Mountain fit.

Mountain fit….fit for mountain.

Specific and general fitness training for hiking.
In this section i want to talk about the most important personal and physical element of our proposed hiking trip in the High Sierra mountains and exploration hiking in the Utah canyons, that being the requirement for a high level of physical fitness.
Right now, it’s clear to me that i’m not fit enough for a demanding hiking trip in the High Sierra mountains nor is it a given that i can be : what it is, is a possibility that i might become fit enough given time to train for the trip. As it is the trip isn’t going to happen next week !, or for that matter this year ; it might though happen next autumn which gives me 15 months to train, while at the same time doing the route planning and working out our new kit load-out.

–                                                                                       While it’s fun to play with the ‘Gucci’ kit it’s a lot more important to be out there pounding the trail and humping the weight.
For the first time ever iv’e come to a much higher resolution definition of what the task entails and what that means in terms of training and preparation : during my walk today i think i worked out what i need to do , how to do it and in what kind of time frame i would need….thus almost a ‘SMART’ plan emerged from my two and a half hour easy walk today.     In brief then i need to train for 4 specific ‘factors’, lets call them : distance, load and terrain, and then also ‘general’ fitness to enhance the other aspects so…

Train to walk/hike distance.Train to walk with load.
Train to hike over long ascents and descents a semi-arid climate.
Increase my general fitness….although there are much more specific goals within that.
Simply put… train to carry a big load over high and rugged mountains for several days at a time.

Now, some might say “isn’t that just going for a walk” and therefore “is there any need to train for it” and even “is it even possible to train specifically for those factors” ?. Well, to the first i would say go pick up a 40 Lb rucksack and carry it over mountainous terrain for 7 or 8 hours every day for as many days !, once you have tried that then feel free to comment and critique. To the other comments, these are all things i have heard said, then consider that the experts at carrying load over distance are people like the Royal Marines and even they don’t expect trainees to pick up a full load and ‘yomp’ with it in week 1 of training : in fact their training, of initially fit young guys is staged and progressive.

As i have said before i’m a kinda-sorta has-been mountaineer, rock climber and long distance hiker and iv’e been to the High Sierra before except that it’s now a long time since i did that and i’m the wrong side of one knee replacement and lots of back problems : equally though i’m on the right side of having been a fat bastard !.

–         From hardly hiking-walking at all 6 months ago i now walk/hike every day, often twice and frequently with a heavily loaded pack in a form of training called rucking. Now, 6 months into the weight loss from low carbohydrate  eating coupled with intermittent fasting and a moderate weight training regime i have at least some degree of base fitness…..but not enough fitness and not the specific fitness i need.

As i said earlier i now have a higher resolution idea of the task in hand and the beginnings of a training regime that should hoepfully give me the ability to do the job : hike distance, hike over mountainous terrain and carry load. Now, it’s time to take all of that to the next level of detail thus : “how much distance, how much load, what kind of ascents and descents” ?. Today for example i walked my ‘long’ route but that was only 2 and a half hours on easy terrain with a 15 lb daypack….last week i did a short, brutal carry of 50 lbs up a steep hill but that whole session was only an hour and only has 2 short ascents…..good training though.

So here’s the task in greater detail : broken down into the primary factors of distance, load and terrain.

1. Distance, having looked at the routes i am going to specify that i need to be able to hike for 5 hours a day, every day, for 5-6 days back to back. In the mountains we will move at between 2 and 3 miles per hour on average and that matches my distance target of being able to cover 10 miles a day most days. In practice it can be less early on when carrying a full pack, less when long ascents are the order of the day, but more later on when the load is less due to having eaten most of the food !.

2. Load, long gone are the days when i would want to carry a 40 lb load all day. I’m aiming for a total maximum starting weight of around 30-35 lbs and that means having a low ‘base’ weight : that’s the kit before adding the food, fuel and water. Weight will be a critical factor which is why we are going to invest in lighter equipment, to minimise what we carry ie essentials only and that to give us the weight budget to carry food… is just fuel !

