Training for Mountaineering? How to do it right [Part 2]

Training for Mountaineering Training

Training for Mountaineering! [Part2]


Last time I gave some insight into the things I learned the hard way when I started training. You can find it here if you missed it.
It has some very useful tips and gives you a better understanding of how to work out more efficiently.
So much for that. Welcome to Part 2!
This time I will give you an overview of how a structured and periodic training looks like. Plus, I’ll show my plan for the first period.



First off,  I won’t explain every scientific aspect of the training in its full depth, as it gets very scientific very quickly, and I did not study sports science nor medicine. I would also end up writing a book instead of a blog post. But for the most part, I don’t want to reveal too much and take away from the book Steve and Scott wrote, as they literally poured their decades of experience and learning into it — and I deeply respect that. However, I will explain my biggest learnings when it comes to training for Mountaineering and show the decisions made for creating my personal plan.

Second, this training plan is designed for myself. It does not make sense to follow it or adapt it, as I have a different body, different shape, different weaknesses, strengths, and most important, a different goal that I am training for. Why that is so important, is explained below. I also don’t want you to get hurt or injured and sue me. So please, just don’t.

I strongly recommend buying the book. I really can not emphasize enough how important it is to understand the training methods, what it addresses in your body, and how much you should train at what point in time. This will help you to get the desired results, prevent you from injury, learn about your body and identify your weknesses and strengths and how to judge your current shape.


About that periodic training

In the book, the training gets split up into 4 major phases. Those are:

  • Transition Period
  • Base Period
  • Specific Period
  • Taper Period

The theory behind this is that no human can sustain and perform on his maximum level all year round and improve while doing it. Instead, you train in cycles. What’s so great about that, is that it adresses your weaknesses and builds up different aspects of your performance. For example, the first two periods are more endurance focused. After those periods, your endurance is almost at its maximum level, and then you shift to strength and specific training. Think of a wave curve trend that is slowly going up every cycle. There are other phases within those, for example, max strength period, but we will keep it simple for now and I will explain that in a later post.


A bit more about those periods

For myself, I planned a 8-week transition period. In this time, the training volume and load is not very high. The goal here simply is to get used to training in a dedicated, continuous manner. Many things have to adapt to a new training regime. Not only your body, but your personal schedule, work and other schedules have to be kept in mind. This is more a preparation period before the real training starts, just slowly increasing your volume. However, after a successfull transition period, the actual training will come much easier and your gains will be bigger as you have already laid everything out for the next phase to be successful.

The base period is probably the most important one. This is where your training volume increases more over the weeks but the intensity stays kind of medium for the most part. It is wise to implement dedicated strength training depending on your goal. I am also planning on 8 weeks for the base period. Steve compares it to a bank account. The volume and kind of training you do in the base period basically builds up a bank of fitness, which means a good overall endurance capability, good strength and good technique. From that fitness base you will shape and extend your performance in the next period.

During the specific training period you push hard on your bank account and try to maximize the most important parts you want to achieve for your training goal. This is where the training gets intense and probably more strength base. You increase the load and try to maximize your level that you gained during the base period.

The taper period is where the magic happens. During this phase, you drastically decrease the training volume and load. You don’t stop completely, but your main goal here is to stay healthy and in shape. This is where the supercompensation really kicks in and you see the most gains happening. That’s why it is so important to stay healthy and basically let the gains happen. You will reach your peak level during this period, so you should plan this to happen when you are going on your trip or project that you have set yourself. After a short recovery after the project, you will start over with the transition period and start the cycle again.

Now, over many cycles you will gradually improve your performance. This is all a little technical, but put in a graph it’s kind of an easy to understand concept:

Training for Mountaineering
The concept of cycles with their periods and performance improvement



My transition period

This is the transition period I designed for myself. I am already successfully through it, so it’s time to explain it. My main goals for my transition period were the following:

  • Let my body get used to working out consistently on a daily basis (1 day is a rest day but that will change later)
  • Adapt my daily schedule to incorporate working out like that
  • Slowly starting to teach my body what is to come when – this will come into play especially in later periods
  • Get a good general fitness for a successful base period


Training for Mountaineering
Google docs sheet with my various training logs – simple visual style and easily accessible from multiple devices

Luckily, we are in the age of gadgets and stuff. I used google docs for my plan as I can access it on my PC, from my phone or tablet. Green means completed, Red means skipped the workout. Don’t worry too much about skipping a workout. It happens to everybody– personal reasons, changed work schedule etc. It will happen! Keeep that in mind. Just go on with the plan, or if you have missed multiple in a row, just repeat that week. I will explain the other tabs in later posts in detail but for this first post that would be too much.



