So you know you need to be in good shape – both mentally and physically – for an upcoming mountain climb, but what is the best preparation and training schedule?
Unfortunately there is no single right answer to this question, thanks to people’s individual abilities, age, unique physiologies, etc.
However, on the whole, the best approach is a balance of strength training, to prepare your legs for the long ascent and descent, and cardio training to ensure you’ve got the endurance you’ll need to keep you going.
If you’re planning to summit any peak, you need to factor in an appropriate amount of time and energy on getting in shape. As they say – failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
When preparing for a mountain climb, there are five key things to focus on:
- Building strength
- Increasing your endurance and stamina
- Altitude training (if possible)
- Getting climbing experience
So let’s break these down and see what’s involved.
Firstly, you need to set up a training programme – ideally starting as far out from the climb as possible.
Assuming some base level of fitness, three or four months is usually enough to take training to the next level and prepare for a major climb.
This window gives you enough time to build up strength and stamina without getting bored and wanting to back off.
Training can be simplified into two categories:
- Going to the gym a lot
- Going climbing and hiking as often as possible
What you can do in the gym and at home is outlined below.
Building up strength is crucial as you’ll be hauling your own body and fair amount of kit up the mountain.
Your body needs to be able to move almost vertically with extra weight attached over a number of consecutive days.
The best preparation is to simulate the loads as best you can in a gym.
Training with a weighted vest or a loaded pack and doing a variety of exercises such as pushups, pullups, dips, squats and lunges adds another angle to your training, simulating more dynamic movements.
Obviously weight training doesn’t translate perfectly into strength on the mountain, so emulating some real-world conditions is crucial.
Whether that’s training in your mountaineering clothing and boots, or with your actual loaded pack – it will be worth the funny looks you might get at the gym.
As a general rule, you should use less weight and do more sets and reps to build overall fitness and longevity of performance rather than one-off, explosive power.
Increasing Endurance and Stamina
Chances are, whatever peak you are climbing is not going to be a there-and-back in a day trip, so endurance will be crucial.
Being able to remain alert as you keep moving for hours and hours is a key skill for mountaineers.
Your training programme should therefore include both aerobic endurance and anaerobic endurance training.
This can be a mix of continuous movement and high intensity interval training involving running, distance cycling, Fartlek and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
To replicate the motions of moving your body upwards, activities such as stair climbing (with a pack) and hiking steep terrain are perfect.
As mentioned above, the fitness requirements for mountain climbing are similar to other activities but the difference is that as you proceed up the mountain, the less oxygen is available and the harder your body has to work.
The best way to increase your efficiency at altitude is by training at altitude, and it doesn’t have to be climbing, it could be cross-country skiing or hiking.
The good news is that for shorter duration climbs, the efficiency of your body can be increased through stamina training, as bodies that oxygen more efficiently tends to do better at altitude.
Get as much climbing experience as possible
Whilst the gym is great, and perfect for city dwellers, the best training for climbing is… climbing.
Because most people looking to take on a mountain challenge don’t live anywhere near a mountain range, the next best option is to try to simulate the physical challenges that you would encounter on such an adventure.
Some good options are uphill hiking with a pack, hiking in snow or challenging conditions, running or hiking up stairs (with weights if possible), mountain biking for at least a few hours, indoor and outdoor rock climbing, and cross-country skiing.
Sign up for mini events near you to test out your gear, nutrition and bolster you psychological fitness.
In your final week or so, make sure that you taper your workouts by reducing the intensity and duration and making sure you’re well rested (and fed) in the run up to your climb.