In this article we want to simplify the process of selecting and implementing the right Uphill Athlete Training Plan. Part 1 focuses on the selection process, and Part 2 covers implementation.
Part 1: Choosing the Right Plan
We offer a lot of different training plans on our site, and the list is growing all the time. We understand that it can be a challenge to choose the right plan and then implement it most effectively. To help you get the best possible results so you can sort out which plan is best for you, we’ve compiled the following article that addresses a number of things to consider in this process. We have a very active forum where you can share your experiences and ask for help from Uphill Athlete staff and the community at large.
Which plan? Choose from within one of the following subheadings to get you closer to the right plan.
Aerobically Based Plans
The longer the plan, the more effective it will be at gradually transitioning you through a progression of training periods. This is especially important when training for a big mountain goal where your basic aerobic capacity is critical to your success. Significantly improving this single quality will take many weeks. By “big mountain,” we mean events lasting many hours and perhaps covering multiple days. This can be an expedition to Denali or a Himalayan peak. It can also be a multi-week trip to the Alps or a multi-day ski tour. The main principle to keep in mind is that you can never have too much base fitness for these types of goals. Accumulating more training volume over more months is going to net you a better fitness outcome, and having all things be equal (weather, conditions, your skills) sets you up for your best chances of success.
Our 24-Week Expeditionary Mountaineering Training Plan follows virtually the same progression that is detailed in our book Training for the New Alpinism. It will take you through the Transition, Base, Specific, and Taper periods. While it is called a “mountaineering plan,” it will provide a great base for any extended mountain adventure. It is best suited for those with major goals and for those with little structured aerobic training background. It’s our most popular plan and provides great results. This is also the best plan for climbers needing to improve their aerobic base.
The 16-Week Big Mountain Training Plan is a scaled-down version of the above for those who find themselves pinched for time before their departure date.
Our 8-Week Basic Mountaineering, Mont Blanc, and Hut-to-Hut plans are the shortest time-frame we would recommend to effect any meaningful changes in fitness. The same can be said for our 12-Week Trekking Plan.
These shorter plans are not shortcuts to fitness. An 8-week or 12-week training plan entails trade-offs and should be used only by those with less time.
Technical Climbing Plans
Plans like our Ice and Mixed Climbing Strength Plan and Josh Wharton’s rock climbing plans are, for the most part, strength and skill oriented. They can be shorter and still effect real changes because these qualities train up quicker. They are best for those with specific needs and short-term goals. If you have the time and can manage the added work, you can use these as supplemental strength sessions during the specific period of one of our longer big mountain plans. So if you’re preparing for a very remote, highly technical rock or steep ice climb, stacking one of these plans on top of a mountaineering plan can be a great approach.
Steve’s Rock Alpinist plans are meant to stand alone, as they include significant aerobic training on top of climbing-specific workouts. These were built with summers in the Bugaboos, Alps, or Dolomites in mind.
Part 2: Implementing the Plan
Getting started on a new training plan can present hurdles: You need to carve out time for training. You need to get a TrainingPeaks account and connect your heart rate monitor/GPS watch to it. Learning to use TrainingPeaks will take a bit of effort but we have seen that it is well worth it for the long-term benefits it brings. If you’ve not read these two articles concerning using TrainingPeaks, please do so now:
A quick Google search will show you how to sync your Garmin, Suunto, Polar, Wahoo Fitness, and/or any other brand’s accounts to TrainingPeaks to automatically upload your workout data to that platform.
No plan is going to work if you don’t follow it. Strive for consistency. If you miss more than two workouts in a week, it is advisable to repeat that week. Pay attention to your fatigue. Life has a way of throwing you curves. Stress from life will wear you down, and piling training stress on top of life stress is not going to serve you well. Just because the plan calls for something does not mean you will benefit from it. Prioritize rest and recovery so that your body can absorb the training.
You may need to modify the plan. Be realistic. The volume of training we specify in each plan is what we consider the minimum necessary. These plans are generic and may very well need tweaking to fit your specific needs. In the next section we talk about customizing the plan to best suit your particular needs.
Modifying the Plan
The most common reason people ask us about modifying our aerobically based plans is that they realize they suffer from Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome (ADS) or they have more than 24 weeks before their goal. For these ADS folks, who are often new to any sort of structured aerobic training, we suggest adding more weeks to the Transition Period (early weeks), where the focus is primarily on increasing aerobic capacity. Additional weeks can be inserted into the Base Period as well for the same effect. For those with more weeks on their hands, the same approach will work. There is nothing magical about 24 weeks. When adding weeks, keep the aerobic training volume progression going as before. Duration of this type of work is the best training stimulus. More is generally better. You will need to repeat some of the strength weeks when doing this.
