankles and feet, and do not push your knee beyond your toes. I usually start with my hands on my hips doing 2 to 3 sets of 10 - 15 lunges on each side (20 - 30 total in a set), and alternate which leg is in front. Again, as this becomes easier for you, you can add free weights. 
 
Pull-Ups: These are nice because they can be done anywhere. Not only is it good arm strength exercise, but it also involves the core. Pull-ups can be done with a pull-up or chin-up bar in your house, or at the local playground on the monkey bars. Start out with 2 sets of five. If this is hard for you, have someone hold your knees to assist you after doing a few on your own. You will be amazed how much you will improve just by trying them on your own and then going through the motion with someone assisting you. 
 
Cool-Down: In order to aid recovery for the following days, do a proper cool-down. Spend another 15 minutes on a bike or finish with a light jog to get out some of the lactic acid. Don’t forget that stretching is also an important aspect of the cool-down process. 
 
Listen to your body with any workout.  All of the recommendations of sets are exactly that - recommendations; do what makes sense for you.  Depending on your starting point you may have to start with fewer and work up. That is okay; continue to work on strength exercises and you will see improvements. Set benchmarks and goals for yourself so that you can see the improvements!  Often times the process of seeing yourself improve is all the motivation you need!

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Lindsay Mann is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions and a NCAA D1 Skiing Champion. She has climbed and guided around the world, from Peru to Alaska. Lindsay is leading a team of female climbers to scale Mt. Rainier on a special Four Day Summit Climb next summer, August 12 - 15, 2014.

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

RMI Guide Lindsay Mann leads a team up Mt. McKinley's Kahiltna Glacier (Brent Okita).

Mountaineering Training | Starting Your Expedition Healthy

Posted by: | October 28, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Illness is the enemy of every climber.  You have trained countless hours and are in the best shape of your life, but if you start a climb already sick, the climb you were prepared for can become infinitely harder.  Health on an expedition starts before the climb, before the team meets, and before the marathon of travel to get to your destination.  Start your trip healthy by making sure you are thinking about your health and your immune system several weeks before your trip even starts! 
 
Remember to “taper” your training before the climb. Ease back on the hours and intensity of your workouts during the last week or two before your trip and make sure that you are rested, recovered, and ready to go.  It’s always tempting to push the last few workouts, but doing so can lead to arriving tired and predisposed to getting sick before the climb begins.
 
Most climbing trips begin with an airline flight, whether across the U.S., or across the globe to South America, Nepal, and beyond.  An airplane full of people from all over the world is a big test for your immune system, and it will need all the help you can give it. To keep your immune system strong, don’t forget to start hydrating a day or two before your flight as well.  Airline cabins are often pressurized to higher altitudes than we are used to, and consequently, humidity in the cabin is also much lower than our normal environment.  Good hydration before your flight will help get you through the flight in better shape.  Lastly, don’t forget to get up and move around.  A few hours of sitting in your airplane seat can leave your legs feeling stiff, sore, and perhaps swollen; not an ideal start to a climb!
 
Once you are back on the ground, try to adjust to your new environment.  Often, the hardest part is adjusting to a new time zone.  Do your best to adjust your routine to the local time right off: eat your meals at standard times and try to stay awake until a normal hour.  Besides a time zone change, you may also be dealing with new and different foods.  Right before your expedition isn’t the best time to be adventurous with your food.  Be mindful of what you eat, especially when traveling abroad. Make sure that food, especially meat, is thoroughly cooked.  Beware of fruits and vegetables that are unwashed, or have been washed with tap water.  Soil and tap water in other areas can carry bacteria and viruses that our systems aren’t accustomed to dealing with.  Along the same vein, be careful with drinks.  Drink bottled water if in doubt, and ask for drinks to be made without ice (which is usually made from local tap water).  Use bottled water to brush your teeth as well.  If you are dying to spice it up and try the local delicacy, the time to do it is after the climb.  
 
If you arrive feeling a bit off, don’t stress.  Take the time to rest, recover from your travels, and refuel.  This will make all the difference if you are balancing the line between getting sick and staying healthy.  Vitamin-C supplements, Zinc, Echinacea, and innumerable other immune supplements are available.  Bring your favorite, and use them prophylactically during your travels.  Traveling can be the most stressful part of your climb.  Once you are in the mountains, routine takes over and all of your training pays off! 

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

Views of Mt. McKinley from the plane on the way to Kahiltna Base Camp (Linden Mallory).

