Log In


Register With Us

    *required fields
    • Keep up to date with information about our latest climbs by joining our mailing list. Sign up and we'll keep you informed about new adventures, special offers, competitions, and news.


Check Availability

Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training

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.

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

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!

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!

Hi, everything is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s really fine, keep up writing. cdegcfkbdfefkdea

Posted by: Smithf201 on 5/24/2014 at 6:58 pm

Mountaineering Training | Cycling for Mountaineering Training

Some Rainier climbers are fortunate to have enough mountainous terrain in their area to train on realistic terrain for their upcoming climb.  However, many are completing their training in locations far from the mountains and with limited access to hiking trails. In these places it takes a little more creativity to functionally train for mountaineering.  Fortunately, no matter where you are, we all live in the midst of an almost unlimited network of pavement.  Road biking can be a great tool for getting a lot of variety of training done, with the added bonus that it is a low impact activity on your joints.  Depending on the type of training you are trying to accomplish, there are many ways to use your road bike as a tool:

• Long Endurance: Road bikes are a great way to get that long, 3 to 4 hour workout done on the weekends.  Look for different loops that you can do with a variety of terrain, and try to keep your heart rate in Zone 1 or Zone 2.  On a road bike, often times this means using an efficient gear to spin a good cadence or tempo, rather than mashing high gears for a bunch of hours. Keep in mind that 3 hours of spinning on a bike may not provide the same workout as a 3 hour hike on mountainous terrain so you may need extend your rides a little if you feel like you’re not getting the workout you desire. If you aren’t sure where to go in your area, check out apps like Strava or EveryTrail, which let you share your rides with other users, compare your times, and get ideas for new rides in your area!

• Fartlek Intervals: If you have a loop or ride around you with some rolling hills, your ride can turn into a natural interval workout, known as Fartlek Intervals.  Up the intensity up each hill, and recover down the backside or across the flats.  Similarly, use telephone poles, signs, road junctions, or other landmarks to setup a series of intervals if your terrain isn’t as suited for climbing.

• Speed: Along similar lines to intervals, you can do a series of short sprints or speeds (this can be really fun if you are riding with a group of buddies, and someone calls out a finish line at random that the whole group races for) that helps build your fast twitch muscle structure for those short bursts of quick steps that you encounter climbing.

• Strength: Biking works many of the same leg muscles that we use climbing, namely the quads, hamstrings, and calves.  While a lot of good road cyclists often focus on riding an efficient gear at high rpms, if you want to do a series of strength exercises, try to a type of interval where you push a higher gear than you normally would for a minute or two, then back off. Repeat this for several repetitions. Think of it as a sort of leg squat. As you get stronger, you can increase the resistance for this exercise.  This may not be that aerobically challenging, but remember the point is strength, rather than aerobic threshold with these.  

As with any workout, you will be far more successful if you set out for each workout with a focus and purpose, rather than to just go for a ride each day. The variety and quality of the training that you can do on a bike is great, but remember that it doesn’t replace the need to put a pack on for some of your workouts and do them with weight on your back, just like you will have on the climb. Similarly, road biking is great for reducing the strain on your joints, but remember that during your climb, you will climb (and DESCEND!!) 10,000 feet and your joints need to be ready for that. So if riding is better suited to your area, use it as a great tool to get a ton of training done, but don’t forget to get out on your feet, boots on, with a pack on your back. Mix it up and stay excited about your training! 

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

Deja Vu,  guess what a bought today—road bike.  :))

Posted by: Mary on 10/19/2014 at 6:05 pm

Mountaineering Training | Time & Terrain Tips For Training

The training required for mountaineering is difficult: the workouts are strenuous, committing, and time consuming. A major challenge many climbers face is balancing training with the realities of daily life. Time and terrain are both constraining: it is difficult to find the time to fit in all of the training and not easy access to miles of trails and thousands of vertical feet is difficult to find.

The reality is that there is not one a single solution to these constraints. In order to fit in the training you need and head into the mountains prepared you have to adapt your training plan to fit with what works for you.

To help we’ve put together a collection of ideas, suggestions, and tips that our guides and climbers have used over the years to help you get the most out of your training.


There is no way around it: mountaineering training takes time. To get the most out of your training, use the time that you have well:

• Have Purpose: Make each workout have a purpose (base, interval, strength, or balance training) and know what you need to do so that you can complete it.
• Plan Ahead: Have your gym bag packed or your hiking clothes ready so that you can start right away. This will help you stay committed to fitting in your training. 
• Set A Routine: Whether it’s getting up early, using your lunch break, or skipping Happy Hour a few days a week, dedicate a time that you commit to training.
• Get Creative: Perhaps you combine your training with other activities: try riding your bike to work to get in a workout while you commute or hop on the stationary bike with your book and spin while you read.
• Break It Up: Need to fit in a 2.5 hr workout but don’t have the time? Try breaking it up into two 1.25 hr sessions instead. While building endurance requires consistent training, you’re better served by still getting in a couple of shorter sessions than cutting short or even skipping the longer session.
• Commit: Join a hiking or running group, take part in a spin class, or hire a personal trainer. Being part of something bigger helps you motivate after a long day to get your workout in.
• Plan The Weekends: The weekends are usually the best block of time to commit to training - especially the longer sessions. Pull out a calendar and mark the weekends you need to fit in your long hikes and climbs. If that means taking a trip to nearby mountains, make your lodging reservations ahead of time so that you’ll stick to your plan!


Nothing beats training for climbing like climbing, but easy access to mountainous terrain isn’t available out of everyone’s backdoor. Even for climbers who live close to the mountains, there isn’t always the time to hop in the car, drive to the trailhead, complete the workout, and return again. Don’t let this be daunting, finding terrain alternatives is a creative endeavor:

• Do Some Research: Ask around at the local gym or trails for suggestions on where others train. Websites like RootsRated.com and AllTrails.com may help you discover new trails or places to train. 
• Go Mechanical: Use a treadmill on an incline, a stair climber, or a stationary bike to get your workout in. Better yet, grab a road bike and incorporate cycling into your training.
• Stairs: Find a long set of stairs in a nearby stadium or office building and make a few laps. Skip the elevator on the way down: you’ll want to get your legs ready for the downhill too!
• Look For The Hills: No mountains around? Look for a small hill and make multiple laps of it. Training on inclines is good preparation, no matter how continuous they are.
• Think Outside of the Box: Don’t have a great 10 mile hike nearby? Can you link up a few shorter walking, hiking, and biking trails instead? Constantly looking for new terrain alternatives is a great way to stay motivated too!
• Don’t Be Limited: The goal is to get yourself ready for climbing, no matter what it takes. A recent Vinson climber told us about how he put his pack on and made laps of the stairs in his house for an hour a few times a week just to get some vertical in!

The Little Things

Given all of the hurdles faced with training for mountaineering, take advantage of little things that you can do to help fit in some training:

• Take The Stairs: Climbing a few flights of stairs in itself won’t get you ready for the Himalaya or the Alaska Range, but it certainly won’t hurt! So skip the elevator or the escalator and hit the stairs!
• Go Short & Go Hard: Don’t have time for a long workout? Still try and be active, whether it’s a quick strength circuit or an interval session. You’ll benefit from the exertion, even if it’s not the exact workout you had in mind.
• Mix It Up: Don’t limit yourself to just the gym or the same running loop day after day. Whether it’s finding a new trail or joining up with a group of other climbers or people training for a race, build some diversity into your training. It will help you keep motivated and inspired!

Did we miss something? Leave a comment and share your suggestions and tips on how to manage the constraints of terrain and time in mountaineering training!

i am scheduled to do the 4 day Rainier climb in August, 14 weeks away. Unfortunately while training i discovered a hernia and had surgery for 2 hernias 2 weeks ago. Prior to the surgery I was climbing stairs for an hour with a weighted vest and hand weights, lifting weights and cycling. I am already back to 1/2 hr climbing stairs with no problem and hiking up to 8 miles a day. I am following the Fit to climb schedule with modified core exercises until my core is strong enough. Do you think I will have a problem with this climb? I am a bit worried but feel if i continue to work hard and train smart I will be in good enough shape.


Posted by: Randy Z on 4/30/2016 at 5:56 am

Mountaineering Training | The 4x4 Interval Workout

There are almost unlimited possibilities for interval workouts that you can come up with; varying times, distances, intensities, terrain, and repetitions creates a huge breadth of workouts that can all accomplish different goals.  As you build your fitness base, threshold intervals are a great place to be putting some focus. They help to build your anaerobic threshold, increasing the intensity, time, and distance that you can go before your muscles start to fill with lactic acid. A great example of a useful threshold interval workout is the 4x4: four intervals that are each four minutes long.

