Mountain trips, small and large, should always be preceded by solid preparations. The more ambitious the goal, the more important the proper workout which will strengthen the body and prepare it in terms of efficiency. For me workouts have become an inseparable element of months of preparations for subsequent trips and expeditions. However, the beginnings of the adventure with working out directly resulted from an injury.
A dislocated shoulder effectively motivated me to take care of my shoulder girdle and muscles protecting it up until today. Then, there was an episode of consistent workouts with crutches when after I fractured my leg (knee joint) I had to bring it back to the state of usability, mountainous usability.
I cannot imagine climbing spectacular Aconcagua (the highest peak in South America, measuring 6,962m above Argentina) or trekking Kilimanjaro (Roof of Africa, towering 5.895m above the Tanzanian savanna) without proper preparation. Mountain workouts have numerous variations and it depends where you actually want to go. Undoubtedly, fitness is essential and it could be improved through endurance training on classic or sliding treadmills. Stairmaster training stairs are also invaluable. The possibility to put about 13kg on the back in the form of a punching bag and setting off for a 2-hour “walk” on such stairs is an excellent form of mountain hiking imitation. Another way is hiking on an increasingly inclined treadmill. It is important to diverse such cardio workouts and provide new stimuli for your body to avoid getting used to the same exercises.
However, endurance is not all. You will certainly carry a backpack (maybe a heavy one), you may need to climb a steeper area, and maybe you will need to set up a camp every day or excavate platforms in the snow. For all this, you also need strength workout that is proper and well-planned. Strong legs, a well-trained shoulder griddle, precise workout of deep muscles to control body stability – this is only the tip of the mountain in terms of strength workout.
Before each challenge I make a precise workout plan with my coach (Anna Chmielak) which normally takes one month. Then, it is modified. If I have six months before a trip – we modify it six times (every month) to ensure the best possible fitness level of my body.
One of the problematic matters in high-mountain training is the fact that you should not go overboard with strength training. At higher altitudes there is a lot of oxygen deficiency (about seven percent of oxygen in the air less every 1,000m up). It is much less oxygen in the mountains for sure. This also means reduced supplies of oxygen for the muscles. If they are too developed, it could cause significant troubles and actual lack of efficiency. Therefore, we must balance cardio and strength workouts to keep the body at the right balance between strength and efficiency.
Another thing is what hiking in higher mountains can do to our body. I can lose 5 to 8 kg during hiking in mountains higher than 6,000 m. As opposed to what some people believe (and maybe expect), unfortunately it is not just fat, but also muscles that we lose. I come back rather emaciated. It is not a problem if I have enough time to recover. However, it is problematic if another trip starts within 6 months. Then, workouts must be aimed at returning to the starting condition and building the right fitness before another expedition. It is not easy.
In extreme cases I went to the gym six times a week. Obviously, all workouts were scheduled so that particular workouts involved separate muscle groups or so that there were appropriate intervals between cardio workouts. I spent radical morning hours or late afternoons at the gym every day. When in February 2018 I came back from the trip to Aconcagua, I had to get ready for the expedition to Denali in June 2018 (the highest peak in North America – 6,190m, considered by many to be more difficult than Everest itself, due to the fact that you must drag all your belongings on the sleigh for the majority of the trip). I didn’t have much time, and workouts were killing me.
I have also included HIIT (High intensity interval training) in my repertoire. It is an endurance and strength interval training based on plyometrics. In other words, it is a jump training the aim of which is to shorten the absorption phase, i.e. the loss of energy accumulated in the muscle during its stretching. It involves the use of two variables: force and speed. Combination of plyometrics and the strength and endurance interval allows for a very good cardio workout during which heart rate is maintained at 80-100% HRmax and a simultaneous strength workout. Such a combination improved my efficiency in a short time, nonetheless you need to be very consistent and exercise at 120% each time.
All this starting with a nearly therapeutic dimension of the gym (dislocated shoulder or rehabilitation after the fractured leg), through rebuilding my fitness after expeditions to preparing myself for the next ones, cause that workouts have become a very important element of my small world. I attended several fitness clubs and gyms in my life. I chose CityFit Rondo ONZ as it was a new club. I did not know what to expect. It turned out that the club offers everything I need for a good mountain workout – from training stairs to modern treadmills and extended plyometric training zones.
As a strap line of one of the ads says: I came for a moment, but I stayed for longer and I am very happy with my decision and the fact that CityFit Rondo ONZ is a place on my workout map of the world.