Last summer, we worked with Alex Thomas to help him achieve a Snowdon 6 Ways Challenge to raise money for his local Southampton Hospital Charity. What an excellent day we had and Alex was super prepared and fit enough to walk up and down Snowdon, using each of the main paths, in one long day:
Watkin Path (up)
Miners Path (down)
Pyg Track (up)
Snowdon Ranger Path (down)
Rhyd Ddu Path (up)
Llanberis Path (down)
Alex is also an enthusiastic Personal Trainer and founder of his own company, ATFIT Coaching, and is really keen to help people achieve their own personal fitness and training goals. If you have any specific training questions, we’d be pleased to recommend Alex’s advice – get in touch!
We also asked if Alex would contribute to our blog, with training tips for climbing a mountain. A lot of people ask us for advice, when they are preparing to Climb Snowdon, for example – so we hope Alex’s information here will be of help…
Climbing a mountain is a massive lifelong achievement for most people. Whether it’s Scafell Pike or Mount Everest the sense of achievement is second to none. Before you carry out your climb there is an obvious level of preparedness that you will want to obtain. I’m no expert in mountaineering so I will leave that to the mountaineers but what I do know some things about is physical activity, training and nutrition so this article will cover those three aspects in a condensed format, for the reader’s sake.
Firstly, depending on your current fitness levels depends on how hard you will find the climb. However, everyone can climb a mountain! With the right training and guidance, anyone should be able to achieve their goals of conquering their desired mountain. It may not be easy in places but that is when your will and your mental toughness kicks in and makes you finish what you started.
Training to climb a mountain should include lots of weighted lunges and squats to improve your core stability, lower back strength and of course leg strength. In my opinion these two exercises are the most transferable to climbing the mountain itself. Plus the more lower limb strength you can develop before the climb the easier the climb will be. Another reason why I choose these two exercises is because they can be performed in and out of the gym so there is no excuse of “I don’t have enough time” because these exercises can be conducted in the comfort of your own home. Try doing a circuit while you watch TV in the evening, do some squats while you wait for the kettle to boil or just simply sit in the bottom of the squat every time the adverts come on. These are all great ways to incorporate more physical activity specific to helping you climb a mountain by developing lower body strength, without taking too much time out of your day.
Another great way to train for any sort of event with a gradient involved is to do exactly that, use a gradient. There’s no point training on flat ground and then expect to climb thousands of feet in the air, it simply doesn’t translate. For beginners, I would suggest just walking up hills to get used to walking on a gradient and to become more comfortable with an elevated heart rate. For more intermediate’s I would suggest to try jogging up and down the hill. This again helps themselves accustom to an elevated heart rate and the feeling of lactic acid accumulating in their legs. Finally, for people who already have advanced levels of fitness I would suggest running up the hill carrying a weighted bag. This will be much harder than they will have to do on the day as they will not be running up the mountain. However, the higher you can push your lactate threshold the less stops you will need on your climb because your body will be accustomed to the level of fatigue you will be experiencing.
The best style of training suited to preparing you to climb a mountain is functional movements. Therefore, I would advise against doing single joint action exercises in the gym such as leg extensions or leg curls. Take your training outside and be creative. Pick something up and carry it to a line, drop it, then run back. Do walking lunges in the park. Circuits of squats, lunges and burpees. These are all great ways to get you accustomed to moving your bodies which will prepare you for your climb.
Mobility is another issue that needs to be addressed, especially in modern society where we can have a tendency to be too sedentary for long periods of time. If your muscles are too tight it will reduce your range of motion (ROM) and can lead to an increased risk of muscular strain, tears and poor posture. I would advise frequent stretching to help relax your muscles and reverse the shortening effect that training has on them. Especially due to your workout volume being increased in preparation for your climb.
Another major factor in the climb is nutrition. Whether you like it or not nutrition is going to play a big role in how good you feel on the day. Remember to stay hydrated! Take plenty of water as you will lose more than you realise in sweat, trust me I know. Many people believe that when doing events such as climbing a mountain that carbohydrates are the only way to go, so they rely too heavily on carbohydrate sources and then wonder why they are fatiguing after only a couple of hours. This is good, to an extent. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source however your glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates in the muscles and the liver) will be fully depleted after approximately 90-120mins of moderate intensity exercise. As a result of this, your energy levels will drop and you will feel like you have nothing left in the tank. I would suggest taking some fat sources with you as well such as some nuts, a peanut butter sandwich or even some chocolate. Dietary fat is a great source of sustained energy as it is metabolized at a slower rate which in turn provides longer lasting energy. Contrary to people’s beliefs dietary fats can be your best friend on long events such as climbing a mountain, it will give you sustained energy allowing you to keep going for longer periods of time.
Something that is not touched on very frequently is mind set. People underestimate the power of the mind. Whether you are doing it as part of a group or lone wolfing it, a positive mind set can will you through any physical or mental barriers that stand in your way. Remember to stay positive and stay focused on your goal of conquering the mountain and of course enjoy yourself.
If I had to give three tips of advice to take home with you about training to climb a mountain it they would be:
- Make your training functional and vary the terrains you train on.
- Don’t forget your fats.
- Stay hydrated.
These are just three simple tips that can make the climb significantly easier by giving you a good level of preparedness before and during the climb.