Training for the new alpinism: James’ complete program review

Here we are. First cycle of the program completed. By diving headfirst into this program we were able to get a peek into what it takes to be a high level alpinist. This year we stood at the bottom of a lifelong journey staring up at the 30 more dedicated cycles it will take to develop and took the first step. In this post I will review our experience executing Steve House’s full training program. Here are the major milestones we reached throughout the program:

  1. Transition Period (4 weeks)
  2. Base Period (20 weeks)
  3. Climbing Specific Period (4 weeks)
  4. Tapering Period (2 weeks)
  5. Peaking: Goal execution

If you would like to see my or Matt’s personal excel book of training logs shoot us a msg and I’ll happily send it along.

Throughout the program we also touched on our experience with various topics that the training book dives into.

To get insight into our mindset throughout the program I recommend going through the posts I’ve linked to above. Now that we are into the next cycle we’ve had many discussions over what we did well, and what we did wrong. I will breakdown our lessons learned by undertaking such an intensive training program.

The Good:

Overall this program was hugely positive. It taught me a lot about general fitness and it’s implications for climbing, about periodized programming, gradual modification/increases, planing and tracking improvements, long term goals, cardio training, and most importantly how focusing your energy towards a positive outcome is the best way to be sure you’ll get there.

I can honestly say I’ve never been as fit as I was at the end of this program (15+ hrs of training per week will do that). Since completing this program I am climbing stronger (bouldering, trad, sport) than ever before. I feel like I have a really solid base to build up from.

The Bad:

The biggest downfall for someone who loves to climb is that climbing will have to take a bit of a backseat to other more general forms of fitness training (Steve House makes this perfectly clear in the introduction of his book). When comparing how most people train for climbing versus other sports we tend towards peaking 365 days per year, projecting during every session. Most sports will only peak once or twice per year where we try to send our hardest nearly every time out. Following this program means you will be prepared for an alpine environment, when you’re there you will climb better, but over the course of the year less often.

It will also eat into your personal life, especially if you are trying to do this along side a full time job. There is no getting around it without half-assed-ing it. Prepare your loved ones for what the program entails and why it is important to you.

Lessons Learned:

It will take a toll on your body. We ran into a couple of over-training scenarios. Monitor and listen closely to your body. Build in rest and recover to the program, dedicate time to active recovery.

I tested and tweaked the nutrition side of things a lot during this program. Trying everything from high level supplements to macro to micro nutrient tracking. Overall the energy and money expended towards figuring out the perfect diet for performance was not as beneficial as I was hoping for. It’s most important function in my eyes is recovery to avoid over-training and injury. For performance reasons eating a regular adult human diet following the Canadian food guide and increasing or decreasing total calorie input to line up with your calorie output goals will be more than sufficient.

Alpine climbing is what inspires me, what drives me to grow as a climber. The training program and the Bugaboos showed me what is out there and what is possible. Unfortunately it also highlighted to me how limited our access to Alpine climbing / training is where I live. I briefly considered becoming a full-time boulderer but the thought of this made me want to throw my shoes in the ocean. I realized that all the hard work and logistics for me are worth it. If distance makes the heart grow fonder… then my heart is fond as shit for alpine sends.

Whats next?:

Matt and I have had many conversations about what the next goal should be, what we should plan towards. This experience has shown us where our individual relative weaknesses lie and so we will be tailoring this next cycle more individually to improve as climbers.

My biggest weaknesses lay in leg power, flexibility and mobility. For this next program I have built in time to focus on mobility by working with a kinesiologist and physio and undergoing a “Yoga for climbers” program. I have increased the strength training percentages and have to make time to work on this.

From this base we’ve built I would like to start to push my grades in ice climbing and so for the 2 months before ice comes in out east I will be doing a ton of ice tool / drytooling and core work a la Ian Holmes. Throw any advice on how to train specifically for waterfall ice in the comments section!

Thanks to everyone who sent us messages, questions, comments! All of your interest  has kept us engaged in the process and made us do more research and improve in so many ways. We want to engage with everyone and anyone who has completed a cycle of this program! Or answer questions for those of you who are thinking about or working your way through it.

If you want to get into the program check out our book review or buy the book! Find other recommended books here!


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