Whether your trip involves trekking, mountaineering, or technical climbing, your training program should involve the following: Alpine-specific training (via hiking with a pack and specific skills development pertaining to your trip)
- Strength Training (via free weights, a weighted backpack, bodyweight exercises, or gym machines)
- Cardiovascular Training (via spinal-loading aerobic training)
- Alpine Specific Training
During your training, progressively ramp up your speed, duration (time or mileage), and pack weight of weekly training hikes to give you alpine-specific conditioning that cannot be matched by any other type of training. Hike steep outdoor trails, gradually increasing your pack weight with each outing until you are at your target trip pack weight. A reasonable target for multi-day trips would be to ascend 3,500 feet in a 2-2.5 hour period, or roughly 1,750 vertical feet in an hour, with your target trip pack weight. In early season, you might start out with a 15# pack on hikes that gain up to 1,500’ elevation over 6-8 miles round trip; each hike try increasing the total elevation gain, distance, and/or speed, then begin adding several pounds per trip until you are comfortable with your target trip pack weight. When you can gain 3,500 feet with your target pack weight, start to decrease rest breaks and increase speed. Include overnight trips in your training regimen to get accustomed to successive days of sustained work with little to no recovery time.
Training with free weights, a weighted backpack, bodyweight exercises, or gym machines will help you build overall strength, particularly in the core (lower back and abdominals), upper back, and legs. Developing strength in your upper back and shoulders will help you with such tasks as carrying a pack and using ice axe, ice tools or trekking poles effectively. The calves, hips, quads, hamstrings and glutes are all involved in ascending and descending alpine routes, and strength endurance is required in all areas of the legs and hips. Technical climbing will require a solid foundation in upper body strength training as well. Training primarily with free weights will give you the functional, alpine-specific strength that will help you most in the mountains. In early phases of strength conditioning, focus on building a foundation for harder workouts, starting with 2-3 sets of each exercise for 8-10 repetitions. As you continue to train, you will shift focus to building strength through lower repetitions (5-8) to build maximum strength. Finally for the last 4-6 weeks before your trip start increasing the repetitions to build strength endurance and mental and physical stamina; each phase varies the weight used, repetitions completed, number of sets, and rest interval. Most important in strength training is to be sure you maintain proper form at all times in order to prevent injury or strain.
Activities you can add several times per week to supplement your alpine-specific pack carrying training include spinal-loading exercises such as trail running, walking on an inclined treadmill, doing stair stepping or stepmill training, working on an elliptical machine, or walking up and down hills or stairs with a weighted pack. In early season, include at least 3-4 sessions of 30-45 minutes of sustained activity at a moderate intensity, and gradually build to 4-5 aerobic sessions of sustained effort for an hour or more as you approach your trip. If you will be at high altitude for portions of your trip, include interval training in your weekly program. To do this, find a steep hill or sets of stairs that will allow you to climb steadily for several minutes. Push as hard as you can while you go up, then recover coming down, and repeat for anywhere from 30-45 minutes. For hill walks, add weight to your pack on a regular basis until you can carry slightly more than your target pack weight (referred to as over-weight training) the whole time. Participate in as many hikes or climbs that take you above 8,000’ as you possibly can, in order to learn how your body responds to high altitude.
This training information brought to you by Aconcagua Express Expeditions conditioning partner, Body Results. For more conditioning information, products and services and special pricing for AEE’s clients go to www.bodyresults.com/aee