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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Your Next Big Peak

by: Dimity McDowell, Illustrations by Supercorn

polar logoget fit

The Demands
The multitasker of all hikes, a summit attempt on a peak like Rainier or Grand Teton requires a cardiovascular system that can deliver oxygen to your muscles as efficiently as possible, even at higher altitudes; and a strong, lean body that is able to climb and descend under control, even when your quads are shaking. Balance also plays a key role, and not just in precarious situations; you'll expend much less energy if you can step smoothly–without bobbles–from one foothold to the next.

The Strategy
Our plan hits all the muscles hard, from your heart to your calves. Cardio sessions are relatively intense to prepare for the coming oxygen deprivation, and strength-training sessions should build climbing-specific strength.

The Workout
In a nutshell: Do two strength circuits a week, each after a cardio session; schedule 48 hours between strength workouts for muscle recovery. And take 2 days off a week.

Get Fit: The Overview
On weekdays, do three cardio sessions: one trail run, one steep hike with a 15-pound pack, and one climbing session (use stairs or a stair stepper) wearing a 15-pound pack. Begin with a 50-minute run, a 40-minute hike, and a 30-minute climb; then add 5 to 10 minutes each week. Keep a pace that allows you to recite a short sentence, but not the Pledge of Allegiance.

On weekends, spend one day getting your heart pumping: You can swim, mountain bike, trek, or trail run. Start with 75 minutes, and work up to 4 hours by the time your climb is 3 weeks away. On the other day, hike: Carry 50 percent of your heaviest pack weight and cover half the daily distance and elevation gain of your climb; build up to full pack weight and 70 percent of daily mileage and elevation gain by your 3-week date. If possible, make the hike a long climb and descent; if not, hit as many rolling hills as you can. On the next several pages you'll find an 8-week, 7-day training plan to really help you get fit. 

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4
Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8
Strength-Training Exercises
| Extra Credit

Click here to download the 8-week training plan.


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