Book Review – Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete

I decided to pick up Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete because I had never seen a book on this topic that attempted to cover so many bases.  I had always wondered if my regime of weights and cardio was not enough or too much for weekend warrior mountaineering. This book has a little something for everyone – planning cardio and weight training, nutrition, stories, altitude strategies and the science behind all of it.  To plan my workouts, I translated the book into an excel workbook so that the only two inputs I needed were maximum heart rate and an estimate for number of hours trained in the prior year.  I thought I found an error in the book and contacted the authors.  They were both expedient, informative and thorough with their responses.  It turns out that I was interpreting a graph correctly, but didn’t think that the distribution of time made sense given my training level versus an uber-athlete.  They also told me that the book wasn’t meant to be so formulaic.  I’ll cut to the chase and say that I highly recommend this book.

Overall content and organization. This book is really well organized and has many real world examples and stories not just of the author, but a who’s who of mountaineering.  Even though it is hard to relate to the endeavours described in the stories because they are out of reach for the average athlete, they are still inspiring.  All of the exercises are well explained and the pictures are helpful.  It is always helpful when all references are noted but when further exploration of sources is encouraged, you really know this isn’t just another workout book.

Quality of the workout program.  The overall basic premise is to increase your yield, regardless of what stage you are in and regardless of it is cardio or weight training, by building up and then tapering to recovery for the next stage which will be progressively harder.  It is designed with a big peak attempt in mind at the end of the program.  You can plan your training regime for that big peak a year in advance with this book.

Cardio workouts are based on time working out in different heart rate zones.  It isn’t just go all out for x number of minutes.  For example, here are my zones broken out by beats per minute:

<97 = Recovery Zone

97 – 132 = Zone 1

132 – 140 = Zone 2

140 – 158 = Zone 3

158 – 167 = Zone 4

>167 = Zone 5

Weight training is more exercises done with body weight than traditional weightlifting exercises and they are not done until failure since gaining muscle mass is not an objective.  To give you an idea of how organized the program is, here is one sample week of workouts:

Monday       AM – OFF, PM – Strength

Tuesday       AM – Zone 1, PM – Zone 1

Wednesday AM – Zone 2, PM – Zone 1

Thursday     AM – OFF, PM – Strength

Friday          AM – OFF, PM – OFF

Saturday      AM – Zone 1, PM – OFF

Sunday         AM – Long Zone 1, PM – OFF

In this week, Zone 1 and Strength workouts are 32 minutes long, Zone 2 is 70 minutes and Long Zone 1 is 88 minutes.

The cardio workouts won’t work unless you can monitor your heart rate, so you are going to have some way to monitor it.  I use the Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire (with HR monitor) watch.

One thing that is repeated throughout the book is to avoid overtraining.  I had never heard of the concept of “recovery workouts”, but they are part of the program and definitely help you feel better.

Results.  The weight training circuits were far more challenging than I expected them to be.  I never had organized cardio before in anyway except 2-3 times a week.  Varying the intensity and times helps a ton with monotony, but with the overall goal of increasing yield.  I will not be attempting a major climb this year so I will not be able to see the entire program put into effect.  However, the few local peaks I did were not much of a problem.  The biggest difference I noticed was that there was not an extended recovery period.  Overall, I really like the all encompassing approach to planning covered in this book.

I think this book would be useful to the weekend warrior mountaineer, serious alpinist, workout gurus, professional trainers and coaches and anyone who likes the subject.  There is really something for everyone in this book and you will learn something useful no matter what your background.