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More Training Info > Interval Training for Altitude Climbing

Interval Training for Altitude Climbing

Q: How often do you recommend interval training for people training for altitude climbs, and why? How do I incorporate intervals into my regular training program?

A: First of all, by "interval training" we're talking about a training methodology that allows you to elevate your heart rate into the upper ends of your Target Heart Rate (THR) zone and then work at a lower level for recovery. "Intervals" are repeated segments of high intensity effort and lower intensity recovery pieces, and can be done by running up hills and jogging back down, briskly climbing up hilly terrain with a weighted pack and then walking back down, or cycling through a set Interval program on a machine such as the advanced-technology Elliptical trainers or step mills. This training technique prepares you for the challenge of working near or at the Anaerobic Threshold (AT); however, be aware that you won't be able to sustain that higher level of heart rate for any substantial length of time. At high altitude, where there is less oxygen, you may sometimes feel like you're struggling to catch your breath. If you have trained your body to deal with such stresses at lower elevations, it's likely that you'll be more comfortable with those stresses on a high mountain.

For the first few months of your training program, it's really not as important to include the interval training as it will be once you're better conditioned (after 3-4 months or so) and nearing the time for your climbing or hiking activity (see Rainier Training Program for sample calendar.) Since interval training is quite intense on the body, we recommend only doing such training once, maybe maximum twice a week during the month or two prior to your climb. Focus primarily on increasing muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance (see Climbing Training polygon for more on these fitness characteristics) for most of your workouts (strength and aerobic training) with less time (but do include it!) on intervals for best success.

To incorporate intervals into your program, place them on a shorter cardiovascular day, perhaps preceding a legs strength day and after a medium length cardio day. Warm up thoroughly for 5-15 minutes to ensure increased blood flow to the large muscles in the legs and core. You may also want to stretch before continuing, or feel free to wait to stretch until after you've completed the intervals, when you'll want to try to remove any lactic acid build-up accumulated in the muscles. For your first interval day, try something fairly tame such as walking (with lightly weighted pack) or jogging up a fairly steep hill for a minute, trying to get your heart rate 15-20 beats higher than your normal training number. Return to starting point at a comfortable pace so the heart rate drops down to base rate, and repeat until you've completed 5-6 hills, or 6 complete intervals. The next time you try it, you can 1) add a hill, 2) try to go faster to get your heart rate higher, or 3) add a little weight to the pack. Try to work your way up to 30 minutes of intense intervals, and then make sure you cool down and stretch following that workout.

For those enthusiasts who like to be prepared to climb anything that might come their way year round, you may want to include 2-4 interval workouts a month as maintenance, to keep your body adapted to working near the anaerobic threshold. Just be aware of your body and what it can handle; if you sense you're 1) approaching burnout, 2) getting tired earlier in the intervals than usual, or 3) feeling any discomfort in your body beyond the usual muscle fatigue, you may want to back off a bit and allow yourself time to recover, to avoid overtraining and injury.

For assistance planning your own periodized program that includes interval training specific to your sporting needs, contact us or check out WebTrainer assistance.


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