Mountain Athlete Training Method

Before you read the article (or even if you don’t! 😛  ) watch this video first!  Rob Shaul of Mountain Athlete is one of the foremost training gurus in mountain sports.  He trains professional guides and athletes every day.  To read my experience training in person with Shaul, check this out.

If you’ve read my site for some time, you know that I’m a huge proponent of general fitness and conditioning to help augment the climbing specific training.  By no means is it a substitute for climbing specific training, as that is still the most important aspect.  But the reason why I harp on general fitness so much is because I think it is so overlooked in the climbing community.  I think we would have a stronger climbing community if climbers focused somewhat on general fitness, but more importantly, we would see less climbing related injuries in my opinion.

The video really got me thinking!  Granted, he focuses on skiing a bit, but it directly translates to how he trains climbers.  There is a reason why “base fitness” is the base of the fitness mountain; it’s extremely important.  Rock climbing is very taxing on our entire body, not just the forearms.  Nothing will prepare the entire body like base fitness will.  Training sport specifically for climbing will not prepare the entire body sufficiently.  The forearms (and sometimes lats/shoulders) are always the weakest link, so training sport specifically will not provide enough of a stimulus for the remainder of the body.  I’ve seen way to many personal friends with climbing related injuries.  We all know someone who has had a tweak.  It’s not always their hands or forearms that become injured.  I know many climbers who have injured their shoulders, back, abs, and even hips and knees!  I started training base fitness rigorously about a year and a half ago, and since then my body has never felt stronger.  My hips, legs, core, and shoulders all feel much stronger due to this training.  I haven’t had any injuries and I attribute that to my durability, as Shaul calls it.

Now is Shaul’s model apply to all types of climbing?  Training for bouldering, hard single pitch climbing, or long multi-pitch climbing all have specific attributes.  Obviously you wouldn’t train for these different types of climbing in the same way!  Shaul’s approach usually focuses on long multi-pitch routes in an alpine setting, due to his location in the Tetons.  I climbed in the Tetons this past summer, and it’s worlds apart from single pitch sport climbing at the New River Gorge.

In my opinion, the harder the climbing becomes (in grade), the more sport specific training you have to implement.  Waiting for the last few weeks before the season will not cut it.  However, if your goal is a route in the Tetons, or other long multi-pitch route, his approach would be ideal.  Base fitness for hard single pitch climbing, like the type that I’m currently focused on, would include equal parts sport specific and general fitness.  Your forearms need a break, so you give them a break by training the rest of your body!  Base fitness for me would focus more on strength, work capacity, and durability; less on stamina.  In fact, Mountain Athlete has revised their “base fitness” approach and they now call it “mountain fitness”, which always includes a small portion of climbing specific training.  This mountain fitness climbing portion is in addition to the sport specific training that is in the middle of the fitness mountain.

If you’ve noticed that this article is focused on base fitness more than talking about sport specific training for climbing, your right!  It’s very important and the cold months of winter are the perfect time to focus on some general fitness, making your body strong and durable.  What do I do?  Well, during the off season I still train for climbing in a sport specific manner, but the emphasis is on base fitness.  If I had to put a number on it, I would say 60% of my time is on base fitness, while 40% is spent on sport specific fitness.  This will likely last until February some time and then I will switch to approximately 70% training specifically for climbing and 30% base fitness for the upcoming Spring season.  During the off season, I will focus on strength (ie: hangboard) over endurance (4×4, moving hangs, etc.) for my sport specific training.  In season will focus more on endurance for the forearms to prepare me for hard sport climbing.

So that’s about it for now.  Perhaps an upcoming article will talk more about periodization, which I outlined briefly in the previous paragraph.  What are your thoughts?  What questions do you have?  More importantly, do you put some emphasis on base fitness??

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