It’s coming down to the last final weeks of preparation for our expedition and one of the things we haven’t addressed yet is – “What am I doing to get into shape for this adventure?” About half of the group has been living in Juneau over the winter and the rest of us have been in the lower 48, taking college classes, working and adventuring in and around mountains. The reality is that it’s not uncommon for people to live far away from where their expeditions are based, particularly these days when trips are as far afield as Antarctica – winter all year round sounds amazing but is hard to pull off when you’re working or in school.
Personally, I’ve spent the last three months living in my Subaru outback the desert of the southwest. I’m usually not on the road this much and so I’ve had to rethink how to get ready for this trip. It might seem a bit odd to train for a ski trip while surrounded by sand, but it can be done! I always try and travel with my ‘climbing library’. These books not only provide endless inspiration but also are amazing resources for how to get mentally and physically prepared for your expedition. Two of the resources I have relied on the most are in preparing for this trip are: “Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills” and “Training for the New Alpinism.” The 8th edition of Freedom of the Hills has a short section on physical conditioning but I predominantly use it for technical skills whereas Training for the New Alpinism has a walk thorough walk through of the aspects of mountaineering, both physical and mental. A huge takeaway from both of these books is that the way you train will vary for every individual, as will the way you measure and view improvement.
For the Stikine Icefield, I broke down training into three categories:
1. What space, gear and time do I have available to train?
i.e. Do I have a floor to work out on? A gym? What access to book and online resources do I have? Do I have any technical gear I can practice using or strengthening equipment to train with such as weights?
2. What muscle groups need to be the strongest for the specific trip?
i.e. Are you attempting a 20 pitch climbing route, running 100 miles, or skiing across an icefield?
3. Where do you as an athlete feel you are fitness wise currently and where do you feel you need to be to feel ready for the trip?
i.e. What are your personal fitness goals vs. the group fitness goals?
My goals for fitness improvement for this trip are: a stronger core and legs. Because I was free to schedule my days as I wanted, I made a plan that would alternate the muscle group I worked on and the way I exercised. Here are some recommended training exercises I used that are easy to do outside of a gym or your normal workout space and can be found in many climbing books:
- Windshield wipers
- Hip thrusts
- Side and front plank
- Knee ups
- Step ups
- Split leg bench squats
- Side lunges
- Mountain climbers - Calf raises
Most of these exercises require some sort of flat, semi-firm surface to work out on so I would put my yoga mat on the ground outside my car for any exercise that required kneeling or lying down. I didn’t have weights so for exercises like kayakers, I would use a gallon water jug. For step ups, dips and split leg bench squats I used my food box, pushed up against my car for support.
One of the things which has helped me train in the past is simply time on my feet outdoors. Often on adventures, the days are long, the terrain is tough and the weather can be unfriendly. I think this has helped my mental game the most- what do my feet feel after hiking 12 miles in a day on soft sand? How about three days in a row? This helps find potential weaker muscles that maybe aren’t used to be worked as much on a day to day basis (and a little suffer fest is a lot more fun when you know there’s a warm, dry bed to come back to!)
I started by trying out what exercises I would be able to effectively do with available equipment. I then created a schedule that outlined the type of exercise I wanted to tackle each day. By making a schedule like one below, you allow for bad weather and the ability to change where you go because some trails are better for running than hiking or vice versa.
Day 1 - Lower body strength and a long hike
Day 2 - Core strength and long run
Day 3 - Short run on steep terrain
Day 4 - Lower body strength and easy run
Day 5 - Rest
There are also lots of blogs from amateur to expert climbers, skiers and mountaineers detailing their experiences and thoughts on what helped them prepare, several which we have also found insightful in our preparation. Some final advice – make it fun! Switch up where you’re going for runs, try a new exercise, find a buddy to go on some epic short trips with, make a killer playlist to listen to and be patient with seeing results.