Creating a Mountain Training Plan

So you have signed up for an expedition and are planning a big climb. Now what?! Usually the first, as well as one of the most important questions one tends to ask themselves is “how do I train?”. Mountaineering requires a well rounded level of fitness. I have studied, trained, and practiced for a number of years now and I have found the “easiest” way to get you started! So, Let’s create a mountain training plan:

Here’s what you will need in your mountain training plan:

A Timeline: A minimum of 12 weeks is recommended for any major climb, but for large expeditions like Everest or Cho Oyu, one should plan for anywhere between 6 months to a year of targeted training depending on current athletic state. If you are out of shape, start smaller, and plan out extra weeks to get into the groove of things.

Cardiovascular Fitness: Cardio fitness includes your heart and lung’s ability to use the oxygen in the air and is measured through aerobic exercises like running, swimming, and cycling. you will want to keep track of your heart rate and you will want to push it to a variety of levels. On days that focus only on cardio. focus on getting to 85% your maximum heart rate. On target days, where you might be hiking or carrying a backpack full of weight, shoot for 65-75%.

Intervals: Mixed into your cardio days, you will want to work intervals where you rotate from about 70% MHR to 85% MHR. This will help your cardio endurance by changing the various intensity levels.

Targeted Exercises: This means hiking with weight,  gaining elevation, working out AT elevation (if you can), doing hill sprints, rock climbing, stair climbers, whatever you have access to. This focuses both strength and cardio endurance. We will go in more detail later.

Strength Training: Strength training focuses on muscle groups you will be using on the mountain. You can start with a well rounded strength day until you feel able enough to focus on muscle groups. regardless of what you work on, always shoot for 60% MHR during strength training to increase cardio endurance as well.

Flexibility: Safety and preventing injury are #1. You MUST stretch EVERY DAY (including rest day). This will keep you limber, as well as help with muscle fatigue. If you feel you are painfully sore constantly, you are not stretching enough. Having a full range of motion while you climb is extremely important. There are two different types of stretches, kinesthetic and static. Kinesthetic means “stretching in motion”, while static stretches are when you hold a stretch pose for 15 to 20 seconds. Be sure to do kinesthetic stretches before exercise to warm u your muscles. Examples include body twists, jumping jacks, high knees, squats and much more. After excising when your muscles are warm, you can do static stretches to prevent lactic acid build up. NEVER do static stretches on cold muscles as you could severely tear something. (take it from someone who learned this lesson the hard way.)

What is the end goal?

Mountaineering is an endurance sport. Many sports involve either long, slow and steady progress, or short fast bursts like sprints. Mountaineering requires a wide range of different intensity levels all day long. This means we have to train our bodies to do it all.

SO… How should we map it out?

Well, If you feel you are out of shape, that is your first goal! You want a minimum of 180 minutes of cardio each week when you start (NOT including your target exercises). As you get closer to your climb you should be increasing the amount. By the time you reach your final training weeks, you should have nearly doubled that time and your target exercises should be full day hikes, or exercise days. (I suggest planning these on the weekend).

Your strength training should be at least twice a week (not including your target exercise). Intervals at least twice a week, and again, stretch every day.

Here is an example of what a week might generally look like:

Begin mapping out your first 4-6 weeks and see how your body does. You can adjust it accordingly as you go along. By then end of your 12 week plan, you should be focused on walking or hiking 5+ miles a day, 5-6 days a week with added weight, strength training, and intervals mixed in. 

For help and tips in creating a mountain training plan, check out my mountain performance coaching program!

Just get moving!


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