Now, the “church” is a specific training routine I implemented for myself to address my weaknesses, so it’s mostly upper body strength, pullups and hangboarding. I will do this religiously, never skipping it, no matter what. I always “have to go to church!” — that’s where the name comes from. The load (not Lord) rises about 10% every week.


What’s that Zone 1 / Zone 2?

This is where the heart rate specific training comes into play. Zone 1 is basically resting or walking. Zone 2 is a little effort. As you can see, the training intensity is actually not that high. So how does it work? Well, consistency outplays intensity by a loooong stretch. More about it follows below. Basically, you want to push your heart rate zones down through training. In other terms, train your body to perform a specific task (running, climbing) with the least amount of effort and energy burnt. For my goals, I will do some Zone 3 training later on but not much. I am training for endurance not sprinting so Zone 3 is not important to me. As an example, when I started out running elevations of 2,000ft and more, I was only able to walk it with a low heart rate. Now, I can easily run a steep incline of 1,000ft+ without my head exploding, which I achieved through heart rate specific training. So you see, knowing your heart rate zones is very important for your training progression.


Measuring your HR/max

To know your heart rate zones you only have to do one little evaluation in which you find out your hear rate max. Screw those formulas with “Your age – 220”. They are bullshit and not precise. There is no way around kicking your body and measuring it. You will need a heart rate monitor for this test.

Be warned!

 You must be healthy, well rested, and very highly motivated to do this test!
This is a very serious stress situation for your body and it should not be taken lightly!


  • Gradualy warm-up. Start very easy and go progressively harder over 15 minutes.
  • End with the last three minutes breathing and sweating moderately but NOT hard. It should feel like moderate effort, leaving you with an energized feeling, not fatigued!
  • Take no rest brake. Start to run hard for the next two minutes up a hill that is steep enough that you are just able to run it.
  • After the two minutes, you have to give it all you have for the last 30 seconds. Bring a stopwatch– this will be very tough. You have to be willing to absolutely exhaust yourself. Fyi, I puked after it.
  • Check your HR and it should be within five beats of your HR/max.


Now that you know your HR/max, here are the zones:


Training for Mountaineering





Tips to help you get through with your plan



There is one great fact about a structured training plan. Your daily training as not nearly as intense as you might think. You know the people that are considered weekend warriors? Basically, they don’t do sports the whole week and as soon as the weekend comes around they run like crazy and hit the gym in full-on Schwarzenegger-mode. That does not get you anywhere. They are basically missing their supercompensation window to train again when the body adapted to the training impulse. They basically let their gains go over the week after the workout. Even if your training is not as intense – consistency outplays single badass workouts by far. I will explain more about supercompensation later when I am talking about strength training as it is more applicable there. It is vital to stick to your routine and do every single workout at the right time.


Have fun!

In the beginning, it’s pretty exciting doing a new plan and new workouts. You’re all excited about about getting fit and trying new things out. After some time, you will see that it is quite hard sticking to a training routine. Soon enough, the routine kicks in and you find yourself on a long zone 1 run feeling it’s a burden more than it is fun. It does not have to be that way. For example, when it’s Saturday, my climbing day, I can choose to go to the indoor gym, go bouldering outside, go rock-climbing or even top-rope solo something. Listen to your mood and what you are more excited about. When you have to do a long run, just pick an interesting track, go somewhere you have not been before, listen to a podcast or a great new album. It will help you, keeping your mind occupied. What I always do is imagine myself doing the project that I am training for. How will it feel to climb this section on the mountain? How fast will I go from the trail to the snowfield? Make a mindmap. You can use your training time to also mentally prepare yourself for your project. Enjoy!

Next Part will be out 01/18/17 – on Saturday 01/14/17 I will post a trailshoe review.

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  • Training for Mountaineering? How to do it right [Part 3] - Base Period

    […] time, in [Part 2], I gave some insight into my tranition period and how I prepare for the base period. Before that, I […]

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