Most of us prepare for our hikes and expeditions by only doing the sport. When I learned to ice climb I was told the best way to train for ice climbing is by climbing ice. Other people suggest the same goes for hiking; only with a pair of boots laced on, a loaded pack strapped on and genuine trail conditions will properly strengthen a hiker for more hiking. But living in Peaklessburg has convinced me that’s wrong.
Because we spend less time on the trail, as working professionals, training smartly off the trail is even more crucial to get the full benefit of our rare visits to the mountains. None of us wants to bonk half way up the hill on a crystal clear day, only to suck wind and head back to the trailhead. We need to work out differently to ensure we will have mental toughness on the trail as well as still breath deep and sustain carrying weight up a slope (or wall, for those vertical ice and rock stars) for a prolonged period. Otherwise, the trail and/or summit we dream of all year about will be wasted.
While some hikers do not, many of us may run, walk or cycle to keep in shape for our hikes and climbs, mainly to keep our legs strong and our cardio system ready. That fitness, through cross training, is indeed better than just relying on hiking or climbing alone to get us where we need to be to perform. Although that kind of training can keep you ready, it won’t help you lift yourself over difficult ledges, pull a roof, or help you indicate how much farther you can really push yourself carrying your pack. The key is building a solid core – much of it through traditional strength training routines in a weight gym.
Weight gyms have been long been the reason a lot of hikers and climbers prefer training through dedicating their efforts solely to their sport. After all, gyms are basically enlarged cubicles with machines that can serve as excuses for gym-goers to run on treadmills so they can watch their television shows (reformed couch potato, really), rather than jog down the sidewalk or through the park in the real world. As hikers and climbers, we all believe that. However, if used discretely and effectively, strength training can unleash our potential for physical power and enhance our durability, thus improving our performance on the trail. Not to mention improved mental toughness.
Take America’s most likeable mountaineer, Ed Viesturs, for instance. Viesturs swears by tough strength training to build a solid core. He trained for years without a structured weight routine and was successful but he took it to another level when Ubbe Liljeblad voluntarily took him on as a special case and he rebuilt his routine. See “Climb like Ed” on Backpacker.com for more.
Similarly, the guides in the Grand Tetons are also on board. They subscribe to the program by Rob Shaul and his staff at Mountain Athlete. It still has the flavor of being a meathead locker, but the testimonials have been strong in Alpinist and by the fact that they have expanded with associated gyms, and even certified gyms, tells us that if nothing else, the idea of combining strength training with our preparation for the hills is not so ridiculous.
Results will be seen in the quality of our climbs. I don’t meet Shaul’s high standards for strength, but I can definitely carry more, and carry more weight farther after applying similar routines than the next guy or gal that only runs and spends the professional day in the office. Bring on the pain! We’ll be ready for Mounts Washington, Hood, and Foraker!