3. How to Make a Bombproof Mount Rainier Training Plan
Catching up on the Mount Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge? Find all the posts here.
So yesterday, you started to plan your Mt. Rainier climb. Which means shit’s probably starting to feel REAL! If you’ve got any lingering planning questions, be sure to hit me up in the Facebook Group or by email.
Today, we’re going to move into one of my favorite topics, and one that we’re going to cover in detail in this series.
Let’s start with some bad news: the world is rife with truly terrible training advice for mountaineers.
To illustrate, here’s a summary of the training lecture from my high-altitude mountaineering class.
- Lift six days a week
- Cardio seven days a week (even on your “rest” day)
- Workout 2–3 hours each day
- If you don’t do it, you’re an irresponsible teammate who’s probably going to die and orphan your children
Now before you freak the eff out like I did, let me reassure you that this is NOT how you should train for Mt. Rainier! Seriously, it’s more like what you do if you’re a sponsored athlete and training for Mt. Everest.
To put it in perspective, during my peak training cycle (which only lasts a few weeks), I usually average about 12 training hours a week. Not because 12 is a magic number, but because it’s all I can manage and still hold down a job and have friends. And that’s just my peak volume. For most of the training rest of the season, I do less.
And here’s a secret: I know people who have climbed big mountains on way less training volume than that.
So today, let’s talk about smart training.
Basically, this means starting slow, building up gradually, listening to your body, and making adjustments when you need to.
Let’s start with some basic training principles. And then we’ll use them to determine our starting volume and make a training plan.
Ready? Let’s go!
Basic Mountaineering Training Principles
Here are some guidelines that will help you train safely and get results.
Remember, undertraining is always better than overtraining
No, this doesn’t mean you can slug out and rely on positive affirmations to magic your ass up the mountain. But when it comes to training pace and volume, do be conservative in your decision-making.
It can be tempting to double up on workouts if you miss one, or climb a demanding route early in the season. But if you get your body into a state of constant state of stress and fatigue, many bad things can happen:
- Your training progress will plateau (or even reverse)
- Your immune system will weaken
- You’re more likely to get hurt
- Training burnout and apathy become real risks
So when in doubt, go easy. Also, listen to your body and slow down if you’re experiencing pain, significant fatigue, or emotional distress.
One good way to keep a pulse on yourself is to log and grade your workouts. (More on that in a minute.)
For training to work, you have to do it regularly. The more consistent you are, the faster you’ll progress.
Note that I said consistent, not perfect. If you’re doing at least 90 percent of your planned monthly training volume, that’s probably good enough. So don’t pee your pants if you get a flat tire and can’t make it to the gym.
A good rule of thumb is to increase your total training time by no more than 10 percent a week. And that doesn’t mean you have to go up 10 percent every week. If you are feeling tired during your workouts, try a 5 percent increase or repeat a week. Ramping up your weekly training volume too fast can slow your progress (and can even reverse it).
You heard it hear first. Lying on the couch binge watching old episodes of Dance Moms makes you strong! (At least during training season.)
Think of it this way. Workouts actually weaken you. They’re tearing up your muscles and stressing your cardiovascular system.
But when you take a nice, hearty rest after your workout, you’ll recover to your previous fitness level … and even get a little stronger.
So be sure to take your Vitamin R during training. It’s just as important as working out.
The best training plan alternates periods of gradually increasing activity with periods of rest. For mountaineering, this means raising your weekly training volume (gradually!) for three weeks or so, then taking an easy rest week. (Usually about 50–75 percent of the previous week’s volume.)
Cycles are great, because you can use them to work around unavoidable life events. Gotta fly to Oklahoma for Cousin Suzy’s big fat wedding? Make that a rest week (even if it means making one cycle a little longer or shorter).
This means training in different phases depending on how close you are to your goal. Because if you trained all the time like you were about to climb Rainier in a month, your hips and knees would blow out and you’d probably lose your mind.
We’ll talk about periodicity as it relates to endurance and strength training in future posts. But in general, it looks like:
- Rest phase, off season
- General conditioning phase
- Strength and power phase
- Endurance phase
- Taper (rest) phase
- Goal (Mount Rainier)
- Maintenance phase (optional)
- Rest phase
Where to Start?
One of the hardest things to figure out when you’re planning a program is your starting training volume. Here are some guidelines:
- First, are you working out right now? How many hours a week? If you’re not sure, take a week and log your activities. Write down the minutes of cardio and strength training. This gives you a good baseline to increase from.
- Did you train last year? And if so, did you log your training time? Looking back at what worked in the past can give you a good idea where you should be starting.
