Regular climbing and hiking are vital elements of your preparation and training for any planned adventure, but they are not enough on their own to provide you with a full arsenal to mount a successful challenge.
Many of us suffer from a variety of imbalances and dysfunctions, particularly of the mechanical sort – often the result of old injuries and past indiscretions, affecting various muscles, joints and skeletal structures. You may cope well with these issues in your daily life, but the combination of exertion, fatigue and altitude will more than likely reveal all of your weak spots.
Three elements to correct:
Driving the car doesn’t sort out the wheel alignment
Consider engaging in specialized resistance and corrective training for muscular imbalances, joint dysfunctions and postural deficiencies. An appropriately-qualified medical practitioner (physician, physiotherapist, biokineticist or sport scientist) are best to consult in terms of assessment and structured intervention. Spend some time in your training getting used to the conditions you might expect – spend a few nights in a tent and on the type of camping beds/mattresses you expect to encounter – then iron out the problems. Find out what happens in the comfort of your own home, rather than on the side of a mountain!
You don’t need to run a marathon to climb a mountain
Many novice adventurers make the mistake of engaging in misguided training. Long-distance running, mountain-biking and similar pursuits may help with your fitness – any training is better than no training! However, these types of exertions will not prepare you for the dual challenge of extended endurance (8-16 hours of hiking and climbing – normally for a number of consecutive days), they will not assist the body with acclimatization to altitude. It is better to engage in much lower-intensity effort, and work on extending your training times.
Don’t run on the wrong fuel
Nutrition can have a massive impact on both your training success, and on your ability to adjust to prolonged exposure and altitude. Learn from more experienced climbers and guides, and consult with a nutritionist if necessary – especially if you have any food allergies, intolerances or medical conditions that might be aggravated by changes to your diet or exercise patterns (such as diabetes, asthma or glycaemic dysfunction).
You also need to practice your nutritional strategies – try them out a number of times during long training sessions, and on any preparatory trips or climbs. Remember to get used to the food items to be expected on your expedition – most trails don’t provide cordon bleu menus!
You will need to find the balance between this specialized preparation, and spending the appropriate amount of time perfecting your climbing and hiking in a real environment. Preparation breeds success – fine tune with the specialized training, test your preparations and fitness level by exposing yourself to challenges similar to what you will expect on your adventure – the success will take care of itself!
Zac van Heerden
M.Sc (Med) (Exercise Physiology)