Training

Overview

Please review all training tabs to get a full sense of what type of condition you need to be in for this climb. For those who have not specifically trained for mountaineering in the past,  we recommend using a targeted training plan to help you prepare.

Books to consider:
Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston

Personal trainers that are familiar with mountaineering are highly recommended as they can create personal training plans utilizing both indoor and outdoor locations with long range objectives and criteria. Trainers and training programs can help build a program based on your location, access to gyms, and outdoor training venues.

For those who have not trained for mountaineering or want to refine their training with some industry professionals, we recommend:

Steve House and staff at the Uphill Athlete

Preparation for Rainier Little Tahoma Climbs

Climbing Little Tahoma is a serious undertaking.  The route ascends a series of steps up the south face of the peak with several sections of rock and steep snow / ice up to 45 degrees.  You will be carrying sleeping and tenting gear as well as three to four days’ worth of food. Expect to carry at least a 45-55lb. pack on your way in to base camp at Meany Crest over 3,700 feet of gain. The ascent to the summit, comparable elevation gain to the approach, involves carrying a pack weight of about 1/3 that of your approach pack. Just because you exercise regularly (four to six times per week) does not mean you have the conditioning needed to reach the summit of Little Tahoma. Plenty of people who can run a marathon fail to summit. Pure cardiovascular fitness is simply not enough.

You need to be prioritize your training efforts in the following way, assuming that you are in good health and injury-free:

  1. Climbing conditioning – pack-loaded uphill hiking, walking, and stair climbing
  2. Strength training – for the lower and upper body
  3. Cardiovascular training – including both aerobic and anaerobic workouts with and without pack weight
  4. Flexibility training

Most people will need to train specifically for a climb such as Little Tahoma at least four to six months. During your training, you will need to progressively ramp up your pack weight, time, distance, and elevation gain (at roughly 10% per week) to safely and effectively build your climbing-specific conditioning. Trying to rush this will increase the risk of experiencing some sort of training injury and not being ready for the climb. Below are more details of how to incorporate these four priorities into your program.

Climbing Conditioning

Hike steep outdoor trails, gradually increasing your pack weight with each outing until you are at your target climb pack weight. If you live where it is relatively flat, go up and down stairs or train on an inclined treadmill or StairMaster. Use whatever varied surface terrain (i.e., gravel beds, sand dunes, river banks) you have access to. A reasonable goal would be to ascend 3,000–4,000 feet, carrying an average pack of 50 lbs. in a two to three hour period, or roughly 1,250 vertical feet in an hour. A good training option for simulating pack weight is to carry water in gallon containers or collapsible jugs, then dump water at the top as needed, to lighten the load for the descent.

One training technique that is useful for altitude climbing is to include higher intensity interval training in your weekly program. To do this, find a steep hill or sets of stairs that will allow you to climb steadily for several minutes. Push as hard as you can going up, then recover coming down, and repeat for anywhere from 20–45 minutes depending on how close to your climb you are. Add weight to your pack on a regular basis, no more than 10% per week, until you can carry your target climb pack weight the entire time.

In early season, you might start with a hike that gains up to 1,500–2,000 feet elevation over 6 miles, round–trip, while carrying a 25 lb. pack; each hike, try adding three to five pounds until you are comfortable with a 45-55 lb. pack, then begin increasing the total elevation gain and mileage. When you can gain 3,500 feet with a 45–55 lb. pack, start decreasing rest breaks and increasing speed, and once you reach your target time, add the final weight until you can carry your target climb pack weight for the desired elevation gain and mileage.

Flexibility Conditioning

Be sure to include at least 5–10 minutes of targeted stretching following every workout, specifically for the hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, lower back and quadriceps. If you have any areas of concern early season, add emphasis to making sure you have normal range of motion about all your joints. This will become even more important as you add weight and distance to your conditioners.

Strength Conditioning

Training with free weights, bands, a backpack, bodyweight exercises, or gym machines will help you build overall strength, particularly in the core (lower back and abdominals), upper back and shoulders, and legs. Developing strength in your upper back and shoulders will help you with such tasks as carrying a heavy pack and using trekking poles and ice axes effectively. The calves, hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes are all involved in ascending and descending glacier, ice, and rock routes, and strength endurance is required in all areas of the legs and hips.

Training primarily with free weights will give you the functional, climbing-specific strength that will help you most in the mountains. Free weight-training requires that you balance the weights as you would your own body, weighted with a pack, in three-dimensional space. When starting any strength conditioning program, complete two full-body strength workouts a week for 30–45 minutes each, focusing on compound exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, dips, pull-ups, rows, dead lifts, bench presses, pushups, and overhead presses.

In the beginning phase of strength conditioning, focus on building a foundation for harder workouts; to that end, keep the weight light enough to concentrate on good form and complete two sets of each exercise for 8–10 repetitions. As you continue to train, you will shift focus to building strength (generally lower reps, five to eight, with heavier weight). Four to six weeks before your climb, shift your training to focus on strength endurance (higher reps, 10–15, with light weight) to turn the newly gained strength into greater strength endurance. Each training phase should vary the weight used, repetitions completed, number of sets, and rest intervals. Regardless of training phase, always be sure you maintain proper form in order to prevent injury or strain.

Cardiovascular Conditioning

Include spinal-loading aerobic training options such as jogging, walking on an inclined treadmill, stair stepping or step mill training, trail running, working on an elliptical machine, walking up and down hills, or participating in step aerobic classes. While biking, rowing, and swimming are aerobic options for the earliest stages of training, be sure as you get closer to your climb that you include activities suggested above that load the spine and legs the same way that hiking will.

When first beginning a cardiovascular training program, begin with three or four workouts of 30–45 minutes of sustained activity at a moderate intensity, and build to 4–5 aerobic sessions of sustained effort for at least 45–60 minutes. Be sure to include a 5–10 minute gentle warm-up before working at your target heart rate for the day (for most workouts, choose a level of exertion that allows you to connect a few words together in a phrase, but leaves you feeling comfortably tired at the end of the workout), and cool down with 5–10 minutes of appropriate stretching of the muscles you use most in your activity, including lower back, calves, hamstrings, hips, and quadriceps.

Roughly a month before your climb, you should be at the conditioning level where you are comfortable hiking on consecutive weekend days, what is referred to as back-to-back training. This involves hiking with your target climb pack weight (45-55 lb.) on the first day for at least 3,500–5,000 feet gain, and a somewhat lighter pack for greater mileage on the second day in order to simulate your approach and summit days of your climb. This will not only be helpful physically, but will also prepare you psychologically for the challenge of repeat high-effort days without any recovery days in between. A sample week of training a month prior to your climb might look like the chart to the right, in an effort to help you build as much stamina as possible.

Be sure to include at least one recovery day per week and listen closely to your body. Take the final week to taper or gradually reduce intensity and volume of training so that by the time you leave for your climb you are well rested and physically and psychologically up to the challenge.

You can find additional training resources at Uphill Athlete for the following:

 

Monday

Cardio Training
30–40 min., recovery level (<65% Max HR).

Flexibility Training
10-15 min. at the end

Tuesday

Climbing Training
Hills, stairs, or high–incline treadmill, 45-60 min, 40-50 lb. pack (short bursts >85% Max HR)

Strength Training
Full body, 12-15 reps per set, 45 min.

Flexibility Training
10-15 min. at the end

Wednesday

Cardio Training
90 min., no pack, distance level (65-75% Max HR)

Flexibility Training
10-15 min. at the end

Thursday

Strength Training
Full body, 8-10 reps per set, 45 min.

Cardio Training
45 min., no pack, tempo level (75-85% Max HR)

Flexibility Training
10-15 min. at the end

Friday

Rest Day

Saturday

Climbing Training
Hike 8-10 miles, 45-55 lb. pack, gain 4-5,000 ft.

Flexibility Training
As needed to prevent stiffness

Sunday

Climbing Training
Hike 8-10 miles, 35-40 lb. pack, gain 4-5,000 ft.

Flexibility Training
As needed to prevent stiffness

3 days in close quarters with 2 partners that were strangers going in couldn’t have been more comfortable. Both of my guides were interesting characters, fun to talk to, easy to get along with and a pleasure to be around. I never once felt like we were going to run out of interesting things to […]

little tahoma d slideshow
Summerland
little tahoma f slideshow
Up the Fryingpan Glacier Photo Credit: Nate Douglas
little tahoma e slideshow
The summit! Photo Credit: Nate Douglas

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