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Want to be a better climber? Here’s Six Top Tips

Want to be a better climber? Here’s Six Top Tips


Last updated: 11-May-16

By Ian Corless

Interest in trail and mountain running is at an all time high. It appears that as each day passes, more and more races are added to an ever-expanding calendar.

Many runners are no longer interested in an easy challenge and they now actively seek out tough courses that not only challenge in terms of race distance but also in vertical gain.

Irrespective of whether you are competing or completing, here are six tips to help you on your vertical journey. Apply these to your training and race day will be just a little more pleasurable and a touch less painful.

1. Gym

Be specific about training in the gym to build strength. Use leg extensions, leg press and other exercises such as squats. Box/step repetiions are also great for endurance and strength.

2. Hands on knees or poles?

It’s a personal choice. You will find many mountain specialists come from a Ski Mountaineering background and therefore they are very well practiced in the use of poles. Certainly, when slopes become much steeper, poles offer an advantage as they help balance the center of gravity and thus provide a more advantageous position. It’s a little like four wheel drive in an off road vehicle. However, poles are not allowed in some races, so it’s important to be efficient in both. Find a steep incline of 30%+ and go up at a smooth and consistent pace. Do one session with poles and one with hands-on-knees each week.

3. Pacing?

You need to train and understand the muscular and mental aspects that are required to go up hill. The correct pace is easy to find if your mind is prepared for the challenge ahead. Practice on long hills in training at an easy pace, try to keep running and enjoy the process and have fun! If you don’t have the chance to train on long, steep hills, find a short hill that is steep and do repeats at a faster pace than racing and then walk back down to allow recovery. Then repeat.

4. Run or Walk?

Mountains are very difficult. It’s all about efficiency and yes, sometimes it is far more efficient to walk. It’s about balance; run for as long as possible but a good climber knows when to switch to walking to maintain rhythm and speed. Avoid building up too much lactic acid. Become a good ‘walker’ and be happy to switch as and when required.

5. Indoor Training?

Core and stability is very important, without doubt it provides benefits. Every week try 2-3 sessions of five key exercises to work on this. Treadmills or stepping machines are far removed from climbing a mountain as the terrain and gradient constantly changes in the real world. However, on a treadmill you can get a very specific and variable workout that will add strength, and aerobic power. You can also practice technique. Use a ‘variable’ program that switches the gradient and speed, that way you can move between running, jogging and walking. The key is to keep the treadmill at an incline and some gyms have specific treadmills that can achieve a 30%+ gradient.

6. Long or short?

Variety is key and long hills provide a very different workout to short hills. When possible do one session a week that has intervals of 90 seconds to 3 minutes that are run at a faster pace on a steep gradient (no walking) and use the downhill to recover. By contrast, long hills that last 30 minutes plus are wonderful for leg strength and they will allow you to mix walking with running and also offer an opportunity to use a hands-on-knees technique or poles.

If you incorporate a mix of the above to your training, you will find that you will not only become fitter and stronger but you will climb with more ease. One of the key secrets of climbing well is understanding what pace and effort you can maintain. Far too many runners go too hard too early and then suffer in the latter stages. Test yourself in training and make the racing easy!


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