Training

GETTING IN SHAPE FOR CLIMBING

Mountain climbing is a very sport-specific activity and having the proper fitness is fundamental. Fit individuals like marathon runners and triathletes often still struggle on climbs, lacking the conditioning specific for mountaineering demands. The training information here will help you arrive prepared for the mountain. Most people will need to train for a Mount Rainier climb for at least 4-6 months.

THE PHYSICAL DEMANDS YOU ARE SPECIFICALLY TRAINING FOR ARE:

  • Hiking with a 60+ lb backpack for 5-6 hours at a time
  • Steep climbing and glacier travel with a 20 lb backpack
  • Moving on your feet for 9-12 hours on summit day
  • Movement techniques requiring balance, core strength, and flexibility

Certain ascent rates are required for this climb. When hours are prolonged due to slow ascent times, climbers become fatigued, dehydrated, and have a greater chance of getting cold. This also puts the team at risk in rapidly changing weather on the mountain. It is a matter of safety that climbers ascend at the rates stated below.

BENCHMARK ASCENT RATES FOR 4-DAY MOUNT RAINIER EMMONS CLIMB:

  • Climb from White River to Inter Glacier Camp in  5-6 hours. This ascent is over 3,500 feet elevation gain in approximately 4.5 miles. You will carry a pack of 60+ pounds during this ascent. Meeting this pace and having reserves upon arrival at camp is a minimum standard for summit team members. Proper strength training and sport specific endurance work carrying a weighted pack will pay off here.
  • Climb from Camp Schurman to Summit in 5-7 hours. While this will involve a lighter pack (approximately 20 pounds), it is almost all above 10,000 feet and covers steeper terrain. Here is where your more challenging training days, like intense weighted hill climbs, will pay off. You want to be able to climb efficiently and clear-headed at this altitude, with plenty in reserve for contingencies and to descend safely.

An effective training program for a Mount Rainier climb should be primarily composed of endurance training with significant strength components as well. Your training should progress slowly and be modulated, incorporating progressively harder weeks with planned rest weeks to consolidate the training loads into fitness gains. The following tabs will help you construct an endurance and strength training program for yourself.

If mountaineering is new for you, we strongly recommend working with a trainer/coach that has a background in mountaineering. Steve House and staff at Uphill Athlete are experienced industry professionals we highly recommend.

You may also finding the following blog post helpful: “Is my Training Working?”

Cardiovascular Endurance Training

A properly designed endurance training program is the key to being successful for long days in the mountains. For those not familiar with endurance training, it may be surprising that the vast majority of time spent is at a fairly low intensity. For better or worse, there is no shortcut to this process. To perform well over many hours climbing you need to teach your body to be efficient and comfortable burning fat and operating at a sustainable intensity. There is no way to do this except to spend the bulk of your time training at these levels. The good news is that most of the training isn’t brutally difficult at any one point, the hard news is that it can be time consuming and requires dedication and consistency to see the results. For most folks this will involve some early alarms during the week to fit in shorter training sessions then doing the more time-consuming longer sessions on the weekend.

Endurance training needs to be reasonably convenient to execute and as sport-specific as possible. Striking a balance between these two goals is the key and depends on your geographical location and time constraints.  The following are examples of endurance training modalities that can be used in a mixture during your training phases.

  • Steep outdoor hills with lots of vertical gain
  • Steep outdoor hills that are short, requiring repeated laps
  • Stairs with many flights (stadium or tall building)
  • Incline treadmill (40% max incline)
  • Normal treadmill (15% max incline)
  • Stepmill type trainer with actual rotating steps
  • Stairstepper/Stairmaster

Other training options like cycling, rowing, and swimming have their place at times for active recovery and/or injury rehab, but these activities are not sport-specific enough to adequately train you for climbing. Use the best training modes you have available. Make an effort to train outside and in varying weather conditions when you can. If you live in an area that has hilly terrain somewhat close, try and get out on the weekend to train in this terrain. 

FLEXIBILITY

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 conditioning.

Strength Training

Consistent and thoughtfully progressed general strength work can be a great benefit to mountaineers. Being strong makes your movements more efficient and ultimately less taxing. It will also make you more durable and prevent injury. Strength training does not need to be complicated, equipment intensive, or time consuming. We do recommend having access to some basic dumbbells and a few height boxes at a minimum.  Progress the workouts slowly and always pay attention to good form before trying to increase weights too quickly.

General strength and core exercises are great in the early and middle phases of training plans. As the training progresses and the goal climb approaches, you may want to use some of the training time to do more sport-specific strength training such as heavy pack carries that simulate the stress of climbing.

A good warm up is important for strength work just like any other training. One way is to do 15-20 minutes of low intensity aerobic work first to get the blood moving and the muscles warm. This can be an easy jog outside, cycling, or using a gym machine like an elliptical. Once warmed up, you can dive into core work. Pick 6-8 core exercises and work up to doing 3 sets of 10 reps. The following link has some suggestions and demonstrations of exercises that are great for climbing.

Uphill Athlete: Scott’s Killer Core Routine

Following core exercises, you can move directly into a strength workout. A basic but effective way to structure this is to include a few upper body and a few lower body exercises. The upper body exercises ideally include a pushing and a pulling movement, while the lower body exercises are primarily single legged (bonus points if they require a bit of balance). Alternating between upper and lower body is a great way to be time-efficient in you training. For example:

10 reps of step ups onto a 16” box working up to a 24” box
10 Wall Pushups, Knee Pushups, or Traditional Pushups

Rest 3-4 minutes

10 reps of step ups onto a 16” box working up to a 24” box
10 Wall Pushups, Knee Pushups, or Traditional Pushups

Start with one round of this and work up to 4 rounds over a couple months. Use additional weight in the form of a barbell or weight vest to make 10 reps challenging. Progress the weight and number of rounds slowly over the training period. You may also consider other similar movements with resistance bands or TRX straps. Full body exercises like the deadlift and Turkish get-ups are also great for this kind of general strength training.

Phase 1: Transition

Transition Phase – begin 24 weeks before climb

The following side tabs are examples of how you might construct the weekly flow of a training plan. For a training plan to be effective, you need to lay down a firm foundation. This transition phase (Phase 1) is especially important for those that are coming into the program less trained or who haven’t been training at all. It is also important for those coming from other sports that are not foot borne and/or do not involve carrying heavy packs.

Remember to progress the total volume of the weekly training, slowly adding 10% or less each week. Approximately every 4th week should be a very easy consolidation week to prevent over-training and consolidate fitness gains. This week should be about 50% of the total volume of the last big week.

Weekly total training time: 6 hours

Heart rate zones:

ZONE % OF MAX HEARTRATE PERCEIVED EFFORT
Zone 1 60 – 70% Light effort, can keep engaged conversation
Zone 2 70 – 80% Moderate effort, speaking in short sentences
Zone 3 80 – 90% Challenging effort but not exhausting, can speak 5-7 words at a time
Zone 4 90 – 100% Maximum effort, unable to speak
Monday - Rest

Complete rest at least one day a week. This is a great day to get organized for the coming week. Stretching, foam rolling and a gentle 20 minutes walk are encouraged.

Tuesday - General Strength Training

1 x core routine + 1 x general strength for first week;
progress to 3x core + 3x strength by week 8.

Suggested core – Uphill Athlete: Core Routine

Suggested general strength – Uphill Athlete: General Strength Routine

Wednesday - Shorter Cardio with Hills

60 minute hilly long cardio day. Progress this to 80 minutes by week 8. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity.

Alternative option: If outside hills are unavailable, use treadmill on 10-15% incline.

Alternative option: Stair repeats in stadium or tall building can also be used.

Thursday - Recovery Level Effort

45-60 minute walk/jog. Zone 1 effort on flat to gently rolling terrain. Should not feel strenuous.

