We know from decades of training and coaching that the best way to measure and regulate intensity is through a combination of noticing both breathing and heart rate. How do we apply that to our training?
Intensity, what is it?
Intensity is how hard you’re working and is a reflection of what metabolic pathways are fueling your movement. A dog walk is low intensity. An all out sprint is high intensity. Almost all successful mountaineering is carried out at low to moderate intensity.
The two breathing-thresholds in real-life:
Steve has worked as a professional mountain guide since 1991. One way he knows he’s at a pace most clients can handle, is that he can breathe with his mouth closed. Nose breathing is the first marker you need to understand before training; and it is called Ventillatory Threshold 1 (VT1) or the Aerobic Threshold (AeT). You can read part three of this series to learn more about what it means in terms of physiology.
As your climbing speed increases, at some point you’ll start to breathe heavily. The point at which you can no longer speak a full sentence in one breath is referred to as your second Ventillatory Threshold 2(VT2) or the Anaerobic Threshold. Although it has other names and we’ll talk about those in Part 3 these are in common usage. If you’ve ever climbed with a good guide, they’ll often engage their clients in conversation while climbing. While conversation is important on many levels, in this case it also serves as an excellent way of accessing the climber’s exertion level. If that climber is gasping for breath, they’re on borrowed time and will need to stop within an hour. We’ve all been there and it is important to recognize the implications of the intensity to your day’s climb.
In reality our aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems are always working in concert to produce the energy you need for climbing. The aerobic system is conditioned (trained) during the process of spending the vast majority of your training hours at and below VT1. The anaerobic system gets sufficient training for mountaineering by spending approximately 5% of your overall training volume between VT1 and VT2, and another 5% above VT2. How fast you climb, is determined, first and foremost, by the efficiency of the aerobic system.
Let’s say that another way:
The aerobic system burns fat at low intensities. This process is, physiologically speaking, very efficient and as long as you stay at low intensity (<VT1) the length of time you can climb is limited only by fuel which you can replace by eating. The anaerobic system produces metabolic by-products, the accumulation of which actually slows the anaerobic energy pathway. The aerobic system acts like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up all this bad stuff produced by the anaerobic system. The stronger that vacuum cleaner (the larger the aerobic capacity) the more anaerobic work that can be done. Therefore, the better trained the aerobic system is, the faster and longer you can climb.
- The intensity of your breathing is a direct, real-time measure of the intensity of exercise.
- Breathing depth and rate offer a personalized, instantaneous metric for each athlete to control training intensity.
- Heart Rate monitoring should be done continuously and in conjunction with breath self-monitoring.
- A pace at or below your VT1 should make up 90% of your endurance training volume. This is true for those starting a training program and for the highly accomplished pro-level climbers. In Training for the New Alpinsim, as in many other sports, we call this Base Training.
This is a series of three articles: