I wondered how you prepare yourself physically and mentally for your adventures.
I recall reading in one of your books that you sometimes get out of shape, then have to cane it on the rowing machines etc to try and get back in physical shape ahead of big trips. It struck me because I saw that Steve House had actually published a book about the science of training, which made me curious about your approach.
And you write so openly about your mental demons that I realised in thinking to ask about the physical side I was completely neglecting the most important few cms in the body.
Keep up the writing and adventuring.
You're an inspirational cat.
Thanks for the question (I have had quite a few like this recently). I’m sat in a cafe with two Christians arguing about the bible, so my answer may get a bit garbled!
I must say first that I know very little about training, and the type of training I do is pretty spotty and sporadic, and probably is a long way away from any traditional approach - but seems to be effective. If I have any kind of foundation that I work on, then it’s not a real fitness concept, not part of fitness cult, nothing you could start selling or parceling out as a franchises. I’ll call my fitness concept the ‘Andy’s Kirkpatrick’s D.F.Y.U’ system. What does DFYU! stand for? It stands for the most important aspect of any training system = DON’T FUCK YOURSELF UP!
As far as I see it most people tend to get injured training, not doing what they’re training for, and many my age have simply worn themselves out - elbows, hips, knees, shoulders ready for the scrap heap. Having a mate who’s body is breaking up is both very sad, and very annoying, as such people just moan all the time!
As I know nothing about fitness, and view myself as slow and weak, my only strengths being a solid amount of stamina (that has grown with age), and good mental approach to fitness (I understand that the limiting factor on most hard alpine routes I want to do - say ED1/ED2 - are mental, or being too injured to walk to them). I’m also lucky in that my work is not 9-5 so I can focus a lot of time on training if I wanted too, plus I seem to have good muscle memory and get fit pretty quickly.
First of I would recommend not undertaking any training regime that is too full on, too steep, or takes up more than 2 hours of your day (ideally one in the morning and one a evening) unless you’re a professional athlete (which Steve House is). The best kind of training is low impact and fun enough not to feel like training at all, namely cragging, climbing at the wall and hill walking, which you can do for more than 2 hours without even thinking of it as training (and so when I talk about 2 hours a day, I’m talking about stuff that feel like training). Do any of these with a degree of respect to your body (fingers, elbows, shoulders and knees) and you’ll stay away from getting injured. If on the other hand you begin training for an iron man, while doing cross-fit three times a week, well then I think injury of one form or another is going to be a close friend of yours, and will effect what you do in both the short and long term (a mate of mine has to base what routes his does based on whether his hips can get him to and from it). With any intensive training you tend to have a steep fitness curve, your body changes fast, you feel great, you push hard - then you knacker yourself, get depressed - then bore people about your injury, go on forums looking for a quick fix while eating cake.
My approach, instead of a quick fix is more the slow avoidance of injury, with a bit of training to keep me topped up, as often the act of going away on a big trip gets you fit.
So here are some basics I’d recommend for an normal person wanting to get fit for the mountains (say an alpine season, exped etc).
Run, but don’t run too much, and take it very slow to begin with, no matter how great you feel. Give your legs a month to get strong, all those connectors strengthen up. Warm up and warm down and stretch. Run for more than thirty minutes but not more than an hour. Try and get into the habbit of running every other day, even if it’s just 30 minutes. Getting up 30 minutes early, especially in the winter, is great training in itself for alpine climbing. If you feel any tweaks or niggles don’t ignore them. If you’re using a gym then try and run 10k every 3 days. You will begin to enjoy running a lot, but be careful not to conflict with DFYU.
As part of this training you should throw in some body weight exercises as well, to increase your overall strength which will reduce the chances of injury as well.
These will be:
Press ups (vary these, from narrow to wide, and as you get strong try some semi-inverted or inverted ones)
Pull ups (the classic, so buy a pull up bar and make sure you do them with style, don’t drop or ‘kip’ and don’t overdo them - think of your elbows).
Burpees (a good mix of core and squat strength)
These should be built into your run, done mid run or at the end before stretching. You can also just do them as and when to get your daily average up, and I’d try and go for 1000 a week of each exercise.
If you go throw in going to the wall, or going out on the rock three nights a week, then one or two days of hill walking at the weekend (or road/mtn biking), then you’ll soon see a big improvement in your base fitness.
If I want to increase my fitness considerably then I would add in a few more things, which tend to be done most easily by joining a gym (but you can buy a few bits and do this at home easily).
These would be:
Rowing. This is a killer exercise and I know of nothing else that can transform your fitness as quickly. It’s also low impact (if you’re sensible) and hits all your body. I would try and doing 5km in 20 minutes every other day, or every day if possible. You can scale up to doing 10km in under 40 min, but this is tough - and a bit boring (get yourself some good headphones!).
Deadlifts. I’m a big fan of deathlifts, as they can be very tough, but really work the body, especially your grip - good for winter/alpine climbing with axes. Try and do 5 sets of 5 reps with the weight around body weight - the ideal weight being 100kg. Form is more important than the weight, and if you’ve got a bar at home you can add this to the end of your run.
Kettle Bells. Yes these are a cult, but they are also cheap, high quality and can be stored easily in your house if you can’t get to the gym (just buy an 8kg and 16kg to start with) and if you use properly will create good ‘functional strength’ (ie not body building strength). With these keep is simple and just do the ‘Swing’, ‘Goblet squat’, ‘clean’ . The weights are going to be low, so aim to do 5 sets to failure.
There are hundreds of exercises out there, an even more variations, but in my experience keep your training simple and stick to the vanilla exercises, as many other are just thought up by blokes at Men’s Health. Get good at these exercise, and aim to get a solid level of fitness, but don’t go beyond that. Remember you are not a pro, and if you where you’d have a coach. If training becomes and end in itself then it will probably be the end of you, with arthritis and long term injuries dogging your forever.
If you want some inspiration then I would highly recommend Steve’s book (Steve also does some online coaching). I would also play close attention to fitness pros like Andy Mckenzie, (great little vid here of him training Ben Saunders before his South Pole trip) who has both a great blog, but also some great posts on his instagram at @ironmacfitness. And the there is the legendery Mark Twight’s site Gym Jones, which offers some very well thought out training plans.
As for mental stuff… I’ll leave that for another time!
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram
The Ultimate Big Wall Manual
“The only real criticism of this utterly authoritative and detailed manual is that it is an utterly detailed and authoritative manual”BUY
Collected writing on life, death, climbing and everything in between
2017 Banff Mountain Film
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