PHySICaLTRaiNINg a Foundstion

Alpine climbers need maximum power from both mind and body. They train the mind to increase awareness and grit, and the body to augment strength and endurance. The goal of physical training for alpine climbing can be summed up in one phrase: to make yourself as indestructible as possible. The harder you are to kill, the longer you will last in the mountains.

Mountain climbing beats on you with dehydration, inadequate nutrition, debilitating cold, energy- and judgment-sapping high altitude, sleep deprivation, and muscular exhaustion. Training both body and mind to adapt to these combined effects make obvious sense. Climbing up and down several thousand vertical feet of technical terrain in a 24hour period represents a huge volume of work that most bodies and brains can't tolerate.

While the most specific training for climbing is climbing itself, it is self-limiting. Once the body adapts to climbing's stresses, adaptation ceases, lb progress, an athlete needs the ever-increasing workload that the gym affords.

For your physical training, don't simply copy someone else's methods. Mere imitation leads to injury and stagnation. Each body is unique and responds to training differently. Listen to your own body and heed what you hear, Work on your mind at the same time.

in physical training we aim to improve performance in four areas; power; cardiovascular power endurance; cardiovascular extensive endurance; and muscular endurance.

Increased power gives the climber the ability to blast through difficult sections. Cardiovascular power endurance allows the body to recover quickly from these bursts. Cardiovascular extensive endurance optimizes the oxygen uptake of the heart and lungs. And muscular endurance gives the muscles the ability to use oxygen and dispose of waste products efficiently. Training has other benefits as well, but we will focus on these four.

The Training Cycle

Athletes need to vary the intensity of their training to realize maximum benefits. Alpinists should follow a cycle of training with increasing intensity, in order to peak at a specific time for a specific event.

An athlete can peak for a period of one to two weeks and usually no more, and only once per season, or once every six months. Alpine climbers often miss out on the benefits of their peak period because they need favorable weather and snow conditions to proceed. They have to go when conditions permit, not sooner or later. However, it's possible to aim your training toward peaking during a rough window of opportunity.

Here is the chronological sequence of steps in an alpine climber's training cycle (see chart on page 41) that leads to peaking:

1. Foundation-building: Creating a base of strength and endurance through a variety of exercises. 4 to 6 weeks, (This foundation work is discussed in this chapter.)

TRAINING

2. Power training; Building strength and explosive power through weight training. 4 to 6 weeks. (Described in Chapter 4, on training for strength,}

3. Cardiovascular power endurance training: Increasing your aerobic capacity. 4 to 6 weeks. (Described in Chapter 5, on endurance training.)

4. Cardiovascular extensive endurance training and muscular endurance training: Building cardiovascular and muscular endurance concurrently.

3 to 4 weeks. (Described in Chapter 5.)

5. T&pering and rests Resting strategically to aid recovery and to prepare for peaking. Taper for I to 2 weeks, then rest for 5 to 7 days. (Discussed in Chapter 5.)

6. Peaking: Achieving a period of majdmum fitness—as long as possible, but usually only 1 or 2 weeks. (Discussed in Chapter 5.)

Some of these steps overlap. For example, training for cardiovascular power endurance begins in the fourth or fifth week of power-training workouts. To avoid digging too deeply into recovery reserves, the program divides workouts into blocks, typically three days of training followed by a rest day.

Foundation-building

If you're starting with little or no foundation of physical fitness specific to alpine climbing, your first training must address the sheer volume of work involved in ascending a mountain, Begin your training program with that magnitude of effort in mind. Ignore all ideas of specialized training for strength or for endurance until you have built a reasonable foundation to train from.

For most people, building this foundation will take six to eight weeks. For those whose bodies respond quickly to training or who already possess a reasonable foundation, this program may take only three to four weeks.

During this phase, address cardiovascular fitness with activities like running, hiking uphill, riding a stationary bike, or using a rowing machine while maintaining an aerobic heart rate. Combine that with some power-endurance sessions on the indoor climbing wall and weight training. This program may be coupled with outdoor activities such as climbing, ski mountaineering, and mountain biking, as long as the aim is training. Climb to punish the body, not to have fun. Every workout in this phase should be based on the desire to increase the maximum volume of work.

Alpine climbing includes hiking or skiing, usually uphill, with a pack to get to the base of a route. A bivouac may follow—an opportunity to recover—or the climbing may start immediately. The unfit start climbing at a deficit. This is no way to attempt a progression of difficult climbs. Building a foundation for further training is the first step toward being ready physically for these climbs. Because each body responds differently to training, specific workout recommendations aren't given here. But during the foundation phase, it will help to observe the following guidelines.

TTain long. Building a foundation takes time. Hour-long flat runs or short sessions in the weight room gain nothing (though if time is short, they preserve fitness). Stack different

SAMPLE TRAINING CYCLE

Peak

X

X

Rest

X

Taper

X

X

Muscular Endurance

X

X

X

X

Extensive

Endurance

X

X

X

X

Power

Endurance

X

X

X

X

X

Power

X

X

X

X

X

Foundation

X

X

X

X

X

Week

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

16

19

20

21

types of training on top of each other to achieve an effect similar to doing an actual route. Run or bike uphill for an hour, run down, then do an endurance session on the indoor climbing wall or, better yet, hit the weight room. In the weight room, reduce the usual weight but increase the number of sets and number of different exercises. A variety of exercises contributes to overall body fatigue, which is the goal in this phase. Beginners should hire a coach or trainer, determine their max power, and train at 50 percent of the heaviest single repetition. Aim for a high volume of sets (six to eight), keeping the reps around twelve to fifteen.

When the sets become easy, don't increase the weight. Instead, decrease rest intervals between sets to 30 to 45 seconds. After adapting to the decreasing rest intervals, increase the amount of weight. Execute each repetition in a slow, controlled motion without bouncing or cheating by initiating the movement with any other part of your body. Exercise the muscles you are attempting to train. Don't give them respite through improper form. A foundation training workout that mixes different types of activity should take from 2 to 3 hours.

Don't dismiss the power of the Stairmaster, especially when used without cheating (which everyone does). Used properly, it can mimic an uphill workout without stressing the joints by running downhill. Of course the Stair master does nothing to develop the coordination nccessary for moving quickly over rough terrain. Stairmaster workouts are appealing when mud or snow makes trails slippery or when you're stuck in the city. Before climbing Alaska's Mount Hunter, I did not train outdoors while preparing during the winter. I spent an hour a day, three days a week, "running1' 4,000 vertical feet on the Stairmaster, weight-trained, and climbed a couple of waterfalls—that's it. Once in Alaska, the skiing and pack-hauling quickly forced my muscles to adapt to the specific activity of climbing.

Weight rooms are anathema to outdoor purists, but they offer some advantages. They provide a place for concentrated, specific training without time lost on driving to and from the hills or the crag and without the distractions and posturing associated with indoor climbing gyms. Top-level alpine climbers augment climbing itself (as training) with phases of power training beneath the weight pile. The foundation phase should develop some increased muscle mass, which will be important for the next phase of training.

Once an adequate physical foundation has been developed, it's time to move ahead into specific training for strength and for endurance in the mountains,

Mark Tmight after seven harrowing days on the Hupat Face of Manga Parbai.

An alpine-styie attempt on this neatly 15,000-foot high wali—the biggest in tise world—almost ended in death for Twighi and his partners, Barry Blancharcf. Kevin Doyie, and Ward Robinson. Photo: © Mark Twight

Mark Twight

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