Mountaineering Training | Is Your Training Working? Using Benchmarks

Posted by: Pete Van Deventer | October 21, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

The ability to measure your gains throughout a training program is a great way to stay motivated and identify areas that you want to work on more.  In college I raced on the cross-country ski team. On the team, we had several different benchmark sessions throughout our summer and fall training seasons.  These sessions helped measure strength, anaerobic threshold, race speed, and endurance.  While the demands of nordic ski racing are somewhat different than mountaineering, these categories still apply directly to mountaineering.  If you incorporate tests into your training plan early, you’ll have a benchmark to compare each subsequent test to.  With a tool to identify your progress, you’ll be amazed at the progress you will make in getting faster, stronger, and fitter! 
 
As food for thought, a couple of the events that we used were:
 
A Strength Test: The test encompasses three different core exercises that isolate different muscles groups: sit-ups, push-ups, and dips.  Starting with sit-ups, do as many complete sit-ups as possible within a 1-minute span, rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat.  We did the same with both push-ups and dips, keeping track of the numbers.  When repeating the test later in the season, you are able to track your gains in core strength.  
 
3000-meter running test and time trials: Both allowed us to compare times over a consistent course and test aerobic thresholds.  The 3000m is long enough (7.5 laps of a standard track) to attain a good idea of how you can push and maintain over an extended distance.  Time trials are the same, though distance and mechanism can vary (20 kilometers on a bike or a 45 minute uphill run). Longer courses focus on aerobic capacity (endurance), while shorter events move more towards the aerobic threshold (the ability to process lactic acid and maintain aerobic respiration). 
 
Uphill sprint test: Running uphill as hard as I could pushed me into the anaerobic zone and measured maximum performance.  Alpine ski areas, a local uphill grind, or even a long set of stairs are a great place to do this test.  Find a section 2-3 minutes long, duck your head, and give it all you have.  
 
Be creative with creating your own benchmark tests!  Enter a 5k race periodically, use your local stadium stairs as an anaerobic test, and create a strength test that works for you.  The options are pretty limitless, and when you see how much time you’ve dropped on that uphill run, or how many more sit-ups you can do over the period, you’ll be that much more psyched to keep getting after it. As always, be careful, especially at the beginning.  Training only works if it’s making you stronger so train smart and stay injury free!
 
 
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Pete Van Deventer is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. A former collegiate nordic skier, Pete climbs and guides around the world, from the Andes to Alaska. Pete is leading an expedition on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress in May. Also an avid skier, Pete recently sailed and skied through Norway’s Lofoten Islands, read about the adventure on the RMI Blog.

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

Trekkers in the Khumbu Valley beneath Ama Dablam. Photo: Linden Mallory

Mountaineering Training | 3 Training Principles From RMI Guide Eric Frank

Posted by: Eric Frank | October 14, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Three Core Training Principles
By RMI Guide Eric Frank

Designing a training program to prepare for mountaineering is one of the most important decisions aspiring climbers face. Success or failure is often determined by the type and quality of the training done months before the crampon straps are tightened.

By planning particular elements of the training program in order, fitness can be maximized while the chance of burning out is minimized. Each level of activity leads to the next. It is crucial to start training at least six months in advance of the climb to have enough time to work through a full cycle.  While the details will vary between climbers, here are a few core principles to consider:

• First, commit one or two Saturdays each month for long training sessions. This can be difficult in our busy, modern world, but it is important to find the time to go on a five to six hour hike or bike ride. Days in the mountains are rarely less then eight hours, and being accustomed to consistent low-grade output is important. This serves to build base fitness.

• Next, introduce mountaineering specific activities by focusing on the core and legs. Carrying a backpack uphill for hours can be extremely taxing on these muscle groups. Running, core workout and good ol’ hiking with a pack will build them up to the appropriate level. Remember to carry a pack that is similar to the pack weight on the climb. Filling the pack with water is a nice trick. Carry the weight uphill during training, then dump it out before heading downhill to save the knees.

• Finally, add high intensity, full body workouts to the exercise program. On most routes in the mountains, there are places where increased output is required. Whether it is scrambling up a rock step on the Disappointment Cleaver on Mt. Rainier, ascending a fixed line on the West Buttress of Denali, or just shoveling snow to make a tent platform, physical strength is crucial. These activities will round out the strength in your shoulders and lower back.  A good introductory workout involves body weight calisthenics in a rotation – pushups, crunches, squats, dips, pull-ups and jump rope. Try to do three full cycles with a consistent number of repetitions. The idea is maintain an elevated heart rate and stress different muscle groups in succession. The best part is that is doesn’t require any specialized equipment or facilities.

Finally remember that the best training imitates the route to be climbed. Consider the specific mountain and route to be attempted, research it’s exact difficulties, then tailor a plan which will lead to success.

