A Visit to Mountain Athlete
During my recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had the pleasure to visit Mountain Athlete. What an incredible experience! Much of my training methodologies have been inspired by Mountain Athlete and I will continue to hone my training to mimic their programming in the future. Before I get too far, if you aren’t familiar with Mountain Athlete, visit their site and browse around. Much of their information and the reason they train the way they do is all on the main site for free. Head Coach Rob Shaul runs the private gym in Jackson. His clients include professional rock climbers, ice climbers, skiers, mountain guides, and other mountain athletes. Shaul also runs a sister company called Military Athlete out of the same gym.
Mountain Athlete programming is extremely intelligently designed. They combine workouts that focus on strength, work capacity, and stamina with sport specific exercises for the athlete. For someone looking in, it may at first look like a Crossfit gym. However, the workouts are designed specifically for the athlete to peak when their sport’s season begins. Think of Mountain Athlete like Crossfit, but much more honed for the specific needs of a mountain athlete combined with sport specific workouts. Many professional climbers and skiers workout at Mountain Athlete. Coach Rob makes these athletes very strong but durable and healthy at the same time. His goal is to work them in the gym so they can excel in the mountains. When in the mountains, the athletes can focus on the technical aspects because they have been so well trained by Coach Rob.
I was able to go out to Mountain Athlete twice while I was there. The first session I joined two Exum Mountain Guides for a climbing workout. Actually, one of the athletes was Jessica, our climbing guide that I mentioned in the previous post. Our workout started off alternating between step ups on a box and climbing on what they call the “tech board”. The tech board is a bouldering wall with many wood handholds at approximately a 30 degree overhang. We would just hang on the tech board, climbing and shaking when needed while the other athlete did step ups. The second workout involved: a dumbbell exercise called man makers, toes to bar, and running 400 meters. This one left me gasping due to the altitude difference and dry air in Jackson. Coach Rob is very much like a drill sergeant at times. He’s all business. This style of coaching is my favorite. He kicks your ass! I was kipping during the toes to bar and he looked at me and yelled “Don’t fucking kip, this ain’t Crossfit! Start from zero!”
Our last workout involved climbing and shaking as needed on HIT strips on a 45 degree wall. We didn’t use the HIT strips in the prescribed way by Eric Horst, the designer of HIT strips. We simply hung on for an extended period of time in order to work endurance. You get pumped silly hanging on to this angle of wall! We combined the HIT strips with weighted sit ups. Our last workout was for shoulder health and durability. It involved reverse wrist curls and external rotation of the shoulder.
The above video was the workout the skiers did while I did the rock workout. You can hear Coach Rob in the background for much of the video. His dedication to his athletes is awesome.
While we were there, a ski strength session was occurring. These skiers were getting put through the wringer for sure. Their day started with heavy back squats and progressed to work capacity workouts. I thought one comment by Coach was hysterical. One skier was having a tough time during the workout and he looked at her and said “Do you want to be a model or a skier?! Look at me when you say it!” Fantastic! Hahaha.
The second session I went to was an ice climbing session as there weren’t any climbing sessions that day. I worked out with two amazing ice climbers during that session. Our workout started with some core specific work with ice tools. We moved on to ice climbing boulder problems in the bouldering cave. Rob agreed to let me do HIT strip laps instead of the ice problems. Then we did a short, work capacity workout involving kettlebell swings, kettlebell squats, and renegade rows. This one definitely got the heart pumping. I finished with more hit strip laps while the ice climbers used their ice tools on a steep wall with door hinges they use as holds. Think a HIT strip wall for ice climbers!
The above video shows the ice boulder problems the other two ice climbers did while I was on the HIT strips.
I truly believe Mountain Athlete is one of the best facilities with one of the best coaches in the country. Coach Rob doesn’t believe that the best way to train for a sport is to just do the sport. “Just climb” is not the best answer for him. He feels that mountain athletes need a foundation of strength and conditioning in which to build their mountain skills. Strength, conditioning, stamina, and durability/mobility are all crucial aspects. When you train in this manner, you will have a more balanced body and will be healthier overall, avoiding injury. Many climbers become injured due to the muscular imbalances that they have, a result of “just climbing”.
I wish I lived in Jackson so I could train at Mountain Athlete. However, they offer programs online that you can buy and work through. They have many customized workout programs for various different sports. You can also become a member and have access to all their online material and archived workouts. So check out their website, do one of the free workouts available online, maybe buy a program that interests you, and get training Mountain Athlete style!