Mountain Training, A Different Proposition

Training for extreme events requires even more extreme training


When you see images of explorers sat on top of mountains or scaling sheer cliffs, the story always seems to be about the journey to that point. However, the journey is the plan, basic preparation and travel, it does little to look at how athletes train to get to that position. Having the ability to do what many of the explorers, climbers and adrenaline junkies of the world do requires as much, if not more, training than more traditional sports.

At the launch of The North Face's Mountain Athletics range in London, we heard from some of the world's most famous explorers, climbers and ultra runners about their training techniques. It is the kind of story that you don't tend to think about too much when you are looking at the amazing landscapes in which these sports take place - after all, why would you be thinking about somebody sweating in a gym when they are sat at the top of a stunning mountainside?

Unsurprisingly though, it is one of, if not the most, important element to any expedition.

However, the training for these kinds of expeditions is totally different to other more traditional sports. The biggest name that we heard from at the event was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who discussed how his training is one of the most important elements of some of his famous expeditions. He discussed how his training on the River Thames was inadequate for trying to manage rapids in Canada, and how he has a morning routine that means that he can continue to undertake expeditions in his 70's that many wouldn't even try at 20.

James Pearson, a climber sponsored by The North Face, discussed how he had hit a plateau because his training was not at the standard required to achieve his goals. He pointed out that unlike most other sports, the kind of training needed in climbing (and hence almost every extreme sport) was completely dynamic and required a different set of rules. If you think about how somebody would train to cycle, it would mean they have extremely good cardio and leg power, but little upper body strength. A rugby player has significant strength and speed across their entire body, but this often means sacrificing flexibility and agility. A climber or explorer operates in often uncontrollable situations, meaning training needs to be rugged and multifaceted - running up and down a field and lifting weights won't cut it.

Body contortion and working seldom used muscles is necessary for these kinds of activities and doing so means unconventional training techniques, from pushing tyres through to pull ups using only one or two fingers. These are not the kind of activities that you are likely to be able to easily do at your community gym, and this means that the equipment and apparel used is different. The North Face has recognized this need and launched their Mountain Athletics Range, which has been designed to be more rugged and harder wearing than most gym gear that you find today.

Training for the kind of hazardous activities that mountaineers and climbers undertake has been at the basis of the new Mountain Athletics programme from The North Face, with rugged but comfortable gym gear created, as well a specific app to help with this kind of training.

Aside from the construction of the clothes and creation of the app to help with training, the spotlight on how mountaineers train will potentially open up new ways of training for amateurs. Every year there are hundreds of people caught out being underprepared, both in terms of equipment and physical fitness. With The North Face putting emphasis on the work that needs to be done in order to undertake these difficult activities, it will hopefully minimize the occurrences of amateurs, or professionals, getting into life threatening situations when on the mountain.

The biggest element is going to be the way that training improves individual athletes though, and with this increased concentration on the 'before', it could lead to more specialist gyms being created and the performance of outdoor athletes pushing several sports to a new level. The one thing that I came away from the event thinking was that training is what makes the activity, from Ranulph Fiennes discussing how ineffective training put his group in danger, through to James Pearson discussing how his training opened up a whole new level of performance. One thing is for certain though, the more open this element becomes, the more outdoor activities will benefit. 


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