3.Terrain (and environment). There’s parts of this that i can train for and at least 2 others that will be very limited , i hope readers can catch me out on that ! : meanwhile here’s a couple of notes about the terrain problem and what i can do to prepare for it. The High Sierra mountains are much higher and involve much longer hiking distances than anything we have in the UK. The daily work will often onvolve long ascents and descents although mainly on graded trails so the physical task comes down to that of gaining and losing height while carrying load. While some think that it’s the height gain that creates hard work….well, yes, it does, but it’s also doing the descents that can be painful. The physical mechanism of that is that during long descents , muscle fibres have to stretch under load : in weight training that’s called the eccentric phase of muscle contraction and that’s the one that is more likely to be responsible for the temporary muscle damage and DOMS ( delayed onset muscle soreness).

Each of the 3 primary factors, distance , load and terrain (ascent and descent) can be trained for , either independently or with a second factor or all at once….although the latter would be too much and too soon . My training plan is to start with single factor training, just as i am doing now and then progress to 2 factor training and only after a few months of that , to push it all the way. From this idea of training ‘factors’ comes my basic plan for specific training and the general fitness training which will support that and it looks like each stage should be about 3-4 months.

First stage, single factor training plus general fitness training.
This is what i am already doing and by chance have already been doing for the last 6 months so my plan now is to extend this for another 3 months just training one factor per training session something like this.

Monday. ‘Leg’ day : based on barbell squats, pistol squats , lunges etc plus a general workout. Monday. Single factor training : terrain….essentially hill work.
Tuesday. Single factor training : distance…just go for several hours hike with my daypack.
Wednesday. Shoulders and arms day, based on chin’s, press-ups, dips, overhead press. Wednesday single factor training : easy hike day, recovery from long hiking day.
Thursday. Single factor training : distance day…..once again, go for a longer hike.
Friday . ‘Back’ day, based on deadlifts (hardest day of week) plus whole body workout. Single factor training : load carrying or ‘rucking’ day.
Saturday and Sunday…..just go for easy walks.

In the next part of this series i’m going to talk about the specific exercises within a general fitness regime that can help to improve ‘mountain’ fitness.

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  1. Just caught up with your blog after many months of shit happening. A different direction and a great goal to work towards — good luck with the adventure Steve and congratulations on winning the battle of the bulge.

    You know all this anyway but it never hurts to look at how someone who has, “been there and done that” in the High Sierra goes about things. And I’m not talking about myself, unfortunately:

    He has managed a base weight well below 40 lbs.

    I was a traditional “heavy miserablist” in my youth, slogging along the South West Coast path and the mud of the Pennine Way here in the UK, experiencing the delights of the Tour Du Mont Blanc in France, Italy and Switzerland and even traversing the Pindos in Greece. I also spent many years living and working outdoors and on foot in the mountains and rain forests on the north coast of BC in Canada, spring, summer and autumn. I’ve moved onto a more minimalist and lightweight approach now, though by no means “ultralight.” It will be of no surprise to you then when I say I’m more of a tarp and bivvy bag kind of guy these days but I do appreciate the value of a tent in the mountains. Saying that, I would be tempted to use something like this in the high country:

    I also rarely cook on a multi-day trip, relying on high fat foodstuffs for nutrition e.g. cheese, nuts, salami, dark chocolate etc., rather than expensive freeze dried meals or dehydrated ingredients. As a concession to civility I do have a small brew kit comprising a titanium mug and a pop can meths stove with a few hundred ml of fuel in an old mouthwash bottle — you get the idea I’m sure 😉

    My base weight is about two thirds of that given in the link above and I still get a dry, warm and comfortable night’s sleep in most conditions. None of my gear is very Gucci either, as you can tell from my brew kit, 😉 If you shop around there is lightweight but quality kit to be had that does the job at a much lower price compared to the very high quality manufacturers like Hilleberg and Nordisk. Six Moon Designs are a good example and there are plenty of others, including Alpkit here in the UK. Sure, the less expensive alternatives won’t last a lifetime but they will last what I’ve got left in me 😉

    I’ll shut up now. I’m very interested to see how you go with all this!


    1. Hey it’s good to hear from you again, i was a bit concerned when i hadn’t heard from you in the blog. We’ve been out in the High Sierra before and learnt a lot about hiking out there ; that’s where the load/distance/terrain problem comes in. I’m aiming for semi-light rather than Ultralight , just getting in the first bits of new kit. Food is going to be interesting because i’m now essentially a low-carb/keto head to get my weight down.


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