To complete the 4x4 Interval Workout: 

• Look for some gently rolling terrain, either on a trail or on a road, (although any terrain can work, including even a treadmill).  Pick a starting point for your first interval, and run a threshold pace for 4 minutes from there.  For pace, choose a speed that you think you’ll be able to hold - but just barely - for all four intervals.  The idea is that each of the four intervals should be relatively similar in terms of pace, rather than the first being much faster than the last as you tire. 
• After the first four-minute interval, make note of where the finish line was, and recover for 2 minutes.  Recovery isn’t lying down on the ground or standing still, but instead a very slow jog or walk. 
• At the end of 2 minutes, return to the previous finish line, and use that as your start line, completing another four-minute interval in the opposite direction, back towards where you came from.  If you balance your pace well, then you should finish at the start line of your first interval! 
• Take another 2-minute slow recovery period.
• Complete another 4-minute interval in the original direction.  See if you can make it to where you ended the first time, if not further. 
• Recover for 2 minutes.
• Complete your last interval, heading back again and seeing if you can best your previous mark.  Nice work!  22 minutes, and you’ve completed your interval workout! 

It may take a couple of sessions for you to figure out the pacing for these, so that the last two are at least as strong as the first two.  Don’t purposefully hold back at the beginning, just set a moderately quick pace, and then see if you can maintain it throughout.  If you can, great job, and try bumping the pace up a notch next time.  If you do this workout in the same place, you’ll start to get a feel for your improvement as you watch your finish lines get further and further down the trail. 

With all interval training, a proper warm-up and cool-down is very important.  Make sure that you warm up with at least 15 to 20 minutes of jogging before you start the session, and finish with a good 15 to 20 minute cool-down period afterwards.  This will help your body process the lactic acid that was created during the workout so that you aren’t as sore afterwards helps to prevent injury.  All told, this workout takes about an hour.

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

Mountaineering Training | Underfoot: Using Footbeds

Whether training, or on your next climb, your feet are your Achilles heel.  If you develop blisters, banged up toes, or pain in your feet or joints, the whole process of climbing comes to a grinding halt.  While training for your climb, you’ll put in countless days with heavy weight on your back, countless miles of trail and rough terrain, and many, many hours on your feet.  Taking good care of your feet and giving them proper support  through all of this training can help to minimize a lot of overuse injuries, and leave you feeling better for your upcoming climb.  Get yourself a good pair of orthotics or at least a good supportive footbed for your training footwear and climbing boots.  

Our leg alignment can change dramatically throughout our life, often as a result of changes in the structure of the foot.  These changes in alignment, when you are in the midst of a heavy training load, can leave you with joint pain and a tendency towards persistent overuse injuries that can stick around and have a major impact on your training.  Orthotics are often the best solution for fixing your alignment and keeping those injuries from cropping up.  An orthotist can mold a footbed to help your alignment stay nearer the ideal.  This helps your knees track straighter, joints stack over each other better, and femurs rotate in the hip socket more smoothly.  

Many climbers rent boots for their climb.  While rental boots are well made, high-end brands, they are not broken in to your foot.  A custom orthotic or an aftermarket footbed such as “superfeet” is the best way to make that boot feel as though it has always been on your foot.  With the long days climbing up and down Rainier, or weeks on the glaciers of Denali, that extra comfort and support can be a major boon to enjoying the experience.  

In the last several years, there has been a lot of support for the idea of running in very low support shoes that mimic what it would be like to run barefoot.  While studies do support the idea that this is better for your body when running or walking, the heavy loads that we put on our backs and the stiff to nearly rigid soles of the boots that we wear when training and climbing all demand that we support our feet.  Look into your alignment and footbed needs and find your way to more comfortable climbing and training!

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

Mountaineering Training | Training With Trekking Poles

The use of trekking poles during climbs (in appropriate terrain) can dramatically reduce your expended effort, allow you to move more efficiently, and ultimately let you climb longer and further.  Trekking poles help us to balance, taking some of the work away from the small muscles in our feet and ankles responsible for balancing, and involving the core and skeleton instead.  They also help enormously when it comes to managing a large and unwieldy backpack.  There are ways to use and hold trekking poles that improve their efficiency.  

