Expeditions by Janet Belarmino
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Palawan  Is land  hopping  from  El Nido  to  Coron  &  Himalayan Expeditions

Belarmino Ventures-

Interval Training for Altitude Climbing

Body Results.com

Q: How often do you recommend interval training for people training for altitude climbs, and why? How do I incorporate intervals into my regular training program?


A: First of all, by "interval training" we're talking about a training methodology that allows you to elevate your heart rate into the upper ends of your Target Heart Rate (THR) zone and then work at a lower level for recovery. "Intervals" are repeated segments of high intensity effort and lower intensity recovery pieces, and can be done by running up hills and jogging back down, briskly climbing up hilly terrain with a weighted pack and then walking back down, or cycling through a set Interval program on a machine such as the advanced-technology Elliptical trainers or step mills. This training technique prepares you for the challenge of working near or at the Anaerobic Threshold (AT); however, be aware that you won't be able to sustain that higher level of heart rate for any substantial length of time. At high altitude, where there is less oxygen, you may sometimes feel like you're struggling to catch your breath. If you have trained your body to deal with such stresses at lower elevations, it's likely that you'll be more comfortable with those stresses on a high mountain.


For the first few months of your training program, it's really not as important to include the interval training as it will be once you're better conditioned (after 3-4 months or so) and nearing the time for your climbing or hiking activity. Since interval training is quite intense on the body, we recommend only doing such training once, maybe maximum twice a week during the month or two prior to your climb. Focus primarily on increasing muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance .

To incorporate intervals into your program, place them on a shorter cardiovascular day, perhaps preceding a legs strength day and after a medium length cardio day. Warm up thoroughly for 5-15 minutes to ensure increased blood flow to the large muscles in the legs and core. You may also want to stretch before continuing, or feel free to wait to stretch until after you've completed the intervals, when you'll want to try to remove any lactic acid build-up accumulated in the muscles. For your first interval day, try something fairly tame such as walking (with lightly weighted pack) or jogging up a fairly steep hill for a minute, trying to get your heart rate 15-20 beats higher than your normal training number. Return to starting point at a comfortable pace so the heart rate drops down to base rate, and repeat until you've completed 5-6 hills, or 6 complete intervals. The next time you try it, you can 1) add a hill, 2) try to go faster to get your heart rate higher, or 3) add a little weight to the pack. Try to work your way up to 30 minutes of intense intervals, and then make sure you cool down and stretch following that workout.


For those enthusiasts who like to be prepared to climb anything that might come their way year round, you may want to include 2-4 interval workouts a month as maintenance, to keep your body adapted to working near the anaerobic threshold. Just be aware of your body and what it can handle; if you sense you're 1) approaching burnout, 2) getting tired earlier in the intervals than usual, or 3) feeling any discomfort in your body beyond the usual muscle fatigue, you may want to back off a bit and allow yourself time to recover, to avoid overtraining and injury.

Evaluate Your Training Program
Fitness Polygon

The eight sport-specific characteristics that need to be considered when developing your own workout program include Strength, Speed-Strength, Speed, Stamina, Structure, Skill, Suppleness, and Strength-endurance. This model has been developed by Dr. Mel C. Siff and is discussed in his book, Supertraining (1999). Each outdoor activity can be evaluated for how much of each of the eight elements you need to include in your workouts. What are each of the eight?


Elements Defined

Strength simply refers to how strong you need to be for optimal performance in a given outdoor activity. Functional (sport-specific) strength can best be developed by using body resistance, free weights, cables, etc. Speed-strength (or what we later refer to as Power) can be developed by doing plyometrics, medicine ball tosses, Olympic-style lifts, or "dynos," dynamic moves in climbing. Speed refers to how quickly you perform a given movement--sprinters, for example, would include a larger amount of speed training than a marathon runner. We've chosen to label Stamina as Cardiovascular endurance. Structure refers to body size and shape. For example, climbers and gymnasts want to maximize functional strength while minimizing muscle size and extra bulk, while bodybuilders want large muscles but don't seem to care so much about how strong those muscles are. Skill refers to technique and mastery of coordination. Suppleness is the same as Flexibility on our chart, the amount needed in a chosen activity. Finally, strength endurance measures how long the muscular system can last in a particular activity. If you assemble these on a Fitness Polygon, below, and then determine how much of each type of training you need for your sport, you can then make sure you include components of each in your periodized plan.

Fitness Polygon

To help you get a better understanding of how this Fitness Polygon works for your particular event, we've created two examples within the broad category of "Climbing." There are actually many specialties within climbing: alpine, sport, glacier, rock, ice, mixed, waterfall, bouldering--you get the picture. Each activity has a slightly different profile. To further complicate things, if you are someone who wants to do a little of everything, you will have an interesting challenge balancing training components. (That's where your outdoor conditioning coach comes in handy, for we do all of that for you!)

Glacier Climbing

This first example includes an evaluation of the components involved in climbing the major Cascade volcanoes such as Hood, Baker, Rainier, Glacier, St. Helens, or Mt. Adams. These climbs all involve substantial gain in elevation, carrying relatively heavy backpacks (up to 60 pounds in some cases), for long periods of time. While there is some technical skill involved in crevasse rescue, the actual physical skill required for preparation for such an activity is very low compared to that involved in activities such as rock climbing, gymnastics, or kayaking. What is needed most is cardiovascular endurance (hence the "high" mark), or the ability to keep moving for several hours at a time, and strength endurance (another "high"), or the ability of the muscles (particularly the core, or torso, and legs) to carry what feels like a substantial amount of weight for an extended period of time. Someone whose main interest is backpacking, hiking, or scrambling might have a similar profile. These people should focus primarily on muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance, with lesser (but never ZERO) amounts of maximal strength, power, speed, body size, skill or flexibility training.

Sport Climbing

The Fitness Polygon of the Sport Climber will look substantially different, below, and will depend on how accomplished a climber wishes to become. Climbers need substantially more flexibility training in the hips, shoulders, and core, in order to complete complex moves such as stemming in almost full splits, though not as much as gymnasts or ballerinas, hence the medium rating. Sport climbers need to spend a lot more time (at least initially) honing skills such as foot work, working with different finger and pinch grips, and various climbing techniques. Instead of spending hours on a stairmaster, sport climbers may opt to develop arm, back, and finger strength endurance and core strength. Once advanced climbers have enough of a foundation built up in strength, they will then begin to include dynamic moves in the bouldering caves or on tough climbs in order to increase power so they can advance to more difficult routes. Competitive, elite climbers who compete nationally or internationally may even throw in additional strength training or an element of speed.

Integrating the model with your own experience

Take a look at your outdoor activity of choice or get an outdoor conditioning coach at Body Results to help you. If you are a marathon runner and you spend 3 hours a week doing yoga, you may not be optimizing your training time. However, you may be doing yoga for reasons other than to assist with your running, which is certainly fine--don't let this model be the end-all, be-all for your training, merely a guide. If you are a middle distance runner who has trouble running up hills, and you are not doing any strength training or speed work AT ALL, then you can immediately see what you need to add to your training program to get better results. If you are a rower struggling with lowering your ergometer splits but could row all day long, your cardiovascular training is not the issue, it's the power, strength and speed variables that need to be manipulated. Doing longer and longer pieces will only waste your valuable time if your specific goal is to be a faster rower.