All the fitness in the world is valueless In alpinism without strength. Over time, cycles of strength-building programs will provide a grounding of strength and power. Strength is defined as the ability to exert a given amount of force. Power is strength plus speed.

Few training books or regimens target alpinism, so climbers train unscientifically, inventing programs based on intuition and hearsay. Among conventional athletic events investigated by quantitative training studies, the decathlon conies closest to alpine climbing. Like alpinism, the decathlon—with its combination of running, jumping, and throwing events—incorporates activities requiring both power and endurance. The combination of these events demands a contradictory training program due to the different types of muscle fibers utilized. Every gain made in power costs something in endurance, and vice versa.

This chapter deals mainly with training for strength, power, and power endurance. The next chapter concentrates further on power endurance in addition to extensive endurance training and muscular endurance training. But always keep in mind the close relationship between the types of training. Books and programs designed for decathlon training are valuable resources for information on maintaining the critical balance between maximum power and maximum endurance, (One good source is High Performance Training for D-ackand Field by William Bowerman and William Freeman. See Appendix 2, Suggested Reading.)

Alpine climbing includes steep and overhanging rock and ice, and overcoming these obstacles requires power. These may constitute short bursts of explosive effort, hut more often than not, the climber will struggle up to ten minutes at a time between contrived rests. In the case of the ten-minute power-endurance crux, the more personal horsepower at your disposal, the farther below your power threshold—your maximum peak output— you are able to operate. This translates to greater economy of physical resources.

lb train for power specific to alpine climbing, decide how strong you need or want to be for a given project. Then train until you become 25 percent stronger in the strength and power exercises than you think necessary. When you stack your endurance training and climbing-specific training on top of this, the conflicting demands on your muscles will result in a loss of 20 to 25 percent of your max power—and you'll end up just where you need to be.

In the Weight Room

Many climbers fear that strength training using weights will make them get bigger, increasing their body size and weight. This is not necessarily so. Besides, size is not an absolute evil. Without a certain amount of muscle mass, there is nothing to train. However, the fear of increased size and weight is justifiable for any athlete whose sport requires the maximum power-to-weight ratio.

Those truly paranoid about gaining size and weight need only take in fewer calories than required to rebuild muscle tissue. But inadequate nutrition translates to an inability

to recover and to maintain a useful training intensity. This is a narrow edge to balance, and it requires learning about your body's metabolism and response to stress.

The following guidelines, which apply to athletes with a solid foundation of physical fitness as described in the preceding chapter, show how various weight-training repetitions affect muscle mass (size and weight), strength, and muscular endurance. Of course, exercise affects people differently depending on age, fitness level, gender, and the phase of the training cycle. The total volume of training and its intensity level influence results, too.

The lower repetition ranges indicate that the weights you are using are heavier; the last rep of the set occurs just before positive failure, when you can no longer complete a repetition unaided. Lighter weights, of course, permit more reps before failure.

A total of 1 to 4 repetitions increases pure strength but not muscle mass.

A total of 4 to 9 reps increases both strength and muscle mass.

A total of 9 to 15 reps increases strength, muscular endurance, and muscle mass.

A total of 15 to 30 reps increases muscular endurance with little or no increase in muscle mass or strength.

A total of 30 to 50 reps increases muscular endurance with no effect on muscle mass or strength.

A total of 50 to 100 reps increases muscular endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance, with no increase in strength and a possible loss of muscle mass ot fat.

During training for power, use a weight that permits you to perform between two and four reps. Increase the number of sets to a maximum of six while decreasing the number of reps to a minimum of two. Once you can do six sets of three reps, increase the weight so you drop back to two reps.

Many athletes exercise in the weight room to the point not only of positive failure, where they can no longer complete a repetition, but also to negative failure—where another person helps with the positive half of the repetition, moving the weight up, and the athlete tries without success to slow the negative descent of the weight. Negative failure inflicts massive damage to muscle tissue. While this stimulates supercompensacion and muscle adaptation, recovery is lengthy and requires many rest days. Furthermore, training to failure coupled with adequate nutrition stimulates an increase in muscle mass.

Muscle recoveiy and growth after negative failure proceeds like this: For 24 to 48 hours after exercise, traumatized muscle tissue breaks down and is excreted. Then muscle cells rebuild during the following 48 to 72 hours. Maximum strength in that particular exercise will not return for five to nine days after exercising to failure. You need to train with greater frequency to mimic the stresses of climbing, so training to failure is counterproductive.

Some athletes turn to steroids to gain strength. Steroids work by stimulating protein synthesis, thus speeding muscle recovery and allowing the athlete to train more often. However, they do not improve an athlete's power on their own, and the side effects, such as cancer and impotence, can be devastating.

Effective power-training for alpine climbers has less to do with increasing the amount of muscle tissue than with improving the efficiency of existing tissue. Training adds power without adding size by improving muscle recruitment—increasing the number of existing muscle fibers involved in the exercise—and enhancing the efficiency of the neuromuscular pathways affecting recruitment.

Neuromuscular pathways are best trained by using 85 to 95 percent of your one-rep maximum weight, for two to three repetitions. Perform the positive phase of each rep quickly, control the negative, and rest for two to three minutes between sets for a total of four to six sets. This type of training improves neuromuscular efficiency without damaging muscle tissue, so it may be done with greater frequency than if you train to failure. These are heavy weights. Protect yourself with thorough warm-ups.

After several training cycles that culminate in alpine climbs, a 150-pound climber should become strong enough to pull 300 pounds on the pull-down machine. Imagine the climber who can pull 300 in training but only needs to pull 200 while climbing. He will be able to pull 200 all day long because 200 can't overtax his physical capacity. Therein lies the justification for developing power through training.

