Plan Focus: Big Mountain Training Plan

Step ups … you’ll do thousands of these while completing the Big Mountain Training Plan

By Rob Shaul

Under the “Climb” category of our website store there are several individual training plans.

To an outsider, climbing mountains is all the same.

But outdoor enthusiasts know there are many different methods for reaching the summit.

As a strength and conditioning coach, it’s my job to identify the fitness demands for each method, and design a sport-specific training plan accordingly.

The Big Mountain Training Plan is our most popular climbing plan, and is the one I built specifically for non-technical mountaineering expeditions such as Kilimanjaro,  Everest and Aconcagua.

Big mountain expeditions are multi-week efforts, and at 10-weeks and 50x total training sessions, the Big Mountain Training Plan is one of our longest.

The training program has three goals:

  • (1) Strengthen your legs and lungs for miles and thousands of vertical feet you’ll be hiking up and down during your climbing trip.
  • (2) Build your core/midsection strength and overall strength so your body will be able to perform well with a loaded backpack, and be able to recover from long days in the mountains.
  • (3) Increase your overall durability and injury resistance.

The further away you are from the climb, the more general your training can be. Accordingly, the first 4 weeks of the Big Mountain are gym-based, and focused on building overall strength and durability. The focus is on your “Mountain Chassis” – Legs and core.

What is unique about Big Mountain climbs, in addition to the duration, is the loading. These aren’t fast, alpine ascents where the packs weigh 25-45 pounds. These packs can be heavy – up to 80 pounds. As well, for mountains like Denali, you’ll not only carry a heavy pack, but also skin across a glacier pulling a loaded sled.

Leg and core strength is essential for this loading. Not only for performance, but also for durability.

At six weeks, the plan’s training pivots to mountain-specific training sessions and exercises. Increasing, loaded step ups train legs and lungs for steep, heavy, uphill hiking. Leg blasters train eccentric leg strength for the downhills between camps to shuttle gear and acclimatize. Calf work, sandbag getups and focused low back work round out the muscular preparation.

A climb likeAconcagua should never be taken lightly. The duration and intensity of the Big Mountain Training plan reflects its massiveness and seriousness.

Having the commitment to train 5 days a week for two and a half months before beginning your expedition shows an athlete’s respect for the mountain, and for the sport. Training for the expedition becomes part of the overall experience, and helps enrich it.

Best of all, going into the climb mentally and physically fit will help the climber enjoy the overall experience so much more. Training makes everything better.

Some of the Kudos we’ve received:

  • “This past weekend I was able to successfully summit Mount Rainier (my first attempt on any mountain). I used your Big Mountain Training Plan to physically prepare myself. It was a crucial and very effective part of my preparation. My legs felt strong for the duration of the climb and descent. I barely noticed the weight of my pack at any point. During and after the climb I remained injury free. My quads and hamstring are a bit sore but nothing to complain about. Success on all fronts.”
  • “The training plan was an enormous help! Throughout the climb my legs felt strong and well conditioned. The tough mental programing I developed while training allowed me to function confidently, physically and mentally, in hard times such as while climbing in inclement weather. The Tien Shan turned out to be a highly unstable mountain range. Our 4 person team acclimatized well and took advantage of several good weather windows. We were able to summit a 6,090m peak but were unable to summit the Khan due to very bad weather. In any case it was an amazing learning experience. I am totally pumped on your training plans. Thanks again!!”
  • Bought the Big Mountain Training Program last year and it changed my fitness and climbing forever. It fixed weaknesses I had in my body for many years from injury or neglect and made me a more complete and better athlete.

Training for Denali or Rainier?
We’ve built climb-specific training plans for these two peaks.

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