Alternative option: 60-90 minutes of cycling can also be used on recovery days instead of walk/jog.

Friday - General Strength Training

1 x core routine + 1 x general strength for first week;
progress to 3x core + 3x strength by week 8.

Suggested core – Uphill Athlete: Core Routine

Suggested general strength – Uphill Athlete: General Strength Routine

Saturday - Cardio with Pickups

60 minutes of Zone 2 running/jogging. Flat or gently rolling terrain is fine. You may need to walk at times or on uphill to keep your HR in Zone 2. Once 20 minutes in and warmed up, add in 4 – 6 pickups to a hard pace. These should last only about 10-20 seconds each and you should allow HR to return to normal in between.

Alternative option: Treadmill at 5% incline can be used.

Sunday - Endurance Cardio for Mountains

1.5 hour hilly long cardio day. Progress this to 2.5 hours by week 8. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity.

Alternative option: If outside hills are unavailable, use treadmill on 15% incline.

Alternative option: Stair repeats in stadium or tall building can also be used in combination with normal running, for a total of 1.5-2.5 hours moving at Zone 2.

Phase 2: Base

Base Phase – Begin 16 weeks before climb

The following side tabs are examples of how you might construct the weekly flow of a training plan. Remember to progress the total volume of the weekly training slowly adding 10% or less each week. Approximately every 4th week should be a very easy consolidation week to prevent over-training and consolidate fitness gains. This week should be about 50% of the total volume of the last big week.

Weekly total training time: 8 hours

Heart rate zones:

ZONE % OF MAX HEARTRATE PERCEIVED EFFORT
Zone 1 60 – 70% Light effort, can keep engaged conversation
Zone 2 70 – 80% Moderate effort, speaking in short sentences
Zone 3 80 – 90% Challenging effort but not exhausting, can speak 5-7 words at a time
Zone 4 90 – 100% Maximum effort, unable to speak
Monday - Rest

Complete rest at least one day a week. This is a great day to get organized for the coming week. Stretching, foam rolling and a gentle 20 minutes walk are encouraged.

Tuesday - Max Strength Training

Core: After warm-up do 4 of the exercises from Scott’s Killer Core Workout that you find most challenging. Add weight or do progressions that allow 4-6 reps only. Work up to 3 sets.

Strength: do 4-6 reps of push-ups followed by 4-6 reps of box step-ups. Add weight as needed, a weight vest may be helpful. Repeat for a total of 4 sets. Then move to a couplet of pull-ups and box step down heel touch. Again add weight to allow 4-6 reps. 4 sets total. Progress to 6 sets over the course of 8 weeks. Strength Demo Video: Box Step-up and Heel Touch.

Wednesday - Cardio on Hills with Z3 Interval

90 minutes total of Zone 2 cardio seeking out steep terrain available. After first 30 minutes, go hard for 20 continuous minutes uphill. HR should climb into Zone 3 during this 20 minute interval. After those 20 hard minutes, hike remaining duration in Zone 2. Over the 8 weeks progress the 20 minute Z3 interval to 40 minutes. Carry a small pack or weight vest with about 10% of body weight.

Alternative option: If outside hills are unavailable, use treadmill on 10-15% incline or stairmill machine, still including 20 minute hard interval in Zone 3.

Thursday - Recovery Level Effort

45-60 minute walk/jog. Zone 1 effort on flat to gently rolling terrain. Should not feel strenuous.

Alternative option: 60-90 minutes of cycling can also be used on recovery days instead of walk/jog.

Friday - Max Strength Training

Core: After warm-up do 4 of the exercises from Scott’s Killer Core Workout that you find most challenging. Add weight or do progressions that allow 4-6 reps only. Work up to 3 sets.

Strength: do 4-6 reps of push-ups followed by 4-6 reps of box step-ups. Add weight as needed, a weight vest may be helpful. Repeat for a total of 4 sets. Then move to a couplet of pull-ups and box step down heel touch. Again add weight to allow 4-6 reps. 4 sets total. Progress to 6 sets over the course of 8 weeks. Strength Demo Video: Box Step-up and Heel Touch.

Saturday - Endurance Cardio for Mountains

1.5 hour hilly cardio day. Progress this to 2 hours over the 8 weeks. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity.

Sunday - Endurance Cardio Max vertical with Weight

3 hour long cardio day. Progress this to 4 hours over the 8 weeks. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity. Carry a pack with 10% body weight.

Alternative option: If outside hills are unavailable, use a combination of normal running and time on treadmill at 10-15% incline for total of 3 hours moving at Zone 2.

Phase 3: Specificity

Specificity Phase – Begin 8 weeks before climb

The following side tabs are examples of how you might construct the weekly flow of a training plan. Remember to progress the total volume of the weekly training slowly adding 10% or less each week. Approximately every 4th week should be a very easy consolidation week to prevent over-training and consolidate fitness gains. This week should be about 50% of the total volume of the last big week

Weekly total training time: 8-10 hours

Heart rate zones:

ZONE % OF MAX HEARTRATE PERCEIVED EFFORT
Zone 1 60 – 70% Light effort, can keep engaged conversation
Zone 2 70 – 80% Moderate effort, speaking in short sentences
Zone 3 80 – 90% Challenging effort but not exhausting, can speak 5-7 words at a time
Zone 4 90 – 100% Maximum effort, unable to speak
Monday - Rest

Complete rest at least one day a week. This is a great day to get organized for the coming week. Stretching, foam rolling and a gentle 20 minutes walk are encouraged.

Tuesday - Recovery Level Effort

45-60 minute walk/jog. Zone 1 effort on flat to gently rolling terrain. Should not feel strenuous.

Alternative option: 60-90 minutes of cycling can also be used on recovery days instead of walk/jog.

Wednesday - Muscular Endurance Hills

MUSCULAR ENDURANCE HILLS ZONE 3 EFFORT (HEAVY PACK) 

90 minutes total seeking out steep terrain available. After 20 minute warm-up, go hard for 40 continuous minutes uphill with heavy pack. HR should climb into Zone 3 during this interval, but the weighted pack should feel like the limiting factor, not HR. After that hard interval, hike remaining duration in Zone 2. Over the 8 weeks progress the 40 minute Z3 interval to 50 minutes. Carry a heavy pack with about 60 pounds or 35% of body weight.

Alternative option: If outside hills unavailable, use treadmill on 10-15% incline or stairmill machine, still including 40 minute hard interval in Zone 3.

Thursday - Recovery Level Effort

45-60 minute walk/jog. Zone 1 effort on flat to gently rolling terrain. Should not feel strenuous.

Alternative option: 60-90 minutes of cycling can also be used on recovery days instead of walk/jog.

Friday - General Strength Training

2 x core routine and 1 x general strength. This is for maintenance only and should not feel particularly draining.

Suggested core – Uphill Athlete: Core Routine

Suggested general strength – Uphill Athlete: General Strength Routine

Saturday - Endurance Cardio for Mountains

1.5 hour hilly cardio day. Progress this to 2 hours over the 8 weeks. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity.

Sunday - Endurance Cardio Max Vertical with Weight

3 hour long cardio day. Progress this to 4 hours over the 8 weeks. Ideally hiking/jogging outside in as hilly of terrain as possible. Zone 2 HR throughout. Emphasis more on vertical gain and time on feet than intensity. Carry a pack with 15% body weight progressing to 20%.

Alternative option: If outside hills are unavailable, use a combination of normal running and time on treadmill at 10-15% incline with a weighted pack for total of 3-4 hours moving at Zone 2.

This was by far the best experience I have had during any climb. I just love the culture that has been created at AAI. I am always treated respectfully and with true interest. I just loved the experience. It is one of the high points of my life….still makes me cry from sheer joy.

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