Muscles used for walking or other frequent activities can be trained more often than less utilized muscle groups. They recover faster because they are accustomed to the work. These include calves and abs. These muscles should be trained using higher reps rather than greater weight, although calves will benefit from some power training,

Larger muscles take longer to recover than smaller muscles, Calves can be trained roughly five times as often as quadriceps. Biceps and pectorals take about equal time to recover. Older athletes take longer to recover than younger ones. If you have little or no aerobic efficiency, you will take longer to recover from weightlifting.

Weight-training Exercises

Exercises in the weight room require good form to produce results and avoid injury. See Appendix 2, Suggested Reading, for some books that describe their proper form and use. For example, Bill Pearl's Keys to the Inner Universe illustrates hundreds of exercises. Consult these books or ask in the weight room if you aren't familiar with some of the following exercises.


Among suitable warm-up exercises are the seated dumbbell press, front dumbbell raises, bent-over reverse dumbbell flies, bench press, dips, and triceps press. While none of these exercises have any specific effect on your ability to pull, they will help maintain a semblance of muscle balance. Climbers who overdevelop certain muscle groups suffer injuries when the weaker antagonistic (opposite) muscle groups fail to stabilize the joints and connective tissue. These warm-up exercises strengthen shoulder attachment to help prevent injury- Some, like triceps exercises, directly benefit climbing as well.

Back and abdominals

The muscles of the back and abdominals maintain the integrity of your core and create an essential foundation for movement. Strong abs and back help you transfer force to your feet on overhanging terrain, thereby decreasing the amount of force on your arms and hands. Carrying a pack involves these muscles, too. Exercises to use include the stiff-legged dead-lift (dangerous; learn to do it correctly), the Good Morning, back extension, standing side-bend, sit-ups (crunches), hanging leg raises, and Russian twist on a Roman chair.


Climbing involves pulling (and pushing) oneself up, so emphasize all pulling-related exercises: chin-ups, upright row, bent-over dumbbell row, seated row, and biceps curl. Do lat pulls, using a pull-down machine when your body weight no longer provides sufficient stress. Do lat pulls with a variety of wide and narrow grips, in front of and behind the neck.

Grip strength

Although nothing works like climbing, doing wrist curls and reverse wrist curls and using a wrist roller will help. The best exercise for improving grip strength i$ the standing finger curl with an Olympic bar The vertical motion mimics the angle that fingers assume in climbing, and the wrist is not propped up on a bench, which prevents hyperextension and injury. Let the bar hang from the fingertips of an almost open hand. Then close the hand in a fist around the bar, thus raising it, Repeat,


Do squats (the king of exercises), lunges, seated or inclined leg presses and, occasionally, standing calf raises. You may also use seated leg extensions and curls to stabilize the knee.

Explosive power

Although not specific to climbing, doing hang-cleans will teach you to employ many different muscle groups simultaneously in an explosive effort.


This is a huge number of exercises. It would be impossible to develop maximum power or train neural pathways in every single exercise mentioned. Concentrate on five power

Mark Twlght "posing down" in Bolivia. "Power is not a bad thing to have in excess." Photo: © Scott Backcs

exercises, leaving the others for the warm-up period or for doing at maintenance intensity between the power-training sets. For power, focus on lat pulls, standing finger curls, bent-over dumbbell rows, leg presses, and, occasionally, standing calf raises.

Power-training all five exercises during a single workout overtaxes the body's ability to recover. Divide them into two groups and train them on different days. Start by separating the lat pull and bent-over row because they work some of the same muscles; thus a good session of either one will preclude achieving top performance in the other on the same day.

Warming up for the six sets of two to three repetitions is extremely important. Get the blood flowing with 5 to 10 minutes of easy spinning on a stationary bike. Then do three warm-up sets of no more than eight reps of each of the shoulder and pushing exercises. More than eight reps stresses the whole system so much that it will not recover adequately prior to the power-training sets. T&ke 1 to 2 minutes of rest between warm-up sets.

Then begin to slowly work up to the power-training weight in the specific exercises of the day: for example, lat pulls and finger curls, or leg presses and one-arm rows. Start at low weight and do no more than three sets of eight reps at a time before switching exercises. Adhering to the three-set limit warms up without overtiring the muscles. Increase the weight with each set, by 10 to 20 pounds in the easier sets, but by only 2 to 5 pounds as the weight approaches the two-rep max. With the increase in weight, decrease the number of reps until reaching the power-training weight. Do as many as nine sets of progressive warm-up exercises before reaching the two-Tep maximum weight. Counting the six actual training sets, the workout then totals fifteen sets for a particular exercise.

The power-training sets themselves are simple. Following an adequate 2- to 3-minute rest period, prepare your mind and body for an explosive 2- to 3-second effort during which every muscle fiber and brain cell concentrate on one thing: moving the weight. Focus everything you have and are on this single burst of power. Lower the weight under control to avoid overstressing joints and connective tissue.

Begin with the maximum amount of weight you can pull or push for six sets of two reps. Again, do no more than three sets before switching exercises, and rest for 2 to 3 minutes between sets. Done correctly, using the proper amount of weight, you wiH experience huge gains in strength while adding little muscle mass and inducing virtually no soreness. Such is the beauty of improving the efficiency of your neuromuscular pathways.

These sessions take a fair amount of time. However, the body's capacity for performing at a high level decreases during a session. Get out of the weight room after 90 to 105 minutes. Any longer wastes time and can cause overtraining.

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