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Eric Frank is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He has climbed and guided all over the world, including the Alaska Range and the Himalaya; read about his recent to trip to Shishapangma on the Eddie Bauer Blog. Eric will be leading an RMI Expedition on Mt. McKinley’s Upper West Rib next spring.

RMI Guide Jake Beren leaves the last break before the summit of Mt. Rainier earlier this summer. Photo: Eric Frank.

Mountaineering Training | Training Suggestions for Aconcagua

Posted by: JJ Justman | October 02, 2013
Categories: *Aconcagua *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

After climbing Mt. Rainier, as our teams are sitting in Ashford at the Bar & Grill, I am often asked, “What is a next best climb?” While that is a great question with many possibilities, my go to answer is typically Aconcagua. Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America and one of the world’s highest mountains. It is a great introduction to expedition style climbing, it is relatively safe, and it is a ton of fun!
 
Climbing a mountain like Aconcagua is a huge endeavor. It is a mountain that requires an athlete to be in top physical condition. Overall aerobic endurance training is very important and it is important that most climbers come to the mountain fully prepared. In regards to endurance training, I have always been a firm believer that you must do something aerobically that you really enjoy doing…because you must do a lot of it! For me, that activity is road cycling. I can get on the bike and ride for hours upon hours. For others, it may be running or hiking. 
 
I have an additional workout that I incorporate into my training once a week, two months prior to my expedition, in order to prepare. The workout is “crossfit” style, but first I want to explain why I benefit from it.
 
High altitude climbing demands three things. One, you must have a high aerobic threshold. Without getting into too scientific, your body’s aerobic threshold simply means your body is still running on oxygen. Anaerobic system is when you are not getting enough oxygen and lactic acid builds up. This is when you are going so hard you begin to feel that “burn” in your legs and you simply feel you cannot maintain that effort. So your body slows down, you return to your aerobic state and your body begins to flush the lactic acid out. If you do interval training, going all out for a short time followed by a longer period of rest, you in a sense are building a higher aerobic threshold.
 
Two, you must have good overall strength for climbing at high altitudes. On Aconcagua you will carry a heavy pack to move between the three camps we have. So you must have strong shoulders, back, chest, core and legs.  
 
Lastly, you must have a great deal of mental strength. We would all love it if climbing high mountains would be easy, but it is not! Climbing to high altitudes requires a little bit of suffering. How hard are you mentally willing to push it? You must break mental barriers to succeed at high altitude.
 
With all that I personally do a routine that has me crying at the end. Why? Because it requires all three things mentioned above. And here is the workout…but first, always consult a profession trainier before attempting a new workout. 

1. Man Makers
2. 500 meter row
3. 30 – 50 full sit ups
4. Jump rope one minute
5. Kettle bell dead lift
6. Lying Leg raises

I perform these exercises in succession with as little time resting in between. A complete cycle of these exercises is one set. I perform a total of three sets. This workout is torture…but in a good way. It keeps my heart rate elevated very high, especially during the rowing and jump roping. It also incorporates overall muscle strength. And I have to push through a mental barrier because I guarantee you will either want to rest or quit.

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JJ Justman is a senior guide with RMI Expeditions. He has led 18 expeditions to Aconcagua, and guided and climbed around the world, including three expeditions to Mt. Everest. In addition to climbing and cycling, JJ is a talented Tango dancer. JJ will be leading several Aconcagua expeditions for RMI this coming winter.

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

An RMI Team makes the final approach to Base Camp on Aconcagua. Photo: Linden Mallory
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Mountaineering Training | Climber’s Perspective After The Climb

Posted by: | September 23, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

My Favorite Training & What Worked

I recently got to attempt my summit of Mt. Rainier.  Although we were not able to reach the summit because the route was impassable, I was in the best shape of my life and was able to reflect on all of my training, what worked, what didn’t, and what I enjoyed doing to train for the climb.
 
A lot of my training worked quite well to get me ready for my climb.  Here are a few of the exercises that worked best:

Gym

Stairs/Stepmill:  The stepmill became my best friend while at the gym prepping for Mt. Rainier.  It was very functional movement that would let me do interval training, side stepping, and long climbing durations.

Versa climber:  The versa climber is an amazing cardio tool that I discovered at the ProClub in Bellevue. It serves as great cardio combined with functional movement and is very difficult to do for long periods of time.  This was one of my love/hate relationships at the gym given the benefit I took away from it.

