LifeWorks Campfire Series: Training for the Climb - General Considerations

LifeWorks Campfire Series Training Articles:   Cardiovasuclar   |   Strength   |   Flexibility

Basic training tips for hikes, treks or climbs

LifeWorks Campfire Series: Training for the Climb - General Considerations

There are a lot of preparations you need to make when getting ready for a big hike, trek or climb: finding a guide, determining your route, travel considerations, getting your gear, the list goes on.  But how are you preparing your body for the climb?  Some considerations if ignored can be resolved last minute without any negative impact to your experience, but if you don’t take the time and expend the energy preparing your body ahead of time it can put a considerable strain on your adventure, pun intended.  With that in mind, we’ve prepared a beginners guide outlining what you need to do physically to prepare for the demands of your climb.  This is the first in a four part series.  Our first article will review some general considerations you will need to keep in mind when developing a training program.  To follow up we’ll have specific articles on Cardiovascular Training, Strength Training and Flexibility Training.  All three components of physical fitness are essential to your comfort and success.  Read on for the details to get you started on the right foot!

In fitness we talk about the ‘specificity principle’ – essentially, you need to prepare your body for the specific demands you are planning to impose on it (ie. if you want to run a marathon you need to run for longer durations in training than if you were planning to run a 5k etc.)  So, in order to determine your training program you need to consider the following:

What kind of terrain will you be climbing? Rocky unstable footing?  Ice?  Snow?  Steep terrain?

  • You’ll need to either find similar terrain to train on (at least some of the time) or look at how you can mimic it in training.  For example, if you’re going to be on very unstable rocky terrain, this puts a lot of strain on your core strength and ankle stability.  So, in your program you’ll want to consider this (check out the article on Strength for more specific ideas). 

How long will your days be? i.e. how many hours duration will you need to be prepared to maintain?

Most climbs involve longer duration requirements at a lower intensity (as opposed to training your body to go faster for a short time).  If your days will be 6-8+ hours in length, you’ll need to factor this into your training (see details about this in our article on Cardiovascular Training).

How many days in succession will you be climbing?  Will there be any rest days built into your trek?

  • It’s one thing to be able to successfully complete one long day of trekking, and a whole other to be able to handle successive long days.  This will need to be considered.  If possible, during your training you should try to do at least a couple of practice “bricks” – where you have 2 or more days in a row where you complete longer endeavours.  Even if you do the same hike a couple of days in a row, this is fine – it will simply train your body for the demands of the trek.

What kind of weather conditions will you encounter? Wind, Rain, Snow?  What clothing/ gear will you be wearing?

  • If possible you want to wear all your gear in advance.  Your cardiovascular and strength requirements and comfort in the clothes/ gear you’ll be wearing are also things your body needs practice acclimatizing to.  This can be a bit easier said than done if you’re training in warmth and heading to chilly temps, but do your best to wear all your equipment at least a few times.
  • If possible it is also really helpful to practice in the elements you expect to face, whether that is extreme heat or cold or altitude.  All of these can have impact on your cardiovascular ability, so practice in your preparations can be of significant benefit.

Keeping all of these considerations in mind, you’ll need to map out a training plan with the following general parameters (note more specific details for each parameter will come in the subsequent articles):

Frequency- how many days per week will you be training?  In general, we recommend a program which has you training 3-6 days per week.  Three is really the minimum for you to achieve appropriate conditioning and it is very important to take at least one rest day per week in order to allow your body to recover from training and become stronger.

Intensity – the intensity of your training needs to mimic the intensity you are preparing for (back to the specificity principle).  For most climbs this means developing significant endurance in both cardiovascular training and strength development.  That said there will be periods in all climbs which have a higher intensity (as you’re reaching the peak or considering altitude), so some preparation at higher intensities (think about that final push to the summit) is also beneficial.

Time – duration of your workouts is an important factor to consider. At a minimum you need to look at having at least one longer workout per week.  This workout will be a hike or a long walk/ run.  The other workouts in the week can be shorter in duration (45 minutes to one hour+ depending on your availability).

Type - for the majority of us, we need to fit our workouts in amongst our other daily life responsibilities (work, family, etc.) This means while it would be great to head out to the local trails 6 days a week, it may not be possible (nor would it be advisable).  So in general, most workouts can be done either at a gym or outside locally, and then once per week or at a minimum every other week it will be important to head off to get some actual trail time on your legs.

Another important consideration is periodization.  Before you start mapping out a workout plan, keep in mind where you’re starting.  If you currently spend more time climbing onto the couch than climbing mountains, you will want to start off slowly and give yourself more time to prepare.  In general you want to look at increases of no more than about 10% per week, and every 4 weeks or so you need to look at having an easier week.  During your “easy week” consider doing the same number of workouts (or drop 1 or 2) but do them at a lighter intensity.  For example, if you can currently comfortably walk on easy terrain for about one hour, look at increasing your longer workout (in this case a walk) by about 6 minutes in the first week, 7 the next, then 9 minutes, etc.  See a sample program below for a person starting with a base of hiking for about 2 hours and 5 days per week availability.  I’ve included one day per week of yoga in this example as a way to incorporate extra strength and flexibility training.

One final very important consideration.  Before you start any new training it is important to speak to your doctor!  If you are unsure of any of the concepts or how to tailor the program specifically to your needs speak to a qualified Fitness Professional.

Click here to view a Sample Program.


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January 04, 2012