A common question is how long should the poles be?  For climbers’ purposes, trekking poles should be significantly shorter than most would think: right around hip height.  By setting our poles at hip height, and holding the pole by placing the palm on the top of the grip and draping fingers over the pole, the skeleton can take much of the load from the pole, reducing fatigue and effort.  The shorter height allows the bones of the arm to stack over each other, taking the load rather than the muscles.  Remember, this is not cross country skiing and having the pole tall and out in front of you only means more, yet less effective, work for your arms.  

Another element to think about is how overly active arms can actually create more exertion for your body.   Imagine that you were hiking up a set of stairs.  Now put a tall pair of poles in your hand, and hike the same stairs while you try to push yourself up with the poles at the same time.  Rather than two of your limbs working hard to move your mass uphill (lots of work already!) all four are doing the job; only your arms, working out in front of you, act as levers instead of pistons (like your legs) so they are mechanically much less suited to the task.  But, by moving your arms and trying to push on those levers, your heart rate will rise with the extra exertion; the result is a higher heart rate, earlier fatigue, and less efficient use of your system if your poles are out in front of you (like a cross country skier).  Even with the poles set to hip height, we see this happen often on steep rolls, when climbers don’t lower their grip on the pole to keep their hands at a comfortable height.  Once the hands are above the heart, they have little effect on balance or upward motion, and the heart has to work harder to pump blood uphill to them. Through small steep terrain features it’s key to choke up on your poles to avoid this.  

These are not absolute principles but suggestions. Play with them during your training to teach yourself to move more comfortably and efficiently with poles.  It will pay big dividends on your next climb, and can help to take some of the training stress of hiking up and downhill with heavy packs, off of your joints, helping to prevent injury!

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

Thanks for the tips! Would definitely want to have a trekking pole myself brought on hiking.

Posted by: Marge on 5/25/2016 at 10:57 pm

I’m doing the Ironman Lake Tahoe as a training program for my Mountaineering goals.  What are your thoughts?  If I do well with the Ironman at 6,000+ feet in elevation will this be more than plenty of training?  I have 9 months until the race.  After the race I expect to be in the best shape of my life.

Posted by: Will Beaubien on 1/26/2014 at 6:44 pm

Mountaineering Training | Training In Cold Temperatures

Another wide ranging cold front is dropping across the U.S. this weekend, drawing down Arctic air and threatening to plunge temperatures below zero from coast to coast.  Seriously cold wintertime temps aren’t abnormal for many athletes in more northern climes, and most grit their teeth, throw on a couple more layers, and continue with their training.  Training goes on and we make the most of the weather, but treat these cold snaps with respect.  Several studies, by the Norwegian and Swedish national athletic programs, as well as the US Olympic committee, have shown that strenuous endurance training in cold, dry conditions can lead to lung and bronchial irritation and inflammation, and that prolonged training in these conditions increases the incidence of asthma and bronchospasms. 

After the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, the US Olympic committee found that over 25% of the American team suffered from bronchospasms (uncontrollable spasms of the bronchi), and that of cross country skiers (athletes making long and exerted efforts in snowy and cold conditions), this respiratory problem was present in over half of the individuals.  A similar study of elite level cross country skiers in Sweden and Norway showed repeatedly that over half of these athletes display asthma like symptoms and decreased lung capacity. 

While a few days of training during a cold snap won’t be enough to cause most athletes long term respiratory distress, it could be enough to cause some bronchial irritation and inflammation that could impact training for the next few weeks.  This may be a good time to focus your training week on a few more gym and indoor workouts, and if you do train outside, consider training with a neck gaiter or buff over your mouth, to help warm the air as it enters your lungs.  In chronically cold places, such as Alaska, athletes have developed special masks for training in cold conditions.  Essentially stripped down respirators, they hollow metal grid of the mask retains the heat of each exhaled breath, helping to warm the next breath.

Stay motivated, wear a few more layers, and take care.  If an outdoor workout leaves your lungs and throat feeling raw and irritated, don’t push it.  Do your next few sessions indoors, the irritation heal and subside.  Good luck and happy training!

Read more about the respiratory studies here.

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

Previous Page   Next Page

Mt Rainier Weather
Clear sky

Sign up for Expedition Dispatches

check the Summit Registry try our Adventure Finder
Back to Top

Sign up for our Newsletter

    *required fields
    • Keep up to date with information about our latest climbs by joining our mailing list. Sign up and we'll keep you informed about new adventures, special offers, competitions, and news.
      privacy policy

Thank you for subscribing to the RMI Expeditions Newsletter!

While you're at it, you can sign up some of our other mailings as well:

Please choose the programs you'd like updates on: