Entries from Mountaineering Fitness & Training
December 15, 2015
In a busy world of managing work schedules, family, and training, sleep is often the first thing to suffer. As we pack more and more into our day, we try to get away with less and less sleep. While it’s difficult to manage schedules and sometimes a last minute crunch demands heading to bed late for a few nights, athletic gains from your training are a sum of your training load and your recovery from that load. This means that simply putting in the training hours and effort are not enough; you need to give your body the time and ability to recover from those efforts as well. Additionally, studies of sleep and performance have shown a significant cognitive effect from continual sleep “debt” or sleep restriction. This all leads to the conclusion that you need to hold your sleep time just as sacrosanct in your schedule as you do your training time. If you can stick to this, you will find yourself much more productive with your waking hours as well! To make sure that you are giving your body the recovery it needs from your training load, studies suggest you follow several principles:
Set a consistent sleep schedule: To get quality sleep and maximize your recovery, it’s important to stick to a consistent schedule. Try to head to bed at each night and wake up at the same time. Your body develops a rhythm to sleep, and when your schedule is altered it can make it more difficult to fall asleep, or the sleep you get to be more fitful. Similarly, try to match your sleep schedule to your circadian rhythm. If you are a night owl, embrace it. Heading to bed at 1 am, and trying to wake at 5 am for a pre-work workout is a recipe for sleep deprivation. Recognize your circadian tendencies and try to design your schedule around them to accommodate.
Create a constructive sleep environment: Light pollution and excess noise can prevent you from entering the deepest stages of sleep, in which the majority of recovery from your training load occurs. Consider using fans or white noise machines to drown out excess noise, and consider blackout curtains to create an environment for truly restorative sleep.
Disengage from your screens half an hour before bed: Try to put your screens down at least a half hour before you head to bed. That includes your phone, Ipads, kindles, and televisions. All of the electronics in our lives create stimulation that can make it difficult to fall asleep, keeping us up longer and upsetting our rhythm.
Get 8 hours of sleep: Studies show that while many of us may think that we can operate on less, 8 hours of sleep is the magic number to maximize recovery in athletes. This number creeps up a few hours for teenagers and younger children. While a single night of less sleep will probably not affect your training appreciably, consistently shorting yourself on sleep will reduce your recovery, and reduce the efficacy of your training.
Try a nap! In studies of elite athletes’ recovery, a half hour nap between 2 and 4 pm was shown to dramatically improve recovery. Furthermore, a cup of coffee consumed before that nap helped athletes to wake from it alert and ready to go. While it may not be practical for everyone’s schedule, see if you can sneak in a quick catnap; it may be the performance boost you’ve been looking for!
The Canadian Sport for Life organization has published a detailed explanation of sleep studies as they pertain to long-term athlete development. Find it here: http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Sleep_Recovery_Jan2013_EN_web.pdf
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
December 8, 2015
It is that time of year. Here in Ashford, my hometown, it seems like the rain never ends. While that means snow—a lot of snow on Mount Rainier—and I really should be heading on up and take advantage of some amazing backcountry skiing, there are three things I am absolutely passionate about: one is high altitude mountaineering; two is road cycling; and three goes hand in hand with the first two: suffering! If I cannot ride my bike outside, I ride indoors on my trainer. Today, I want to share with you my epic, indoor, high intensity interval-training workout that pushes my anaerobic and aerobic capacity to the max.
To start, many people see my BMC road bike and ask me, “What does BMC stand for?” The Bicycle Manufacturing Company or BMC as it is known is a Swiss company that builds what I believe are the best bikes in the world. However, I refer to my BMC as my Big Mountain Climbing Machine! So here is my “go-to” indoor cycling workout.
Before you get started:
• Make sure you have one, or more realistically, two water bottles.
• Have a towel at hand. You are gonna sweat!
• A television will help. I’ll explain later.
• Obviously your own Big Mountain Climbing Machine, a.k.a. a bicycle and an indoor trainer
This interval session takes about 40 minutes total and is extremely simple, yet so powerful. To help motivate me, I cycle in front of the television on which I play a recorded stage of The Tour de France. That way I can pretend I am beating Philippe Gilbert (one of the pro peloton’s strongest cyclists). Yes, I beat him every time!
Pain Scale: Use a subjective pain scale. 1 is Super Easy; 10 is “oh my gosh, I can’t take this!”
6:00 warm up (Pain Scale: 6): Pedal at an easy and fast cadence
15 Intervals as follows:
1 minute all out interval (Pain Scale: 9 to 10): Place your bike’s gearing so that you are pushing hard and fast!
1 minute rest (Pain Scale: 3): Spin easily and recover.
Do 15 intervals: One minute all out hard and fast followed by one minute of recovery and repeat it 15 times totaling 30 minutes.
4:00 Cool Down (Pain Scale: 3): With all 15 intervals complete, spin easily to move lactic acid out of your tired legs. If you are like me, your last or 15th interval will include that sprint where you beat Philippe Gilbert at the finish line of the Champs Elysees in Paris! Remember: beat him every time!
Fast, hard intervals like these serve to increase your anaerobic threshold. There are times in the mountains, say the fixed line section on Denali above 14,000 feet, where it gets steep and the climbing becomes very demanding at times. Interval workouts like these give me an extra gear to push with before I redline and become anaerobic, which at altitude is unsustainable. Mentally, I need to dig deep and push it to the top where I know the terrain mellows out again and I can relax, and the challenge of pushing through 15 sets of intervals helps me develop that frame of mind as well. Climbing isn’t always easy and at times you have to suffer a little bit before it gets easier. This interval training session not only allows you to push physically harder, but also develops the mental ability to push harder.
Incorporate this workout into your training plan, and you will begin pushing through those physical and mental barriers where you stop saying, “I think I can” to “I KNOW I CAN!” Now go out…or in this case in, and jump on your Big Mountain Climbing Machine and break through those barriers!
JJ Justman is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions. He guides expeditions to some of the highest mountains around the World. JJ just arrived in Mendoza to lead an Aconcagua climb (the first of the season), and will head north in May to Denali’s West Buttress. Based in Ashford, WA, JJ is a passionate road cyclist and can be seen on his “Big Mountain Climbing Machine” pushing the pace to Paradise and back down.
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
August 12, 2015
As climbers we make every effort to be as lazy as possible. We seek to accomplish our goals and objectives with as little effort as necessary, and will cringe at the idea of making something harder than it needs to be. This may seem contrary to the image of climbing as an extreme activity during which many people find their physical and mental limit. However, a we often choose objectives that are at the peak of our abilities and thus we are required to maximize efficiency in our effort if we are to succeed. What I refer to tongue-in-cheek as laziness is in reality efficiency: efficiency, which can be found in every aspect of mountain existence. Whether it be the way a rock climber positions their body on a route or an alpine climber packs for an expedition, success in the mountains involves high levels of efficiency.
There some methods of efficiency that don’t directly involve the physical act of climbing but rather things you can do prior to and while climbing that can give you a leg up. I refer to these as “putting money in the bank.” I think that saying came from a high school teacher referring to gimme questions on an exam, but for me “money in the bank” means any techniques or tricks that can give you an efficiency advantage in the mountains. I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned from my time in the mountains with a specific focus on climbing Mt. Rainier:
- A great place to start improving your efficiency in the mountains begins with your equipment: what equipment are you using and does it work for you? Place a high priority on critical items such as boots and or packs, and worry less about items such as a fancy headlamp or spork. For me, a well-fit boot that is designed for the type of climbing I am doing is imperative. A good boot can mean the difference between a successful summit and a failed attempt; blisters and cold feet should never thwart a climber’s chance at the summit. In addition, find a climbing pack that carries weight well and fits you properly. Forget all the fancy features and pockets; a simple and minimalist pack that fits and carries weight well is what I look for. You might be able to get by with an old pack or a warm weather climbing boot, but why chance it? Having the right gear for the task makes for one less thing that could slow you down.
- Maintaining your gear makes a big difference too. I regularly spend a few hours taking care of small issues that have cropped up with my equipment to make sure that everything is going to work well when I need it to and not fail when it really counts. I trust my life to my equipment and so do others. For example, I frequently re-waterproof my gloves and Gore-Tex jackets. A headlamp is no good if your batteries run out, and a boot will not work as well if the laces snap. Not every piece of equipment needs to be new, but it does need to work properly. Climbing is too much fun to be hampered by equipment issues!
- With the right gear and everything dialed in, you need to pack it all up. As guides, we seem to have a magical ability to pack 50 liters of gear into a 30 liter pack, but what may seem to be magic is really just some good common sense. My favorite metaphor for packing is “brick and mortar.” Some of your items are going to be bricks (eg: sleeping bag in stuff sack) and some are going to be mortar (eg: puffy jacket). When packing, also consider multi-use items. A 1/2 liter nalgene makes for a great coffee mug and can also carry an extra 1/2 liter of water when you need it. You want to maximize space and value in your pack. Crampons don’t need a crampon case, since quite often wrapping them in your gaiters works just fine and saves space and weight. Putting some time and thought into a well-packed kit can often fit in a smaller pack. Smaller packs equal lighter packs, giving you a little more money in the bank.
- With packing complete, there are still a few more things you can do before a climb that will get you ahead. For me this starts with my nutrition and hydration. On Mt. Rainier, I’ve found that from the time I leave home in the morning to the time my team is hiking out of Paradise (approx. 1.5 hours), I can easily sip down a liter of water. Don’t chug water, but slowly sip a liter in the morning and on the bus ride to Paradise. This will help make sure that you are hydrated for the beginning of your climb. Pre-hydration, which can start as early as the night before, allows me to bring less water during a climb (less weight), and helps prevent dehydration. I can recover more quickly, and can focus on other aspects of the climb instead of staving off dehydration.
- With regards to nutrition, my best suggestion is to learn your own body. I know how much fuel my body needs at a high level of activity, which is less than some of my friends but definitely more than others. For two-day trips such as Mt. Rainer, I try to be as precise as I can with the amount of food I bring. Start by factoring around 200 calories per break and then adjust from there to your specific needs. In addition to that, bring foods you enjoy eating and can eat while exercising. I love pizza, but definitely wouldn’t want a slice in the middle of a climb. Remember; when we climb at altitude the effort is roughly similar to how our bodies feel during a slow jog. Focus on foods that hold a lot of caloric value. By bringing the right food and bring only the food you’ll need, you’ll save space and carry less weight.
- Lastly, be efficient with your time. When taking a break, maximize your time resting and recovering. Get your self-care chores done early and quickly so that you get as much time off of your feet as possible. This applies to getting to camp also. Take care of business first so that you spend a maximum amount of time recovering later. Use momentum to your advantage: we take short breaks so we do not lose our momentum, and when you roll into camp use that same momentum to set up and settle in before you are too tired to do the things you should have done. This might be setting up camp or dealing with a pesky blister; the sooner you get it done the sooner you can rest. Keep in mind that even if we feel great we still need to recover!
These are just a few theories on how to be more efficient while climbing. Climbers are constantly in opposition with gravity and time, so a light pack will allow us to expend less energy, and quick recoveries will make us stronger for the next day. Every bit of money in the bank you can save will give you a better chance of success on the mountain, and will be one less issue to worry about. Learn from others, and learn what works best for you. Take the time to find the right gear, pack well, eat and drink right, and maximize your rest because the climb is not getting any easier and the mountains are not getting any smaller!
Billy Haas guides trips on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, and abroad for RMI Expeditions. When not traveling to mountains around the world to climb or ski, Billy guides backcountry skiing and teaches avalanche courses in Salt Lake City, UT.
Questions? Comments? What are your suggestions for staying efficient in the mountains? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
July 7, 2015
There is no way around it: there are some days where fitting my planned workout into my schedule is impossible. On the days when chores and errands catch up with me and I don’t have much time to do a workout, I have a go-to workout that I know I can do in 45-50 minutes. On a day when life feels too busy and I’m tempted to blow my workout off, having a quick workout ready helps me to stay motivated and get out the door.
My workout involves a short, 10 minute running warm-up, 15 minutes of short intervals, a 5-10 minute cool-down, and a short series of core exercises. Depending on what phase of training I am in and what my goals are, I may alter the pace, number, or duration of my intervals. During my aerobic building phase, I might run at a tempo that is slightly slower than my 5k race pace for 2 minutes, recover at a light jog for 1 minute, and repeat 4 more times. This bump in pace helps to mix up my tempo and keeps my legs feeling a bit quicker, but the effort isn’t so hard that I’m building up large amounts of lactic acid. Later in the season during an intensity phase, I might push the pace of those intervals right to my threshold, or do shorter 1 minute, all out efforts, with a full minute of recovery in between. This helps to build my anaerobic threshold, and develop my ability to recover as well. The warm up and cool down are really important for preventing injuries, and I try to resist the temptation to skip or cut short either.
The light core session to close doesn’t necessarily build a lot more strength, like a dedicated strength session would be designed to do, but it gives me maintenance. I mix up the exercises, but an example workout might be:
- 3 sets of 50 crunches
- 3 sets of 20 pushups
- and 3 sets of 20 dips
I always end this workout with the same series, something that we used to call a “super set” on the college ski team. It consists of:
- 100 crunches (feet on the ground, curling my torso towards my knees, but not a full sit-up)
- 50 sit-ups to the side (alternating sides)
- 25 leg raises (some straight on, some to either side)
- and 100 more crunches to finish
Having one piece of my routine that is exactly the same each time lets me develop a benchmark for how my core strength is feeling.
While your go to workout doesn’t need to mirror this, try to develop a workout that has definitive goals. If your time is pressed, a short series of intervals will be more beneficial for your fitness than a 30 minute easy jog, most of the time. Having some goals allows you to be focused during the workout, even if it is just for a short period of time. Your go-to workout can be any genre: cycling, running, swimming, or spinning are all good options depending on where you live and can do readily. Remember to build up your strength over time; trying to jump right into a “super set” tomorrow if you haven’t been doing a lot of core strength is a recipe to get injured. Good luck with your training, and stay motivated: it will pay you back in enjoyment many times over on your next climb!
Pete Van Deventer is a senior guide at RMI Expeditions, guiding climbs on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, and abroad. He calls Aspen, CO home, where he also teaches avalanche courses and is a fully-certified ski instructor.
April 21, 2015
As your next climb approaches, it’s a great idea to revisit your training plan with a critical eye and make a plan for how you are going to tune-up for the big event. Within four to six weeks of your climb, assess what is going well in your training and what could use a boost. This might mean entering a race or checking back in on a set of benchmarks that you’ve been using.
It’s difficult to make an effective difference in your endurance base at this point—there simply isn’t time. Cramming in all of the hours that you wish you had done earlier is more likely to lead to injury or showing up to the climb already fatigued. Have confidence that you’ve done the job of setting yourself up with a good base and look to these other areas of your fitness for the final tune-up:
Core strength: Your core is comprised of all of the muscles that surround your spine, the side muscles, pelvic muscles, the glutes, as well as (but not just!) the abs. These muscles provide the link in the kinetic chain between your upper and lower body, and thus, nearly any movement you make ripples through the core. In climbing, a strong core helps to link the movements that we make rest stepping uphill with the stabilization of the upper body, including a heavy pack. Add an extra workout or two per week of core strength—focusing on the whole core not just the abs—in the weeks leading up to your climb. The extra strength that you build will help you to climb more efficiently, for longer!
Anaerobic threshold: Your final weeks of training should include some tune-up interval workouts. Try to find a mix of slightly longer level 4 interval workouts to increase your anaerobic threshold, and shorter, speed oriented workouts to tune-up your fast-twitch muscles. Emphasizing some harder intervals and speeds during your final weeks can give you a greater ability to recover from hard efforts during your climb and give you a few more gears should you need them.
Flexibility: A focus on strength training often comes at the expense of flexibility. As the muscles are broken down by training and recover again to build strength, they tend to tighten. If you haven’t dedicated much time to stretching and flexibility, use this opportunity to build it. Building flexibility will help your muscles work more efficiently during the climb and can help to prevent injuries or discomfort that may arise from the effort.
In your final tune-up don’t leave out your long workouts completely, but you can reduce your training volume or hours, and in doing so free up some workout time to focus on these areas. Though mountaineering is an endurance sport, strength, flexibility, and your capacity for high output activity are all important and the effect of your training can be greater in these areas over this last period of preparation. Pick out the elements that could use a tune-up, and take this opportunity to maximize your gains and head into your climb feeling ready and prepared.
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
March 10, 2015
The gym is a staple of many people’s training routine. For many who live in the city, or are simply trying to balance packed work, family and training schedules, the gym is the perfect place to get an efficient and high quality workout in. Really progressing in your training takes a lot of discipline and determination. While the gym provides a great venue to get a lot of work in, it can also be a place full of distractions and a place where routine starts to set in and your progress can begin to feel like it is stagnating. Alternatively, there are those who are almost allergic to gyms and avoid them completely. Regardless, after months of training towards your goal, if you live in a locale that isn’t currently anchored in a deep freeze, taking your strength workout outside is a great way to break your routine and inject some new energy to your training.
Pick your favorite short jogging loop, and rather than just going for a 45 min jog, turn it into a core strength session. Set out for a good warm-up, jogging at a gentle pace that is still conversational. After 10 or 15 minutes of jogging, set your sights on a comfortable spot (grass or a forest floor are much nicer than concrete!) and pick two exercises to do a set each of (pushups and crunches for instance). This style of workout will build more endurance strength since it utilizes body weight, so try to pick a number of repetitions that you can do several sets of with recovery, but still push you hard in the individual set. 60 full crunches and 40 pushups is a great example. Once you have completed both sets, return to your feet and jog easily for 200 meters. Rather than a standing recovery, the active recovery of jogging easily will still allow you to recover, but will train your body to recover while maintaining at least some level of effort. After the active recovery, pick another comfortable spot and pick two more exercises to do a set of each (dips on a park bench and side planks). After completing the second round of sets, jog again for another 200 meters before doing a third set of exercises. 6 exercises is a great number to start with for your total workout. Continue the process until you have done 3 sets of each (9 total strength stops). Once you are done, finish the loop to cool down and head home!
As you progress, you can vary the workout in the number of repetitions you do during each set, or by varying the total number of sets. Try to mix up the exercises that you use week to week, so that you stress muscles in a different way. This a great workout to do with partners. You can spice it up by having different partners choose the exercises for a given set, which can add variety, an element of surprise, and show you some new exercises to add to your routine. Your local park or parkway is a great place to head to for this workout. If you don’t have a loop that is suitable, try a couple of laps of a small park. While it may take some imagination to get going, getting outside and breaking up your strength routine is a great way to keep the upward progress of your training going!
These resources have a number of good core exercises for inspiration:
January 16, 2015
Yoga studios have popped up nearly everywhere it seems and are as common as gyms in many places. Combine that with all sorts of free online classes and podcasts, and yoga is an activity that is readily available to nearly everyone. There are numerous different styles which focus more heavily on different aspects of the practice, such as stretching, building core strength, or mental training. The combination of strength, stretching, and focus that yoga builds can hold a lot of benefits for athletes, but many do not include it in their training routines. Yoga has a place in your training routine as you prepare for your next climb.
It builds strength: Training for climbing often focuses on a handful of major muscle groups in the legs and core. We do squats for our quads, carry weight up stairs to build our quad and hamstring strength, and do sit-ups and other core exercises for balance and to help stabilize a pack. All of this training does a great job building the major muscle groups we need, but often leaves the surrounding smaller muscles underdeveloped and leads to imbalances that can ultimately lead to injury. Frequent and consistent yoga practice helps to develop those smaller muscle groups that are often left out, helping to balance out the body.
Many yoga poses have a strong focus on balance: Consistent yoga practice helps to develop increased balance and coordination. In climbing, good balance and coordination translate directly to more efficient movement, and ultimately to being able to climb for longer, at a more comfortable rate.
Yoga involves a lot of stretching and is a great way to increase your flexibility: Yoga improves joint and muscular flexibility, translating to greater range of motion, which in turn, yields an increase in performance. Increased range of motion also allows greater strength conditioning since the force can be exerted over a greater period. The increases in strength and performance ultimately lead to greater muscular efficiency, benefits which will certainly be felt on your next long summit day!
The Shavasana portion that usually concludes each class help you to develop mental control: Stretching and strength poses were originally included in the practice of yoga to prepare the mind and body for the meditation and mental training that follows. Developing the ability to calm your mind, quell your doubts, and focus on the task at hand makes climbing a much more enjoyable experience and will improve your success in the mountains.
The number and different types of yoga classes can be intimidating for someone exploring the practice of yoga. Shop around until you find a studio that you like, and explore the different classes they offer. Don’t be frustrated if you can’t do the poses at first; stick with it for a few weeks and you’ll make huge improvements in your practice and will see the benefits creep into the rest of your training.
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
Okay - on the Stair Intervals and eventually the Stair 1, 2, 3, I am using the stairwell in a local 7 story building. The thing is that it takes less than two minutes for me to cover the seven flights. So, how do you handle that and still keep with intervals of 2 minutes of intense effort followed by a period of rest? If I repeat the stairs I have to descend which ends up being rest. Can you describe another pattern of effort and rest for such a situation? Thanks
Posted by: Jim McIntyre on 2/19/2015 at 8:37 am
October 7, 2014
For the last 2 years, my focus in my personal climbing has been climbing 8000m Himalayan peaks solo, without the aid of supplemental oxygen. My training program has to reflect the increased mental and physical strains that climbing in this style demands.
My training must change significantly depending on the season of my next expedition - spring versus autumn. The difference lies in what I have been doing already leading up to a climb. My summertime climbs working as a guide on Mt. Rainier are a fantastic aerobic base to train from since the terrain, techniques, and exertion mimic much of the climbing on 8000m peaks. Nothing beats the real thing for training. Since I have not been climbing Mt. Rainier weekly leading up to a Spring climb, I have to dedicate more training time to endurance workouts around my winter-time home in the Sierras. I find that my perceived fitness changes a lot between seasons; in the spring I am able to move faster but with less endurance, while in the autumn I feel a deep reservoir of endurance but a lack of speed.
I break my training into blocks of 10 days, rather than weeks, with each 10 day block building on the last in terms of intensity, distance, and strength. A sample 10 day block would look something like this (descriptions of each workout are below):
• 1 climb with a gain of 5,000’ or more (moving as fast as I can maintain for 2 hour stretches)
• 3 trail runs with a gains of 2,500’ +
• Multi-muscle lifting 2x
• Enduro lifting 1x
• Anaerobic Intervals: 8 intervals, 1x
• Rest day 2x
During the course of my total training program, I also include 2 single push 20+ hour ascents.
• 2x Mt. Rainier summit climbs (18,000 – 27,000ft vertical gain total) (4 days total)
• Trail run 2x with 2500ft+ gain
• Multi-muscle lifting 1x
• Enduro lifting 1x
• Anaerobic intervals: 8 intervals, 1x
• Rest Day 1x
Similar to my Spring training program, during the summer months leading up to an Autumn climb, I include 4-5 Muir Snowfield “sprints” (goal of sub 2hrs). If I am not working on Mt. Rainier, I substitute another snow climb of a constant grade with gains of 4000 – 5000’.
Specific descriptions of each workout:
Multi-muscle lifting: Clean and Jerk, Deadlifts, Power snatch (Olympic style lifting). I frequently add a Bosu ball (a squishy rubber half circle) into some of my lifting exercises for a balance component.
Enduro lifting: I think of this as anything I can do 15 to 20 reps of, whether push-ups, sit ups, pull-ups, excercises on a weight machine, barbell lifting or Olympic style lifting, and core exercises. My goal for lifting is not to bulk up, but to ensure I have a solid strength base.
Anaerobic Intervals: The goal is to get into my max heart rate zone for as long as I can handle (no more than 2 min, or the anaerobic component is lost). Techniques I “enjoy” are wind sprints, spinning machines, rowing machines or deadlifts. I find that I perform best coming off a solid 2 day rest.
Single Push Ascents: Within my training window I’ll try for a few 20+ hour, single push ascents. These provide a great training benchmark for my physical fitness, and help me build the mental fortitude that long 8000m summit days require
“Snowfield sprints”: I try to find easy to moderate snow climbs, so that the focus is on aerobic fitness and not technical proficiency. My goal is to either single push through the entire ascent or take quick 5 minute maintenance breaks every 2 hrs. I keep the stress high, near my aerobic threshold for the duration of the climb. My go-to choices have been Mt. Baldy outside of Los Angeles and the Muir Snowfield.
Maximizing my training gains:
First off, I have days that I don’t stick to the plan. It’s totally ok! There are days that I just curl up with a box of Cheez-its and watch Netflix. My mind and body need time to recover and its important that I listen to those signals. With a good day of rest, I head into my next workout ready to push until exhaustion!
My plan also has to incorporate the terrain that I have at my disposal. This requires shifting my exercises from the plan somewhat, still with the intention to accomplish the given task: trail runs and body weight exercises to replace lifting can still accomplish my goals of strength and balance training, and give my body new stresses. I try not to sweat missing a particular workout if the terrain simply is not conducive, and focus instead on what I can accomplish.
I change things up, and try to avoid too much of a routine. I know the ways I want to stress my body within this 10 day block but how I go about it changes regularly. For example, I keep a list of strength exercises I use on the wall as an easy way to - at a glance - select a new routine for the day.
Good training partners are essential: their routine will likely take my body out of any established routine I have created, and the extra motivation is invaluable. I add exercises I find fun and effective so that I have a broader program to pull from.
I pay special attention to my diet and nutrition during these intense training periods as well: what I eat can have a huge effect on my recovery and the gains I take away from training.
My plan is a constant work in progress, and is always shifting with the new demands that each new climb might bring. I try to take time after each climb to assess what worked and what didn’t so that my training is even more effective the next time around.
Alex Barber is an associate guide at RMI Expeditions and splits his time between the beaches of Southern California and mountains around the world. Last Autumn, Alex made the summit of Cho Oyu, solo and without bottled oxygen. This past Spring, he made it to 7600m on Shishpangma’s Inaki Route. He summited 8156m Manaslu on October 1st, for his third Himalayan climb.
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!
Thank you Alex for sharing insight on your training plan. This is a Top-5 training advice article for mountaineering. I have received the RMI training blog in the three years and in many regards this was the most helpful. I have saved this one to refer to often. Thanks again.
Posted by: TimR on 1/5/2015 at 4:29 am
October 1, 2014
Aerobic Base Training
Aerobic Base Training is the foundation that the subsequent layers of your training will be built on. The first of the three standard phases of training, the goals of aerobic training are to increase muscle efficiency and endurance. During this building phase, your body develops its capillary network, delivering more blood (and oxygen) to your muscle fibers, minimizing lactate production, maximizing lactate disposal, and increasing mitochondrial density (which produces ATP to fuel your muscles).
Aerobic base training was initially pioneered by New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard1. In the 1960 and 1964 Olympic games, three of the athletes he coached combined for 6 medals, dominating the distance events. The world took notice, and soon some form of his theory of aerobic base training had become commonplace in nearly all endurance events. There were many misconceptions to his theory though that endured: namely that aerobic training involves lots of long slow miles, and nothing else. In reality, Lydiard typically included three workouts into his athletes base periods: long runs, shorter steady state runs at an increased effort, and fartlek type interval workouts.
Each workout in the period accomplishes a specific purpose, with the overall goal being to maximize the aerobic energy system before moving on to anaerobic training. While long workouts accomplish the goals that we usually think of such as increasing blood flow and muscular efficiency, the steady state workout is designed to increase the aerobic threshold (the level of effort the body can exert while maintaining aerobic metabolism and not producing lactic acid), and the fartlek workout is designed to mix up the pace, letting the legs turn over more quickly to stimulate the muscle fibers in a different way and develop the neuromuscular system as well.
As mountaineers, these same principles and goals apply. During our base phase, our goal is to maximize the aerobic energy system, and so long workouts, shorter steady state workouts, and fartlek intervals will all help to build that strong foundation that the rest of our training will come to rest on. Into that mix, we can also add endurance strength (light weights, but lots of reps) and core strength workouts to start to build the well rounded fitness that is so essential for our sport! During the base building phase, higher intensity workouts should still be done at a moderate pace however, perhaps around 80-85% of your max heart rate, rather than a 100% all our effort. This pace will continue to develop your slow twitch muscle fibers while beginning to develop your fast twitch fibers as well. This has the added benefit of reducing the chance that you get injured as you move into more intense workouts during later phases of training.
Mt. Rainier may not be the Olympics, but we can certainly train like an Olympian, and that foundation laid now, will provide the support for a great climb on your next big objective!
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September 15, 2014
The advice “show up in the best shape of your life” can mean very different things for different people. People from all sorts of different backgrounds come to Mt. Rainier for an adventure and they can all have great success, but it helps to know what you are training for. For an Ironman triathlete, perhaps it isn’t so much about showing up in the best shape of their life, but in the right shape: the physical demands of mountaineering can be very different than those of a triathlon. For someone venturing into the mountains for the first time, building overall aerobic fitness and core strength may be the focus.
Numbers that help to understand the climb:
17,982’ (5480m) of total elevation gain and loss
21 hours on our feet
45-55 lbs of weight potentially in your pack (pack weights do decrease for summit day)
30,000+ steps up and down (no one has ever actually counted them all for us)
2/3 roughly the amount of oxygen available to us at the summit versus sea level.
36 hours in which to do all this (*four day summit climb)
First off, aerobic fitness: For most, summit day on Mt. Rainier will be far and away the longest period of sustained exertion that they have ever done. A typical summit day involves 15 to 16 hours on our feet; as a general guideline that includes an hour of packing and prep, 10 hours of climbing to the summit and back to Camp Muir, an hour of packing and recovery at Muir, and 3 more hours down the Muir Snowfield. Even though the overall pace of our movement is slow, the sheer amount of time on our feet and moving adds up to be exhausting. Now consider that the previous day, the team spent 5 or 6 hours climbing to Camp Muir, and then got maybe 6 hours of somewhat fitful sleep prior to waking for the summit push. Having a deep aerobic base is the only way to be able to push through all these hours, and consequently, the bulk of your training should focus on this realm.
Recovery from anaerobic spurts: While 99.5% of the climb is accomplished in that zone of aerobic endurance, there are small sections of increased effort. It may be just a handful of tricky steps through a boulder jumble on Disappointment Cleaver, or a more sustained section of ice climbing through a tricky, steep section on the Kautz Ice Chute. At altitude, since we are breathing in less oxygen, these increases in effort can quickly become anaerobic, and the ability to recover mid-effort from these bursts is essential. Interval training helps to increase your body’s anaerobic threshold (the level of exertion at which you begin to create large amounts of lactic acid) and also builds your body’s ability to metabolize that lactic acid, effectively recovering. This way, though a few tricky steps may leave you feeling breathless or winded, you are able to recover in a matter of moments with a few deep breathes and fall right back into your rhythm.
Strength: While many focus on overall leg strength — consider that we will essentially be doing shallow squats all the way to the summit — and it is important, core strength and balance are perhaps even more important and more often overlooked. Throughout the climb you will be carrying a pack of varying weight. Your core muscles are responsible for helping to manage a load that is trying to pull you over backwards, keeping it stable and your posture in a position for efficient movement, and a base of core strength allows you to accomplish the more athletic moves that steeper climbing requires. While your core is doing the work to deal with your pack and much of your balance, the small muscles of your ankles and lower legs have to deal with ever-changing terrain: no step is the same, and your ankles and knees have adapt to the changes in slope and pitch to allow the rest of your body to remain in balance. Overall strength is still important, but strength exercises that incorporate an element of balance and coordination or involve your core will pay huge dividends once you find yourself on uneven terrain.
As you build your training plan, take these elements into account, and assess where you already stand. If you come from a strong endurance background, continue with that, but place more of your focus on recovery and core strength. If endurance sports are new to you, start here, focusing on building your base (as that really is the foundation of the rest). Most of all, have confidence that if you follow your plan, your will show up ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!