A mountain guide is one of the more challenging roles on the planet. Yes, from the many pictures posted and life in the mountains it holds its owns personal pleasure of enjoyment. Yet they are working with people daily who often are focused solely on their own selfish desires to reach the summit of the mountain. For this, they deserve our gratitude and respect. Now, let's work to begin changing this issue.
Below you see a list of some of the complaints voiced from mountain guides over the years and continue to do so behind the scenes and only when asked specifically to the challenges they experience with clients. These are directly related to physical and mental preparation while many others could be added but are laughable and inexcusable. We need to be diligent and respectful in preparing ourselves to meet what mountain guides hope from us and possibly would like to expect from us.
Basically, clients are way under prepared for the endeavor. Knowing these are regular issues and becoming more prevalent, lets take the step forward as their customers into being a higher level of climbers by preparing our bodies and our minds for how embarking on a journey up a mountain should be experienced.
The first step is to determine your current condition through a strategically designed assessment mimicking what could be experienced on the mountain and route you have chosen. From the information, create a training plan to continue to improve conditioning while strengthening any weakness in the motor system and skill set. Reassess every 8 weeks to be sure your training plan is progressing the way you project.
If we can take on this role to make the mountain guide role a better experience, we all have the opportunity to experience life up high and greater moments. We also feel the benefit of elated mountain guides who are no longer disappointed in their work experience.
Is your mountain fitness program limited in its ability to adapt your body to the mountain environment?
Wandering and exploring new paths in the mountains continues to increase in great numbers. With the intrigue comes the normal issues of humans not being prepared for what they may encounter. Exposure. Wildlife. Hypoxia. However, a larger equation is often the most overlooked either because of ignorance, assumption of capability, or pure ego. The equation of human adaptability to mountain environments.
Often the only concern is acclimatization and cardiovascular fitness, but both have many variables regularly missed in training as well as many other important factors. Acclimatization is the process of the body altering its internal environment to being more sustainable in the reduced availability of oxygen of the external environment. Cardiovascular fitness also alters the inner world with an improved metabolic state to feed the energy requirements from the demands of activity. With the changes, the body maintains a more homeostatic inner world to sustain life in the new external environment. Note the word sustain. Sustain does not mean thrive. So what other variables may be important to assess and address in mountain environments?
One may be lung volume, meaning how much air you can breathe in and especially breathe in over time while walking up an incline such as a mountain. If you cannot breathe an optimal and similar volume of air with each breath over time, then your brain begins to require your muscles to drive more breaths to make up for the reduction in respiration volume. As you can imagine, the demand for more breaths can increase stress on your muscular system impeding forward motion. When this turn occurs, the heart rate can increase from the added demands necessary to deliver nutrients to the muscle tissue's increased requirements. The individual can also begin to feel ill and lightheaded from the stress response from these increased demands. By using a spirometer in training much like many do with a heart rate monitor, an individual can determine through regular measurements how their training is affecting their breathing. Some training may have a negative response to breathing leading to undesired training effects.
Another major issue is the vast majority of those active in the mountains have inadequate metabolisms to handle the needs of activity in mountain environments. Matching cardiovascular training to the metabolism needed for human adaptation to the demands of the mountain is key to creating a fitness foundation. Knowing most mountain activities are slow in nature with brief rounds of high demand activity and seeing so many individuals using sugars and carbs as their primary fuel to maintain energy, the curiosity leads to thoughts of this not being the optimal path. Using quick sources of energy regularly to maintain forward motion can impede constant progress because we should be using a fuel for recovery rather than trying to maintain our perception of energy through bursts. One would think using a source of fuel matching the activity's demands would make more sense. How does one go about altering their state to using a long-term source of fuel, such as fat? The two key variables are training at a low heart rate zone to keep out of the anaerobic state and doing the activity after a long period of not eating, such as first thing in the morning. Following these training periods with higher fat meals rather than trying to restore depleted glycogen stores and repeating this pattern with most of the overall fitness program, the individual's system adapts to the new conditions and uses a more fat-adapted metabolic state over time. The newly efficient metabolism can carry the individual further into the mountains without the constant need to ingest quick energy sources.
The final variable impacting a human's ability to adapt to mountain environments is how much strength they can maintain after going up because after all, they must go back down. The simplest way to assess this without going up a mountain is to choose closely related strength training exercises to what may be expected and performing them in a typical training session. When completed the individual should go straight to an extended cardiovascular exercise also matching typical mountain conditions such as carrying a 30-pound pack up an incline for around an hour, then immediately returning to the previously performed strength exercises at the same weights performed. This can be expected to take around 2 hours depending on the variables. If the individual cannot match at least 80% the same strength performance, then more training is required to become more adapted to the mountain environment. The real challenge in doing this correctly is the knowledge of exercise and the ability to strategize the optimal assessment matching the goal for the individual.
With these three assessment tools, one can begin to reduce the challenge for a larger population trying to adapt to mountain environments. The basic fitness assessment of fitness centers and progression training in cross fit gyms do not match the needs of all humans trying to adapt and thrive in mountain environments although their principles are vital in parts of the training protocol. We need to look deeper into the human adaptation to mountain environments and be more creative in finding ways in how we assess and address our adaptation.
The goals of our programming:
Everyone has their bias on their diet and what they are willing to sacrifice for the goals and their well-being. In looking at what is for each individual, three major variables must be assessed. The first is you. What are you willing to do to accomplish your goals without sacrifice your health? What do we mean? Well, the three major macronutrients (carbohydrate, proteins and fats) all play similar and different roles in our internal biochemical lives in addition to how the taste in our mouths. All three can be used as energy, but only two are involved in growth, repair and development. Do you know which ones? To bias toward merely an energy source is potentially detrimental to the internal human processes. Are you will to allow your body to regularly break itself down without the proper building block to rebuild?
Second, the requirements to ingest carbohydrate constantly to maintain an energy level required by the activity can be quite challenging. To move toward a fat biased diet allows for fewer meals and a more constant energy level. This can offer two huge benefits. One is being able go longer without needing a break for rest or food, and your body maintains the constituents necessary to maintain a healthy physiological system negating the prior issue of your body breaking down.
The final variable is digestion of each macronutrient. As many know, carbohydrates break down and absorb quickly while fats, or lipids, take more time. So if you choose the fat path, then time must be taken in shifting toward this preference to allow the body to accommodate the change. Just like we have to train our cardiovascular and muscular system, we need to train our metabolic system to adapt to a new stress. Many chemical reactions take place to adjust to the demands of the metabolic world and efficiency is key long term.
With these three perspectives on fat or carb intake, I assume you see the bias. Fat plays a role in keeping the body healthy in the growth and repair department, but also in the high available energy need of mountain activities. The only challenge you need to take on is training your body to adjust to the needs of fat metabolism.
The excitement of climbing heightens the good feels all over. The feeling of the possibility of something going wrong does the opposite. How does your nervous system respond to such polarizing differences. Some of us may perceive to be handling it all just fine, but when the measurements are taken a different story is told. So what is really happening? The individual may very well be doing fine and complete their summit bid without a hitch, but there could also be an underlying issue leading to a risky situation for everyone if left unaddressed over a long expedition.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is our first warning system telling us the body is responding positively or negatively to a stressor or several stressors. Our ANS is always doing this, but if the stressor or stressors are too great the body may react negatively. The stressors from outside can effect any of the body systems. The 4 focused on at Mountain Fitness Research are cardiovascular, pulmonary, digestive and muscular. These systems are used at a higher level in mountain environments to accommodate the need and can push the other systems to compensate when they are not able to keep up with the demand and in turn pinging the ANS to respond in survival mode. If the ANS could be monitored prior to train the body to adapt to the mountain environment to a higher level, then the success of enjoying the journey would be increased.
By taking a look at measuring the ANS via heart rate variability, we can see trends of how our body reacts to the stress of training and recovering over extended periods of time. This can be very valuable as you work through your training cycles or recover from challenging days in the gym or training on a mountain. Knowing how your ANS responds to these stressors lets you know what to expect prior to your summit bid. It will also let you know if you system is going beyond what it normally handles in the particular situation. This does not mean you cannot or should not do what you are doing. It merely means you should know how your system is dealing with it.
Many are often initially shocked on ow much of a mess their system is in. If we take a step back, we will see our daily choices in training and diet may be what is really a mess and can be easily adjusted to match the needs of your body in training levels. We often ping our thresholds more than necessary to see how far we can go, but over time this can become a chronic issue your system no longer wants to manage. This is the value of using heart variability to maximize how we perceive to be handling the training and adjust accordingly. To learn more about heart rate variability, please visit eliteHRV.com.