There’s so much to learn about in fitness. Here’s a couple basics about aerobic fitness that have helped me stay Adventure Ready.
(Above: My brother Thomas pushing heavy gear up the last 1000 vertical feet of buck mountain before skiing a no fall zone.)
I love the feeling of looking up at a big peak and thinking hmm I might have enough time before work tomorrow to get up there. Or seeing a picture of a rock spire in a nearby area and making an off the cuff plan to climb it that weekend. Whatever the objective is and whether it involves skiing, running, climbing, hiking, or mountain biking, there’s something freeing about being physically able to push the limits whenever occasion permits. A couple of my coworkers call this being Adventure Ready.
Ultimately this is a big part of the reason that I got my degree in exercise physiology and sports nutrition. There’s so much to learn about in fitness, but here’s a couple basics about aerobic fitness that have helped me stay Adventure Ready.
Training for General Hiking, Mountain Running, and Backcountry Skiing
The type of aerobic training you do should depend on your goals but for the fast and light crowd, alpinists and the general hikers out there, it’s important to focus on building a solid base. This means spending the majority of your time training between 50-60% (Zone 1) of your maximum heart rate and 60-70% (Zone 2). Find your estimated maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, then multiply it by .6 or .7 to find your Zone 2 heart rate. The key here is consistency. Do your best to make time every day to build your base, It will pay big dividends in the future.
-Don’t have a heart rate monitor?
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, no problem. Just use a watch while counting your heart rate. You do this by feeling your carotid artery with your index and middle fingers. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Target-Heart-Rates_UCM_434341_Article.jsp#.Wm-WAFUkoy4
Once you know your heart rate at a given pace it becomes pretty easy to hold it or adjust it up and down by adjusting your effort or speed.
Why use the same training technique for hiking and mountain running and skiing?
Being tuned into your heart rate might be tedious compared with what you’re used to, but there’s meaning behind the madness. It probably won’t feel nearly as intense compared to what you’re used to, but its in these zones (Zone 1 and Zone 2) that your body produces the majority of its energy through an aerobic system. Your aerobic system acts as the platform for building and maximizing both low intensity stamina like hiking, and high intensity exercise, like running up a mountain.
Your aerobic system also uses fat as the main substrate to fuel this system, which gives you the benefit of not having to pack or eat as many carbs on the trail. Track coaches often use this technique of having their athletes build an aerobic base prior to the beginning of a season to maximize the speed workouts that they do later in the season. Doing low intensity exercise especially when you’re getting back into shape is also a great way to reduce the chances of injury.
Mountain Runners and Skimo
After you have a solid base built supplementing with higher intensity exercises in Zone 3 and Zone 4 will help push your fitness to a higher peak (literally and figuratively). I sometimes do speed change intervals while running or backcountry skiing where I do 1 minute of Zone 1 or Zone 2 followed by a minute of Zone 3 followed by a minute of Zone 4/5 and then back to Zone 1 over the course of 30 minutes.
My beard feeling the effects of recently finishing 5000 vert of Zone 4 heart rate on Teton Pass.
I don’t have a fancy heart rate watch though so I guess-timate the zones simply by assigning each one a pace or effort.
Zone 1 feels like recovery, Zone 3 feels like half of maximum effort, and Zone 4/5 is just below maximum effort. This isn’t as accurate without a heart rate monitor, but it does the trick for building speed and training your body to maintain a heavy workload.
There’s also quite a few training theories out there to increase Lactate Threshold allowing you to push your heart rate higher for longer when it really counts. Doing an hour of Zone 4 or intervals at Lactate Threshold and then actively recovering in Zone 1 or 2 are good places to start. In all these things it’s important to think of your training as a pyramid, spending most of your time building the base and then tapering the amount of time you spend working at high intensity.
Just trying to lose some weight?
Although the highest percentage of fat is burned in Zone 1 the overall amount of caloric fat burned increases at higher intensity. High intensity exercise also increases your metabolism long after your workout is finished. Doing one or two HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions a week can help you loose some extra weight that you’d otherwise have to pack up the trails. In the long run this won’t produce the stamina that a long day in the mountains requires but it can do the trick to burn off some extra weight.
HIIT is a series of intervals that can be done using a variety of exercises like running, biking, or even lifting weights. It’s designed to keep your metabolism high long after your session is over. The key to this is keeping high intensity high and resting in-between each interval until you’re able to achieve another bout of high intensity.
Start with doing 1 minute of high intensity and resting for two minutes, then adjust the work and recovery periods depending on how well you can maintain your intensity.
Another method is switching exercises so that you are doing an active recovery rather than purely resting. Whatever method used if you can’t maintain the high intensity reduce the length of time or increase your recovery until you can achieve your high intensity. Oh and don’t forget to warm up for 15 minutes before you start the burn.
What does your objective look like?
Most coaches increase the amount of training at a lower heart rate zone the longer the event is. In the realm of moving in the mountains many people will spend several hours in the mountains at a time, and on the weekend that length of time increases dramatically. So once again consistently building an aerobic base is usually the name of the game here, especially before you start doing higher intensity aerobic or anaerobic speed work.
My brother Thomas relishing in the reward of fresh powder after the hike up.
What’s the price your willing to pay?
Even though I love being outdoors, maintaining an Adventure Ready fitness level comes with a price. There are plenty of days I fight to drag myself out of bed to spend time outdoors, or convince myself that running in the dark after a long day of work on cold icy trails is a great idea.
Ultimately It feels great moving through the mountains and getting my blood pumping. But it becomes worth it when you get the chance and have the fitness to climb some peak you’ve always been eyeing. Or, having an amazing experience on a week-long winter backpacking/ ski trip.
Whatever your objectives, they’re always a lot more fun when you’re Adventure Ready.
Adventuring is always more fun with "friends." Exploring the Teton backcountry in late January.
Like I said this isn’t meant to give you the ins and outs of everything you need to know. Sadly, there’s not a lot out there for training specifically for mountain sports, but here’s a website dedicated to training techniques and useful training knowledge for all uphill athletes! https://www.uphillathlete.com/
Have fitness tips or tricks, let me know in the comments section. Also, feel free to drop by the shop anytime and chat with me about your fitness or adventure objectives. Would love to help you brainstorm.