Fitness Test Round 3

We’re cruising right along in the program and recently finished the muscle endurance phase. The goal of this block was to take the strength built in the first phase and start converting it into endurance capacity. We wanted to do another run at the alpine combine test to see if we’ve progressed at all over the previous two months and how we compared to our initial baseline test.




We’re happy with out continued progress. We were not surprised by the minimal progress in the non-box step tests as we’ve almost entirely replaced our strength workouts with endurance workouts – I’m satisfied with maintaining these numbers for now. We both saw improvements in the box step test. This, in our opinion, is the number most directly related to our alpine climbing performance. Anecdotally, we noticed that our performance in this test was limited by different individual factors. James found that although his heart rate was comfortably in the maximum range with room to speed up he wasn’t able to move his legs any faster to quicken his pace. Alternately, my legs felt like they could go faster but I just didn’t have the gas to do it. I checked my heart rate data afterwards and it backed up my observations – I was basically maxed out for a good portion of the test. I even show a recorded max HR of 196, which is well above what the formula predicts is my max (could just as likely be due to measurement error, however).

fit test 3
Matt’s Heart Rate Data for Box Step

These observations make sense given our training activity preferences. I haven’t gone for a single run this whole program but I’ve been lifting heavy weights (i.e. weak heart, strong legs). James has been running a ton but not pushing his lifts due to a chronic back problem (i.e. strong heart, weak legs). We can conclude that to further improve in the box step test, and of course in our real world hiking/climbing fitness, I will need to spend more time working my heart rate in zone three to be able to work harder and James should try and build more strength and speed in his legs.

I’ve also had the opportunity to observe how my diet has impacted my training results. The first phase of our training coincided with me trying for a severely carbohydrate reduced diet plan to control my weight. My weight control was successful but I was unable to put in hard training efforts. Once we got into more serious work loads I decided to go all-in on working out at the expense of my diet. For two months my life turned into a 24-hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week all-you-can-eat buffet. I likely gained around 10lbs during this period but was able to work out as hard as possible and saw solid improvements. This is a dangerous game, however. As someone with appetite control problems and a taste for terrible food this devil-may-care attitude can get out of hand pretty quickly. Here’s a run down of what I ate this previous Sunday, the day before this fitness test, during which time I read a book and watched a movie and avoided going up stairs because it seemed like too much work:

  • Four cheeseburgers
  • Two beer
  • 18 oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (or ‘the whole goddamned bag!’ if you’re my girlfriend)
  • five blueberry muffins
  • All dressed chips
  • Popcorn
  • probably other stuff I’m forgetting

I will concede that this isn’t exactly a high-performance diet. My entire diet the day of the test was coffee, 6 pieces of pizza and a redbull. However, I’d like to advance this experiment and meet myself somewhere in the middle for the last ~two months of our program. I’ll try to eat enough to work out hard but will cut out the treats and unnecessary trips to the bbq. This moderation approach has always been a challenge for me but I’m confident i can make it happen for two months.

It’s also important to note that the fitness test isn’t our only measure for improvement. During the last two months I’ve ticked off a number of my trad climbing projects, PR’d my squat, managed to self-locomote myself to work for all five days in a week, etc. etc. With our trip to Maine this weekend we’ll get to see how all of this comes together in an actual alpine setting.


If for some reason the prospect of watching two dudes do box steps and sit-ups to super-dramatic music gets you all excited, James has put together some footage from our test last night using his new GoPro HERO4 SILVER. For more information on how to build your own plan, go pick up Training for the New Alpinism  and while you’re at it get the The New Alpinism Training Log, it sounds useful although we haven’t gotten it yet.

5 thoughts on “Fitness Test Round 3

  1. Rather late to the party here, but I found your comments on leg speed vs heart rate very interesting.

    I can do the thousand feet in around 30 minutes on real hiking or an 18″ box, but on a 12″ box as recommended in the book I have yet to break 40 minutes. I would need to up my rpm by 50% to match my time on the higher box, and I simply can’t.

    1. Hi Alan,

      We’ve talked about this off an on forever. A)I agree, the higher the box the faster the time, within reason and B)We spoke to someone that sounded like they addressed the issue with Steve House directly and it sounds like the time was meant to reflect an actual hiking time. This would be impossible to replicate on a box because the box step includes the downward motion for every movement up. Basically you’d have to count your time up the 1000′ hike AND THEN BACK DOWN for it to be comparable, if this is to be believed.

      At the end of the day I think all that matters is that you take your time as a benchmark and then work to improve it over the course of a training cycle.

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