Mont Blanc ascent training program
Make no mistake, ascending, (and descending) a mountain of some 4807m is nothing short of a great achievement. As with most notable achievements, a lot of mental and physical preparation is required.
The stresses on the body at altitude are very high and a good level of specific physical fitness is highly recommended. The body goes through some quite dramatic changes, with certain systems, primarily the cardiovascular and circulatory systems, being asked to work much harder with much less fuel!
The oxygen density decreases the higher you climb. Therefore the body is asked to perform through a high intensity workload, with an ever decreasing oxygen supply. This effects energy output, the recovery process, hydration levels, brain efficiency, sleeping patterns and obviously breathing itself!
Oxygen, along with glycogen are the main fuel supplies utilised by the brain. So by definition, the more efficient your energy systems are within the body, specifically the ones concerning oxygen transportation, (aerobic energy system), the better the brain and the body will function.
Ideally, a specific training program should be adhered to, which utilises the aerobic energy system and the anaerobic energy system (oxygen deficit energy system).
If the body is asked to work at a very high intensity, or there is an insufficient oxygen supply, it will utilise it’s anaerobic energy system. This system taps into glycogen stores carried by the blood around the body. If this fuel source depletes, unlike a machine which at this point would shut down, it turns to it’s protein stores. Protein is the main nutrient required to re-build and repair the body. By using these stores the body is effectively eating itself!
Therefore, it is a good idea to increase the aerobic energy systems efficiency and capability, to delay the inevitable use of the anaerobic energy system for as long as possible.
The exercise should be as specific to climbing/ mountaineering as possible. It should utilise primarily the aerobic energy system and use the specific muscle groups associated with ascending and descending.
Hill walking/running, climbing the stairs, the versa climber machine, the step machine and the treadmill are all good exercises that will help improve a climbers fitness level.
The 6 week training program should be adhered to as closely as possible to maximise the improvements. The mainstay of the cardiovascular training should be within the individual’s own aerobic training zone.
There are 2 recognised ways to gauge whether you are training within this zone; the first is to do a heart rate equation:
- 220 minus your age. This will give you an estimated maximum heart rate in “Beats Per Minute”. EG; 220 – 32 = 188bpm.
- Take this figure (188bpm), and work out 65% and 85%: IE; 188bpm x 65% = 122bpm, 188bpm x 85% = 160bpm.
- These 2 figures are the top and bottom of what’s known as your aerobic training zone.
In summary, a 32 year old, should be aiming to get their heart rate between 122 – 160bpm to effectively work within their aerobic training zone.
The second way to gauge the training zone is to monitor your own breathing. A less accurate method but still useful, especially for climbers! If during exercise your breathing rate is fast but controlled (IE: you can string a sentence together), it is a safe bet that you are working within your aerobic training zone.
6 week training cycle:
Monday: 20-30 mins varied, moderate intensity cardio session.
EG: Incline walking, then 10 mins on a step machine or an exercise bike.
The cardio session should be followed by some specific leg exercises, squats, leg presses, leg extensions, step-ups. Core strength training should follow with abdominal crunches (sit-ups) and back extensions included. Finish with a 5 min warm down on a cardio machine or slow walk and then a full stretch.
Tuesday: 30 mins Hill work.
EG: Incline walking (preferably outside). Followed by core strength training (crunches and back extensions). Finish with a warm down and stretch.
Wed: 40 mins Interval Training.
EG: Intermittent moderate to high intensity cardio training (walking on an incline followed by jogging on the flat and then back to incline walking and so on. (Warm down and stretch).
Thursday: 30-40 mins Hill work.
EG: Incline walking (preferably outside). This incline session should be the steepest gradient of the week. Try to keep a steady pace and monitor your breathing to keep it controlled. NB: When walking on a steep incline try to place as much of your foot down onto the ground as possible. This will help disperse the load evenly through the muscles of the legs. (Warm down and stretch).
Friday: 30 mins varied, moderate intensity cardio session.
This session should be different to Mondays by varying the order of the exercises. EG: if on Monday the session started with an incline walk and then onto an exercise bike, swap them around so that you begin on the bike and finish with an incline walk. (Remember to warm down and stretch).
Saturday: 30-40 mins Hill work. (Outside).
This session should be of a moderate, controlled pace. Preferably outside. If you have your boots available for this session, it would be advisable to wear them. This will help break them in, whilst also helping you to get use to the feeling of walking in a pair of heavy boots! (Warm down and stretch).
Weeks 2 – 4
Weeks 2-4 should be the same as week 1. Progression and improvement must be continued by constantly increasing the speeds, distances, levels and duration. The varied sessions should stay varied by consistently changing the order of the exercises. The hill sessions should increase in gradient and duration.
Week 5 should consist of mainly hill work.
Monday: 30-40 mins Hill work (Preferably outside).
This session should be at a moderate to fast pace. The incline should be quite taxing as well. Try to ensure a steady pace is adhered to and breathing is controlled. (Warm down and stretch).
Tuesday: 30-40 mins Hill work.
Same as Monday.
Wednesday: 40 mins interval training.
No hill work on this session!!! Try to switch between fast cardio work to slow. IE: Running – jogging, jogging – walking, fast cycling – slow cycling. (Warm down and stretch).
Thursday: 30-40 mins Hill work.
Same as Monday/Tuesday.
Friday: 30-40 mins varied, moderate intensity cardio session.
As before, try to vary the order and where possible the program if exercising on a machine. (Warm down and stretch.
Saturday and Sunday: Off.
Week 6 should contain mainly light cardio sessions as to preserve and maintain energy stores and levels built up during weeks 1-5. Each session should be of about 30-40 mins and be of a varied, moderate intensity. Jogging, walking, cycling or rowing are ideal. During these sessions pay particular attention to your breathing patterns and heartrate. Try to keep the intensity such that you don’t reach an anaerobic state, IE out of breath. Also allow enough time for a good warm down and thorough stretch, so as to promote flexibility in the muscles.
This training program can be joined at any stage, depending on an individuals own level of fitness.