If you are starting a new training cycle using a plan you already own (once you buy it, you own it forever)—and you have not had a multi-month break from training and everything went well your last time through the plan—you should start the new cycle at a higher training load. As a rule of thumb, we recommend starting the first week of the Transition Period at an aerobic volume that represents 50% of your previous cycle’s average weekly aerobic volume. Overall, plan to bump up the training volume about 10% per week on subsequent cycles.
On the other hand, if you are struggling to handle the workload in any plan, you need to stop and reassess rather than trying to bull your way through. Adjust the training load down and get back on top of the train/recover cycle. Don’t be afraid to cut weekly volume by 50% and toss in a few rest days. It is better to catch this early and be proactive than pretend all is good when the wheels are starting to come loose. If you are persistently struggling with the training load, even after making lifestyle adjustments, it could be that your chosen goal and the training needed to support it are unrealistic. As tough as this may be to accept, it’s better to find it out early before you have invested a ton of money and time into a trip that could potentially end badly. Scaling down to a more achievable goal and training load will pay off in the long run as you learn what works for you. We all learn better through positive reinforcement.
Setting Your Intensity Zones in TrainingPeaks
TrainingPeaks is set up for the conventional sports of cycling and triathlon. Their metrics for tracking your fitness and fatigue work amazingly well when power and pace data are accurately recorded. It is much more challenging to track intensity and training effect for mountain sports, where we are relegated to using heart rate as a proxy for work intensity and training load. But it’s the best metric we have, and we have some tips to help you record your workouts. Steve gives a nice presentation on using the TrainingPeaks Dashboard (available with their Premium account):
The single most important thing you need to do to make the TSS (Training Stress Score) accurate for each workout is to correctly identify your training zones in your TrainingPeaks account settings.
Note: When TrainingPeaks uses the term threshold, they are referring to your anaerobic or lactate threshold. We use both your aerobic threshold (AeT) and your anaerobic threshold (AnT) to define your heart rate zones. This is important because the hrTSS (heart rate Training Stress Score) for each workout is calculated based upon the time spent above and below your personal AnT.
Note: The following zone information is needed only for plans that contain aerobic training. The strength-based plans like Steve’s Ice and Mixed or Josh’s rock climbing plans do not rely upon hrTSS.
Step 1: We want to anchor your zones to real metabolic events that reflect your own personal response to training intensity. As such we recommend not using the default zones that show up in your settings. Instead, pare down the number of zones to four. Do this by clicking Remove to the right of the zones until you have just four left.
Step 2: Manually enter your heart rate for the top of Zone 2, which is the aerobic threshold (AeT) heart rate you determined using the test you did on day one of your plan. Set the top of Zone 1 10% below that. To find the top of Zone 3, conduct this test. Zone 4 will be any heart rate above that. For very easy recovery-type workouts, stay at or below the very bottom of Zone 1.
Step 3: Click Save and Close and your zones will be set.
This will ensure the most accurate hrTSS allocation for each workout that is possible. This in turn will make your Performance Management Chart more effective.
As mentioned earlier, heart rate is not the most accurate measure of intensity and thus of calculating TSS, but it is the best one for mountain sports. No one has yet invented a good power meter for anything other than flat running and cycling. And due to the undulating nature of the terrain, when you are going the slowest uphill, you may be working your hardest. So hrTSS is our best tool for determining training stress in a workout.
At Uphill Athlete we use the following adjustments for TSS to account for the added muscular load that comes with going uphill and downhill. For each 1000 feet (300 meters) of vertical gain, we add 10 to the hrTSS. For every 10% in body weight that is carried, we add another 5 to the TSS per 1000 feet of vertical. This is certainly not scientifically derived, but it acknowledges the added load of elevation gain and added weight, and as long as you are consistent with your adjustments, your TSS and other metrics will be reflective of that load.
In general, we see about 60 hrTSS/hour for workouts in Zone 2. You can use this when your watch battery dies.
For strength training we use the following TSS amounts:
-General conditioning and core workout: 60 TSS/workout
-Max Strength with a core warm-up: 80 TSS/workout
-Muscular Endurance workouts: These vary a great deal but have a very heavy training load. For both our Uphill Athlete gym-based ME workout and our weighted uphill carries, we can award between 100 and 150 depending on how long it takes you to recover and have your legs feel decent again. If it takes two days until you feel decent, give it a 100. A three-day recovery makes the TSS 150. Just try to be consistent with how hard the work feels to you and how long it takes to recover.
With this information we hope you can get the most from your training plan. Still have questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org