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More Training Info > Prioritize

Prioritize Your Climbing Training

Q: If I run into problems completing all my workouts and have to drop a workout here or there, how would you prioritize training for a glacier/altitude climb like Rainier, 4-6 weeks out from the climb?

A: Great question. We'll assume that you are training using a well-balanced program that includes flexibility, general cardiovascular endurance (in terms of cross-training, to keep muscles balanced, train the heart and lungs in a non-sport-specific activity), leg/core strength, sport-specific training (hiking, backpacking or "conditioners" all qualify), and specialty training for the altitude (intervals, either running, hiking up steep hills with over-weight pack, or the like.) It's inevitable that something will get in your way at some point--family, social engagements like reunions or special birthdays/anniversaries, work commitments, fatigue or slight overtraining syndrome you need to recover from, or other forms of emergencies -- note here that "not feeling like doing it" doesn't really qualify!! So what do you do?

One of several things. If you have some flexibility in your schedule and can shift things around, simply move the missed workout to the next day you can exercise and shift everything else a day or two out. Keep at least 48 hours between strength workouts, and as needed, include a day of rest following any strenuous weekday or weekend outing, especially multi-day trips.

Beyond that, if you're still having to drop occasional workouts, keep the following "priorities" guidelines in mind.

1) TOP PRIORITY: sport-specific training, i.e. weekend (strength endurance) hikes with comparable weight to what you'll be using on the trip or climb. These are the BEST for getting you ready for your climb -- mimic the activity you'll be doing as much as you can. I'd suggest that you try NOT to skip them, but if you miss an occasional weekend, try to at least get in two a month (roughly every other week.) That will allow you to pick nicer weekends and not get stuck doing an outing during the rare "mosquito week" or highly unusual "flash flood of the century."

2) NEXT PRIORITY: specialty or interval training, especially for altitude climbing (not so important for backpacking, scrambling or hiking at lower elevations) -- to increase your VO2 Max and get your body used to working near its anaerobic threshold.

3) THIRD PRIORITY: leg/core strength, especially if you just recently added it to your program, as climbs up Rainier or other similar peaks will require that you have adequate strength and muscular endurance in your lower back, shoulders, legs, and core. A month or two of good solid strength training can make quite a difference when you get on the mountain.

4) FOURTH PRIORITY: flexibility. While I'll admit that flexibility is quite important to certain activities, if you consider all the athletic characteristics that go into completing a glacier climb like Rainier, flexibility is less important to your success than the other components. However, if you have visited our Climbing Fitness Polygon page, you'll discover that flexibility becomes much more important if you're doing sport or alpine climbing where you also include more technical skill and athleticism. Consider the route that you're taking and the physical requirements of the climb before you shave off precious minutes from your workouts by skipping "Yoga for Climbers."

5) LOWEST PRIORITY: the first thing to drop is the very first thing you add when beginning a training program -- the general, non-sport specific training in the form of swimming, rowing, blading, and other general cardiovascular conditioning. Admittedly, these are great for keeping your muscles in balance and preserving your sanity (when you can't stand to put your pack on for yet another distance hike across the mall in that muggy, humid D.C. afternoon). However, if you have to shave an hour from your week, and you still have one of these cross-training cardio workouts in your program, let that go before the first three, as they are all more specific to your ultimate goal.


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