Programming Box Steps, and Moving Away from TFTNA

Hey folks,

James and I are 99.9% (all but the plane tickets) committed to a short trip out to the Rockies in mid-December to try some longer moderate ice/mixed/alpine routes to start the season off. I, for one, am pretty stoked.

We only have a short time frame to try to get in shape so I’ve cobbled together a program. I intended to move away from the block periodization that I understood Training for the New Alpinism to represent. However, now that I’ve had a chance to compare different ideas on concurrent energy system training (e.g. The Hybrid Athlete), I think I just didn’t correctly implement the TFTNA system. Oh well, onward and upward, and twirling, twirling towards alpinism.

The program this time is a revolving series of runs, strength training (with my dope new lifting equipment from Rogue), box steps, ice tool hangs (ice ARC’ing, I’m calling it), and some other stuff, alternating energy system focus between easy base training and higher heart rate zone training. This is to fix what I perceived to be a low aerobic threshold during our last trip – lots of low level endurance but no ability to move quickly without redlining. I’ll do a summary post on the whole programming approach after I’ve tried it and checked against results. My initial impressions after about a month, though, are positive.

I can do a 45 min run keeping my HR under 145bpm (haven’t been able to do this before). My sport and trad climbing is at an all time high, although that’s likely more a culmination of the last year or so paying off. After only 6 weeks of lifting I’ve hit or exceeded most of previous high points; last week in a single session I PR’d my squat (225lbs) and bench (205lbs). These aren’t great lifts by any standard but marks the first time I’ve squatted over body weight (215lbs).

I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to program box steps and meet the goal of targeting different energy systems at different times. I stole this directly from some very helpful explanations of programming ideas (that I didn’t understand, and may still not) from Pat at Ironstone. This is the framework for what I’ve come up with:

  • Session 1: X box steps, in zone 1, time not important. Goal is to keep HR in correct zone
  • Session 2: X/2 steps, as fast as possible
  • Session 3: X+50, zone 1
  • Session 4: (X+50)/2, as fast as possible
  • Add 50 steps every 2nd session

All workouts are performed on a 16″ step, with ice boots and a 40lb pack. For example, I’ve so far done:

  • 350 steps, 30:00, zone 1
  • 400 steps, 35:00, zone 1
  • 200 steps, 11:31, 155-170

I had a hard time really ratcheting up the intensity on the 200 step exercise. Every time my HR would approach 170 I would slow down. Not sure if my legs are weak or if I’m just a wuss and can’t push myself hard enough (likely this). I’ll work to drive the intensity on subsequent sessions.

Timing to complete a group of slow/fast sessions will be 6-10 days as the box steps annoy my knees a bit. This should progress to a grouping of 650/325 steps before the trip.

Tonight’s speed session was performed after doing some core work, dead lifts (after warm up sets) of 295 x 4 for 2 sets, and before 10:00 x 2 of tool ARC’ing alternating with calf raises. The whole workout took about 80 minutes.

The goal is to never work to exhaustion on any single workout, so that I can feel fresh for the next day. I’ve been doing 5-6 days on for 6 weeks without feeling much accumulated fatigue due to alternating energy systems (each system has 2-3 days to recover before being hit again). I’ll be careful to monitor that moving forward.

Does anyone have suggestions on programming box steps into a program like this? There are so many moving pieces there is likely always room for more efficiency.



One thought on “Programming Box Steps, and Moving Away from TFTNA

  1. Hey man! Just found this blog today and have had an enlightening and motivating trip through the site. We both have big alpine dreams however come from geographically stunted areas – although you climb at a much higher level than I do, it’s awesome to see principles applied from TFTNA applied and the results of actually putting the work in.

    Hope you update this site soon and the mid-December trip went well.

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