by Carrie Lane, Director of Sport Performance
Let’s learn how and why a mountaineer should build pure strength and power. In part 1 of this blog series, I addressed some movements necessary for a well rounded lifting routine for mountaineers. In my 2nd blog for the series, I discussed how to arrange these movements into General Strength circuits that build coordination, increase aerobic energy mechanisms, and aid recovery.
Why does an alpine athlete need strength and power? Shouldn’t your aerobic zone training be enough? While training the aerobic and anaerobic threshold mechanisms are a huge part of mountaineering, there are certainly times when garnering power and strength in the mountains are needed. The stronger you are, the more “strength reserve” you have, meaning you are operating well below your top-end strength capabilities.
Pulling through cruxes, navigating spiny traverses, and ascending and descending steep, unstable terrain with a heavy pack all require a good amount of strength, power, and coordination. When your brain knows exactly which muscles to fire and in what order, you save valuable energy when making powerful moves. Therefore, becoming more powerful, stronger, and coordinated will make you a more efficient climber.
Let's take a moment to define power. Imagine you are boulder-hopping down a river bed with a buddy who was less skilled at this task. Your novice friend spends a lot of time nervously hopping and balancing on each boulder. He arrives at your destination significantly more out of breath than you and likely with very wet feet. Meanwhile, you skillfully billy-goat along, deftly reacting to slick or unsteady footing, and arrive dry and barely fatigued. You move with speed and efficiency perhaps because you have been up and down that riverbed before and know exactly which rocks to step on. Relate this to your neuromuscular system, where the bouldery riverbed is the neural pathway connecting your brain to a specific group of muscles. A neural impulse (that’s you) sent from the brain travels along this pathway (the riverbed) and ignites a series of chemical reactions that stimulate the muscles to contract. The more practice that impulse gets at hopping along the riverbed, the faster, more skillfully it moves, wasting less energy to contract the muscle. Complex movements, like a box jump, require a coordinated series of muscles firing in the right order and with right amount of speed. This is Power. Training neural impulses to stimulate muscle contractions with speed and in the proper sequence.
After those patterns are established, you can then start increasing the AMOUNT of muscles to which the brain sends signals. This is done in the Strength Prep and Absolute Strength phases. Strength involves contracting A LOT of muscle, without worrying about how fast you can contract (see below for examples of Strength and Power exercises). The Strength phase is most effective when it is done AFTER the Power phase so that your body knows how to coordinate the most efficient firing sequence to fire the most muscles.
Weighted jumps for both speed and height
Skiers and skater jumps
Olympic lifting variations (pulls, DB jerks)
Dynamic step ups (Straight and lateral)
Medicine ball throws with maximal effort—not in circuit form
Dead lift with dumbbells or hex bar
Weighted step ups
Weighted sit ups with feet anchored
Once fatigue sets in, firing patterns are compromised. So, for the power and strength movements, we keep the reps short and the rests long. As an alpinist, dealing with fatigue and muscular endurance are a huge part of your training. But isolated power and strength training is not the time to learn how to deal with fatigue. You will put it all together in the next phase, Strength Endurance.
Read on to the final blog of this series to see how to progress to the all-important Strength Endurance phase of your training.