Stuss Leeds is an avalanche forecaster and ski patroller living in Colorado. His lifelong dream was to climb an 8,000-meter…
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Q: I work in the financial markets and struggle with enough time to train, let alone climb. I think I could have 200 hours of training per year, at the most. I did train harder than any of my non-climbing friends when preparing for my last three expeditions (and I used your book a lot), but I always feel I am just barely breaking even with the objectives I set to accomplish. As a result, I have to take on painkillers and medicine to keep going at the end of my trips. So my 1 million dollar question is this: how can I maximize the time I have, and choose climbing objectives accordingly?
A: This is a great question, but, sadly, there is no good answer to it. If you can only train 200 hours per year, there is no special workout or magic way to pack more into those 200 hours. If you have been at 200 hours per year, for more than one to two years, then you have gotten about as fit as you can for that much time.
We are in the process of developing a training plan for people who are pressed for time, which we hope will be available before the end of 2016. It will be a compromise on our general recommendations for training, and we will be very clear about that when we produce it. But the fact is, there are many many people out there in the same situation as you, and we’d like to provide something helpful for all the “weekend warriors” out there. Keep an eye open for that. Hopefully it may help you.
In the meantime, it sounds like you are taking on too big of an objective if your body is breaking down near the end of the climb. Painkillers and NSAIDs should be a last resort to prevent further injury – not a crutch to help you achieve your goals. If you can’t complete an expedition without them, you probably need to bight off smaller goals.
Q: My passion is ski touring, and ski mountaineering. I am older (61 years old), and have one knee getting worse (knee replacement in the next few years). I can’t run with my knee, and I can only ski in resorts for about three hours without pain, but I can tour with descents all day. My doc said stop doing squats in training, so I have to work around that. What is the best course to pursue for optimal ski touring/mountaineering training when you have knee issues?
A: I (Scott) will field this one, since I had a total knee replacement 3 years ago. I am 63 years old, and a life long athlete. For several years, the functionality of my knee was on a steep, downhill slide. No, running, no BC skiing, I could barely go down stairs without a lot of pain. I couldn’t even XC ski. Seven surgeries over 35 years (most at Steadman’s clinic) after a bad climbing accident in AK in ’78 kept me patched together and able to run, ski, climb till the final 5 years.
Since my new knee I am running 1-2 hours daily. I just ran the Tour de Mt Blanc circuit (same course as the race). I can ski as well or better then ever, and have no pain or other issues with that knee. I would not hesitate to recommend getting a replacement for anyone like us who wants to be active.
Every year you wait, you become weaker and older so that recovering your previous levels of strength and fitness will take longer. I wish I hadn’t tried to limp along those past three years. Until you have a functional knee again, you will not be able to put enough load on that leg simply to maintain—let alone build—strength. If you are a candidate for replacement, then I assume all other remedial surgery options have been exhausted or ruled out. What are you waiting for? If it is done well, you’ll be happy and pain-free with 95% of original knee function. I was riding my bike 30 miles a day within a week of the surgery, and skiing 6 months out. Go for it.
Q: What I struggle with the most is finding fitness plans that I can do during the week to plan for playing on the weekend. There don’t seem to be many plans or articles for this. It seems like it’s either “how to train like a pro climber/mountaineer”, or “do this core workout to look HAWT at the gym”. There are no workout ideas for the weekend warrior who can hit the gym during the week to lift and run but cannot go out until the weekend.
A: Fitting training around work and other commitments is always a challenge. We sell several training plan options and are constantly cranking out new ones. Maybe one of these could fit the bill for you.
They are, of course, generic, and have to be tweaked to fit your personal circumstances. We also offer a personal coaching service where we work one on one with you to help you achieve your goals. Info on that service is available here. Training, in order to be effective needs to be: continuous, gradually progressive, and modulating in load. So, your mid week sessions and weekend “play” needs to be coordinated into a coherent structure. This is what most weekend warriors struggle with.
Q: As a student in medical school, and a mountain athlete, I often find myself having to balance the stresses of training with the physiologic and psychological stresses of my work. For example, if I go ahead with a planned workout after an unexpected night shift or taxing day, I can find myself feeling very flat, and my training feels possibly unproductive or even harmful. I would appreciate your perspective on strategies for quantifying life stresses or recovery state to guide training volume in parallel to a busy life. Do you use heart rate variability? Is there any way to make good use of the ‘flat’ days, or should they be for recovery
A: As you are no doubt well aware, stress is stress, regardless of its cause. The effect of too much stress is to reduce our ability to handle more of it. You must consider the stress inherent in your school/work/family life before deciding to pile more on in the form of physical training.
The reason professional athletes essentially just eat, sleep and train is so they can eliminate all excess forms of stress and maximize the training stress. This lets them make the most of their training. You are currently in a very demanding (inherently stressful) occupation. Given that fact, it would be very challenging for to train effectively while in med school. A healthy level of exercise may prove to be more beneficial to you both mentally and physically and mentally at this point in your life as opposed to trying to adhere to a strict training schedule which may leave you exhausted, less fit and frustrated.
Q: A.) I got a fitness tracker earlier in the year and have been surprised how much walking I do in addition to my training – it works out to an extra 8-9 hours/week on average. Should I just treat this as active recovery? It’s obviously very easy, low HR exercise.
B.) Do you have suggestions for how the uphill athlete who’s confined to the flatlands can train? I’m 4 hours drive from anything beyond a 100m hill. I have suffered from ITBS in the past and have problems with this when doing high volumes of weighted box steps…but have no problems doing long days in the hills even when carrying a day pack.
C.) I would love to hear advice on dealing with ITBS. I’m surprised I got it (from running) as I have strong legs. Neither stretching nor strength training have helped.
A: A.) It is completely up to you whether, or how, to count these low HR hours. They certainly have a beneficial recovery effect. But since this is “your” training log, just be consistent with how you count the time spent. The lower the intensity the more volume you need to have much training effect. Keep in mind, short duration (under 30 min at a time), low intensity (less than 50% max HR) exercise will have minimal training effect for someone as fit as you must be.
B.) Try the following: stairmaster, treadmill set to 15% (some go even steeper), hiking the stairs in tall buildings. We’ve used all of these many times with folks in similar situations, who have gone on to climb some big mountains in good style.
C.) For your IT band, try rolling it with a hard ball. We’ve seen this many times and it can often be fixed with LOTS of rolling on a foam roller or ball. Stretching rarely works and strength training often makes it worse. We absolutely swear by the Rogue Fitness Mobility ball. It cured Scott’s IT band, and then Scott gave it away to several friends, who got instant relief, as well. Many of our clients have been cured by using this simple (but painful!) treatment. http://www.roguefitness.com/mobility-rehab