Running:  Running is something that I hate in this world… especially on a treadmill. I prefer hiking and getting outdoors.  However, I could not ignore the benefit that running gave me in general conditioning.  I tried to get outside as much as possible, cover distance, and put in hill/stair training while I was out to break up the monotony.

Mountain Conditioning Course:  This was one of my favorite parts of training.  The ProClub in Bellevue offers a class twice a week that is solely focused on conditioning for hiking.  This class offered a social aspect to my training with people who were training for Mt. Rainier, the Enchantments, Everest Base Camp as well as others who had already summited Mt. Rainier.  This class offered circuit training, conditioning, and strength training all combined into functional movement.

Hiking

Hiking was one of the best things that I was able to incorporate into my training.  What better way to train for a hike than hiking itself?  The best part of my hiking training was the confidence in my abilities that some of these bigger hikes gave me once on Mt. Rainier.
• Mailbox Peak: 6mi round trip, 3100’ elevation gain, 4800’ highest point
• Colchuck Lake + Aasgard Pass: 11mi round trip, 4400’ elevation gain, 7841’ highest point

Altitude

Training at altitude was another key to feeling good on my summit attempt.  I traveled to Colorado to bag some 14ers and did Camp Muir once.  Knowing how the altitude would impact me and quickly learning the benefit of pressure breathing were key in my training.

Colorado:  A week before my climb I had the opportunity to go to Denver for work which provided me the chance to hike several peaks over 14,000’ and see what the altitude would do to me.  Additionally, this gave me a chance to do back to back days of serious hikes to see how a climb to Muir followed by a summit day would be like.
• Grays & Torreys: 8.25mi round trip, 3600’ elevation gain, 14270’ highest elevation
• Quandry: 6.75 mi round trip, 3450’ elevation gain, 14265’ highest elevation

Camp Muir: 10mi round trip, 4600’ elevation gain, 10000’ highest elevation
I only climbed Camp Muir once during my training even though it was one of the best training hikes near Seattle.  I did this for several reasons - first, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do that part of the route so that when my trip came I could approach it with confidence.  Second, I did not want that route to turn into what the Tiger Mountain cable line trail had become to be - a dreaded training hike that was no longer fun (I was doing that trail twice a week for training).

Backpacking: Pratt Lake: 11.5mi round trip, 3000’ elevation gain, 4200’ highest elevation
Backpacking was a fun part of my training where I carried over-weight pack for an overnight and I was able to test out my gear and equipment while out in the field.  This was a great opportunity to check out my pack, boots, and clothing to ensure they were the right fit and equipment for the summit attempt.

Things I Wish I Had Done More

There were a few things that after attempting my summit I wish I had done more of in my training routine: 

Hike more with full pack weight or an overweight pack: Carrying a 40 pound pack up the mountain and at elevation can start to tire even the most fit people.  Training more with what that weight would feel like and just making it a part of every hike earlier on would have made a big difference.  On each hike I did I would add in a decent amount of weight (25-30lbs) but only hiked at full weight once.  Going back, I would have started with full weight much earlier in my training time and even gone overweight to help my body be stronger when I was at elevation.

Hike at a steady pace for long durations: RMI does a great job at managing energy expenditure if you listen to their advice.  One thing that our guide targeted was that no matter the difficulty of the terrain that our energy expenditure would be the same.  For example, if it was flat we might move a bit faster but that would be the same energy required as slowly going up a steep part.  In my training I found myself hiking for a bit and taking 15-30sec resting periods and continuing vs going for a hour and then breaking.  Although my micro rests were very helpful and made me move very fast, they were not ultimately the slow steady pace I would need for alpine climbing.  Looking back I would have tried to maintain steady paces/energy expenditures for the duration of my training hikes, taking scheduled breaks and pushing myself through the tough points where I traditionally took a micro break. 

All in all, all of my training was beneficial to the climb but there were definitely some things that helped more than others.  I will make some tweaks to my training schedule before my next climb, and start carrying a heavier pack for training earlier.  It is very important to invest in your training and start early because I saw more than one climber struggle with their fitness on the mountain.  On a rope team, you are either an asset or a liability, and at the end of the day, all of your training is putting more fuel into your Mt. Rainier summiting fuel tank.  So train hard and be an asset to your team - it only makes your climb better!


- Jeff Marcoux

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Jeff Marcoux is an avid hiker & lover of micro brews who lives with his wife in Seattle, WA.

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

Jeff Marcoux traverses below Mt. Rainier's Disappointment Cleaver at sunrise earlier this year. Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux. Mailbox Peak and Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass. Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux. Hiking in Colorado: Grays & Torreys (L), Quandry Peak (R). Photo courtesy Jeff Marcoux.
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