March 11, 2015
I wondered how you prepare yourself physically and mentally for your adventures.
I recall reading in one of your books that you sometimes get out of shape, then have to cane it on the rowing machines etc to try and get back in physical shape ahead of big trips. It struck me because I saw that Steve House had actually published a book about the science of training, which made me curious about your approach.
And you write so openly about your mental demons that I realised in thinking to ask about the physical side I was completely neglecting the most important few cms in the body.
Keep up the writing and adventuring.
You’re an inspirational cat.
Thanks for the question (I have had quite a few like this recently). I’m sat in a cafe with two Christians arguing about the bible, so my answer may get a bit garbled!
I must say first that I know very little about training, and the type of training I do is pretty spotty and sporadic, and probably is a long way away from any traditional approach - but seems to be effective. If I have any kind of foundation that I work on, then it’s not a real fitness concept, not part of a fitness cult, nothing you could start selling or parcelling out as a franchise. I’ll call my fitness concept the ‘Andy’s Kirkpatrick’s D.F.Y.U’ system. What does DFYU! stand for? It stands for the most important aspect of any training system = DON’T FUCK YOURSELF UP!
As far as I see it most people tend to get injured training, not doing what they’re training for, and many my age has simply worn themselves out - elbows, hips, knees, shoulders ready for the scrap heap. Having a mate whose body is breaking up is both very sad, and very annoying, as such people just moan all the time!
As I know nothing about fitness, and view myself as slow and weak, my only strengths being a solid amount of stamina (that has grown with age), and a good mental approach to fitness (I understand that the limiting factor on most hard alpine routes I want to do - say ED1/ED2 - are mental, or being too injured to walk to them). I’m also lucky in that my work is not 9-5 so I can focus a lot of time on training if I wanted to, plus I seem to have good muscle memory and get fit pretty quickly.
First, of I would recommend not undertaking any training regime that is too full-on, too steep, or takes up more than 2 hours of your day (ideally once in the morning and one an evening) unless you’re a professional athlete (which Steve House is). The best kind of training is low impact and fun enough not to feel like training at all, namely cragging, climbing at the wall and hill walking, which you can do for more than 2 hours without even thinking of it as training (and so when I talk about 2 hours a day, I’m talking about stuff that feels like training). Do any of these with a degree of respect to your body (fingers, elbows, shoulders and knees) and you’ll stay away from getting injured. If on the other hand you begin training for an iron man, while doing cross-fit three times a week, well then I think the injury of one form or another is going to be a close friend of yours and will affect what you do in both the short and long term (a mate of mine has to base what routes his does on whether his hips can get him to and from it). With any intensive training you tend to have a steep fitness curve, your body changes fast, you feel great, you push hard - then you knacker yourself, get depressed - then bore people about your injury, go on forums looking for a quick fix while eating cake.
My approach, instead of a quick fix is more the slow avoidance of injury, with a bit of training to keep me topped up, as often the act of going away on a big trip gets you fit.
So here are some basics I’d recommend for a normal person wanting to get fit for the mountains (say an alpine season, exped etc).
Run, but don’t run too much, and take it very slowly to begin with, no matter how great you feel. Give your legs a month to get strong, all those connectors strengthen up. Warm-up and warm down and stretch. Run for more than thirty minutes but not more than an hour. Try and get into the habit of running every other day, even if it’s just 30 minutes. Getting up 30 minutes early, especially in the winter, is great training in itself for alpine climbing. If you feel any tweaks or niggles don’t ignore them. If you’re using a gym then try and run 10k every 3 days. You will begin to enjoy running a lot, but be careful not to conflict with DFYU.
As part of this training, you should throw in some bodyweight exercises as well, to increase your overall strength which will reduce the chances of injury as well.
These will be:
Press-ups (vary these, from narrow to wide, and as you get strong try some semi-inverted or inverted ones)
Pull-ups (the classic, so buy a pull-up bar and make sure you do them with style, don’t drop or ‘kip’ and don’t overdo them - think of your elbows).
Burpees (a good mix of core and squat strength)
These should be built into your run, done mid-run or at the end before stretching. You can also just do them as and when to get your daily average up, and I’d try and go for 1000 a week of each exercise.
If you go throw in going to the wall or going out on the rock three nights a week, then one or two days of hill walking at the weekend (or road/Mtn biking), then you’ll soon see a big improvement in your base fitness.
If I want to increase my fitness considerably then I would add in a few more things, which tend to be done most easily by joining a gym (but you can buy a few bits and do this at home easily).
These would be:
Rowing. This is a killer exercise and I know of nothing else that can transform your fitness as quickly. It’s also low impact (if you’re sensible) and hits all your body. I would try and do 5km in 20 minutes every other day, or every day if possible. You can scale up to doing 10km in under 40 min, but this is tough - and a bit boring (get yourself some good headphones!).
Deadlifts. I’m a big fan of deadlifts, as they can be very tough, but really work the body, especially your grip - good for winter/alpine climbing with axes. Try and do 5 sets of 5 reps with the weight around bodyweight - the ideal weight being 100kg. The form is more important than the weight, and if you’ve got a bar at home you can add this to the end of your run.
Kettle Bells. Yes, these are a cult, but they are also cheap, high quality and can be stored easily in your house if you can’t get to the gym (just buy an 8kg and 16kg to start with) and if you use them properly will create good ‘functional strength’ (ie not bodybuilding strength). With these keep is simple and just do the ‘Swing’, ‘Goblet squat’, ‘clean’ . The weights are going to be low, so aim to do 5 sets to failure.
There are hundreds of exercises out there and even more variations, but in my experience keep your training simple and stick to the vanilla exercises, as many others are just thought up by blokes at Men’s Health. Get good at this exercise, and aim to get a solid level of fitness, but don’t go beyond that. Remember you are not a pro, and if you were you’d have a coach. If training becomes an end in itself then it will probably be the end of you, with arthritis and long term injuries dogging you forever.
If you want some inspiration then I would highly recommend Steve’s book (Steve also does some online coaching). I would also play close attention to fitness pros like Andy Mckenzie, (great little vid here of him training Ben Saunders before his South Pole trip) who has both a great blog, but also some great posts on his instagram at @ironmacfitness. And the there is the legendery Mark Twight’s site Gym Jones, which offers some very well thought out training plans.
As for mental stuff… I’ll leave that for another time!