What if I’m doing nothing right now?
If you’re reading this in winter, there’s a good chance you’re in your off season. Or maybe you’re new to training. (Good for you!)
If your current volumes are low to nonexistent, take about eight weeks for general conditioning before you start training for power and endurance.
Here’s what it looked like for me in 2018, after taking December 2017 off:
- Overall Volume: I started at about 3 hours of training per week and tried to ramp up by 10 percent each week. But that turned out to be too fast. So I stayed at the same volume for a few weeks, then started increasing by 5 percent. By week 7, I was doing just over 5 hours of training a week and feeling great.
- Cardio: Easy runs, hikes, and incline treadmill walks at a conversational pace. (When hiking with friends, I had to slow down and resist the urge to chase them!)
- Strength: I focused on whole body weight lifting sessions with an emphasis on core strength. For this phase, I used moderate weight, and lifted 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. I also worked on correcting problem areas and imbalances (weak hamstrings).
- Cycling and Rest: I cut back my volume a little in week 4 and took a bigger rest in week 8.
Another tip: If you’re new to training, consider climbing Mt. Rainier in August or September. This will give you some extra time to make gains.
Keeping a Workout Log
Now that you’re a serious athlete with big goals, it’s time to keep a workout log (if you don’t already). There are millions of ways to do this. And the internet is full of templates and phone apps that can help you.
I like to keep weekly logs that cover:
- Start Date (Monday)
- Week in season (your first week of training after a rest is week 1)
- Total weekly training time
- Daily training time in each activity (cardio, strength)
- Daily training time in each heart rate zone (more on this tomorrow)
- Elevation gain (for runs and hikes)
- Workout grade (How did you perform? If you’re giving yourself lots of C’s and D’s, you might be overtraining.)
- Notes (suggestions, stuff to remember, an eagle pooped on my face, etc.)
Putting It All Together
Ready to make your Mt. Rainier training plan RIGHT FREAKING NOW? Seriously, let’s do it. Here’s the easy method I follow:
- Grab a pencil and a calendar. (I personally like to rip out all the pages and hang them next to each other on the wall so I have a view of the full year.)
- Mark your expected climb date. It’s OK to estimate if you’re not sure yet.
- Count the total number of weeks between your climb and today. Make a note.
- Do you need a few more weeks of general conditioning before you dive into training? Give yourself a full eight weeks if you’re currently inactive. Mark these weeks on your calendar as “GC.”
- Now let’s figure out your taper weeks. Subtract GC weeks from total weeks. If this number is greater than 18, take a two-week taper period leading up to your climb day. If it’s less, plan on a one-week taper. Mark these days on your calendar as “TP.”
- Two weekends before your taper is your peak training weekend. This should involve doing two big workouts back to back. Mark these on your calendar as “PEAK.”
- Mark the three week training cycle leading up to the peak training week as “MAX.” This is usually a pretty demanding couple of weeks, so it’s a good idea to keep your schedule a bit relaxed. (Some athletes find it helpful to mark the second-to-last cycle, too.)
- Pencil in any work travel, vacations, and big life events that will fall during training. Will you need to adjust your schedule to accommodate these? (Remember to take them as rest weeks when you can.)
- Will you travel to train in the mountains before climbing Mt. Rainier? If so, when is the best time to fit this in? (Remember, if you’re going for something big, the best timing is 0–8 weeks before your peak training week.
And there you have it. A solid roadmap for your training from now until your Mt. Rainier climb. Chances are you’ll make some adjustments to this schedule as the trip details fall into place, and that’s fine.
I also realize there are a few more details to fill in. And don’t worry, we’ll cover those in the next two posts on endurance and strength training.
So hopefully this felt empowering and not totally overwhelming. But if it was (or if you are just a lazy bastard like me), I have something that might help you out.
It’s my all singing, all dancing Everyday Hero’s Mt. Rainier Training Bundle!
It includes a 21-week training plan, an ebook, trip planning tools, a workout log, a wall calendar, and a gear checklist. That’s basically all the goodies we discussed above! Only you don’t have to draw and do math or spreadsheets (blech). So if that sounds awesome, check it out!
So if you’ve come this far with me, you’re probably pretty seriously about this Mt. Rainier climb. That’s so awesome.
And tomorrow, I’m going to share my number one training tip that will get you to the top of the mountain. It’s something tons of experts and trainers miss when they’re working with mountaineering clients. But I’ll give it to you here for absolutely free!
So put your feet up and get some Vitamin R, because tomorrow we are getting into the really good shit. Talk to you then.
Catching up on the Mount Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge? Find all the posts here.