Training for Mountaineering? Learn from my mistakes
I have already spoken highly of the book “Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House and his trainer, Scott Johnston. If you missed it, here it is. I have trained by the methods of this book for many weeks now and want to share my experiences. A great thing about this book is you can use it to tailor your own training plan whether you are training for an alpine climb, running a race or playing chess (yes, it’s a sport).
In this post I will talk about my learnings that are vital before even starting to train. I made many mistakes and suffered their consequences, and you can easily avoid them by sticking to the simple principles below.
7 things you should know before you start
Training always boils down to efficiency. It’s very important to understand that and have it in the back of your mind when you are starting out. Training itself is making yourself more efficient in what you plan to do. Always ask yourself: Am I doing this exercise, workout, training cycle, routine, whatever it is, in the most efficient way? If you read the following points you will see how many times it’s all about efficiency, and you will understand why that was a big learning for me.
If you think you are better off just for the fact that you went to the gym today, you are wrong. The quality of the training is always way, way, way more important than just doing a workout for workout’s sake in poor shape. Think about it. A single pullup, if performed in the right posture, addresses the muscles in the most effective way and therefore will give you the best gains. If you are kicking your feet or letting your shoulders go up just to reach your chin to the bar, you do not train the muscles you want to improve, you compensate with muscles you already have and therefore you will never improve the ones the exercise is designed for. If you can’t hold a certain form or start shaking during an exercise: Stop and rest. Golden rule right here: Never do a single exercise in your workout with poor form! You could injure yourself or train yourself into an unbalanced muscle state etc.
In the beginning of the book, Steve points out a great example. How do you think Usain Bolt gets faster at sprinting the 100m? Does he run 100 meters over and over in hope to improve his time? Nope. That’s how athletes actually trained for a long time, not too long ago. However, decades of sports science and training research shows that there is a way better method. He breaks the 100m sprint down into it’s parts, then trains every single aspect of it separately and focuses on what movements are involved and what kind of muscles and muscle groups are in play. That’s the concept of specific training. So, if I want to do a technical climb on mountain, I have to break that project down into pieces, identify what my body has to do and perform on that trip, and then train those specific aspects in a focused manner. I know how tall the mountain is, I know how far it is to get there, I know the difficulty of the climb, I know how much weight I have to carry, I know how long I will have to perform and on what intensity level, I know the movements involved. So I will train for a lot of endurance, the muscles used to go uphill, muscles used in climbing, climbing technique (which helps with efficiency), my maximum strength and some general strength (something that benefits the overall performance). I will not train my sprinting and leave out what I don’t need. Efficiency again. That’s why training with a goal in mind is so important. The rule here: Know your 100 meters. Train accordingly.
My Garmin watch has a pulse function! Great! Now, how does that help with training? Well, this really shows how important it is to understand the human body and what happens when you are working out. In simple terms, your body uses different mechanisms and different fuels, according to how hard you make it work. When you are sprinting uphill and your body is kicking your heart rate to the max, you are basically in the highest gear. Your body produces the highest output of energy possible. You can’t keep that up for long right? Now, If you are just coddiwompling through the city ( new word: “coddiwomple”: To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination) you can most likely do that a lot longer than the uphill thing, right? Coddiwompling (walking) is basically your lowest gear (heart rate), so your body can use it’s long energy ressource combined with oxygen, and it’s long endurance muscle strings. That’s what humans are good at. For the sprint, it has to fire out the maximum amount of energy available, oxygen plus some low fuel is not enough. It has to burn special ressources in your muscles and it uses high power muscle strings and makes you suck in every single oxygen molecule it can. Sprinting and walking are two very different concepts. Heart rate effects you in a lot of ways during training but the biggest learning for me was for sure: Training in a surprisingly low (yes, low) heart rate and addressing your specific heart rate zones will not only make you more enduring, it will also make you faster and stronger! Through specific heart rate training you want to push your heart rate down as far as possible while performing a certain task, which makes you able to sustain it longer and more energy efficient at it.
OK, so throughout my life I have been training endurance from the beginning on. I played soccer in a club for a long time, played icehockey, did all the at the decade hip stuff of the decade like skateboarding, then inline skating, which became uncool, so back to skateboarding and so on. I have conditioned my body to be good at endurance from an early age on. Now, I never really trained my upper body. It’s really hard for me now to gain upper body muscles as my body never got conditioned for that, and my body essentially has to learn how to do that and adapt to the training impulse. So naturally, I have it easier running and training my endurance. And so it makes sense for me to address my upper body more than another athlete would do. By addressing that weakness, I actually improve quicker towards my overall goal. For my goal, it does not make sense to train something too much that I am already kind of good at. I benefit more from training my weakness and thereby improve on the parts of my goal that I would be really bad at. Yeah, again, efficiency. It’s in some way specific training as well – specific training to what you identified as being not so good at. Knowing your weaknesses and improving on them will benefit your goal more than training something you are already good at.
Outside of training
What? Oh yeah. Again, knowing how the human body works will help you out so much. Remember how I told you about that earlier? I wasn’t joking. There are a lot of things you can do when you are not actually exercising that benefit your training. The obvious first: Food. Knowing what fuel your body uses in what kind of training situations, lets you actually understand what you should eat before a workout, so that the right type of energy is available. That leads to being more efficient as you are using your body’s full potential. Same goes for food after a workout, to give your body the right type of ressources to recover and build new muscles and adapt. Next one: Sleep. Sleep is actually one of the most important things when you want to work out efficiently. It’s in your sleep where the magic happens. Your body repairs itself and adapts to the workout you performed. Big one: Recovery. You can do a lot of additional things to help your body recover after a workout. There are so many. However these really worked for me: Ice baths, protein shakes, stretches, yoga, recovery runs in your lowest heart rate (yes, it works), blackroll (yep, that one really works too). Simple concept: When you recover more quickly, you can train again sooner. It shortens your needed rest times and you can do more training in the long run.
Warm the fuck up
Well, kind of an obvious one, right? Nope. Actually a lot of people don’t warm up before they do their workouts. Bad habit. Very bad. I really recognized it now that I am a little older. First off, you can injure yourself more easily. Besides that being bad on its own, it means you have to stop training completely. Talking efficiency… you literally loose a third or more of a training period. Which means you have to go back and do it again, loosing more and more time with something you could have easily avoided with a few minutes of effort. Now, the real big benefit of warming up again goes towards efficiency ( I’ll count the word in this post later for you). When your body and muscles are warmed up, they actually perform much better and the output is higher. Which means that you are using the full capacity of your muscles which leads to a better training stimulus which leads to better gains! I know it’s heinous, but it does not take long to just warm up. Rule: Just warm the fuck up. Having suffered from multiple injuries, I literally say that to myself before any workout.
This post is the first one in a series of 5 called Training for Mountaineering – Doing it right. The series will be structured as following:
- Things to consider before you start (this one)
- Overview and Transitional Period
- Base Period
- Specific Period
- Taper Period and summary
I know it sounds like I want you to really buy the book – and I do – but really just for your own benefit. I am just scratching the surface here– there is no better way than for you to read it and understand it for yourself and then put the concepts into action. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Reading about it doesn’t really help you – you actually need to get on it and ride it. The next post will be out on Wednesday, 01/11/17