How to train for high altitude treks and climbs
If you are reading this, then you probably have made the decision of doing high altitude trek or climb. Fantastic now let’s help you prepare for your upcoming adventure in the Himalayas.
High altitude treks and climbs especially in the Himalayas are challenging and requires you to be in the top physical, emotional, and psychological condition. The more fitter you are, the more enjoyable your trip will be. So, train well ahead in advance and be mentally prepared too.
Firstly, it is vital to begin your training program as soon as you are committed to doing the trip. Ideally, it should begin 3-4 months prior to your scheduled flight. Progression is the key here, and don’t fall into the trap of too much too fast. It means starting out slow and gradually increasing the effort and amount of training per week at roughly 10% per week.
This training program, How to train for high altitude treks and climbs, has been devised by our guides and leaders who have been in the industry for over a decade with the help of available resources and previous experiences. All the advice in this dossier is given in a good faith to provide you with a general idea of training plans and regimes.
Please note that these training plans will be most suitable for trekking in Nepal and peak climbing up to 6800m. For the training plan for 8000m expeditions, please get in touch with us and we will advise you accordingly. We also strongly emphasize having previous experiences before undertaking any Himalayan adventures that go above 5500m.
Whilst trekking in the Himalayas doesn’t require previous experiences, it is recommended that you have previous experience of high altitude treks before signing up for any Himalayan climbs.
It is also advisable that you consult with your doctor, trainer, dietitian, nutritionist for a better-enhanced training plan as per your health conditions. Please note that it is near impossible to offer a one size fits all approach for training. However, there are a few general rules that will help, and some tips for having the most comfortable and pleasant experience.
If you are in good health and injury-free then prioritize your training in the following way. If you have any medical conditions then it is best to consult with your doctor before beginning your training plans for high altitude treks and climbs
Being physically fit is a must before taking part in any of the Himalayan trips but having some previous experiences can improve your overall trip experience.
Having previous experiences should be the first and foremost important factor you should consider before embarking on the trip. Previous experience of hiking and climbing smaller peaks are greatly beneficial before taking part in Himalayan treks and climbs.
While trekking and 6000m peak climbing in Nepal are suitable for people without previous experiences and doesn’t necessarily mandate previous experiences, it is always better to have some previous experience. If you are in good health and enjoy regular exercises such as jogging, tennis, or even long hikes then with proper itinerary and acclimatization you can embark on a Himalayan adventure.
For trekking in Nepal, previous experience of treks is not mandatory if you are in good health whereas, for peak climbing in Nepal, it is advisable and beneficial to have a previous experience of trekking and climbing up to 5000m or 4000m at least. Being physically fit is a must before taking part in any of the Himalayan trips but having some previous experiences can improve your overall trip experience and lead to a safer and successful trip.
If you do not have any previous experience but yet want to take part in the Himalayan treks and climbs, we can help you achieve your goal. Our itineraries are all devised keeping every aspect in mind to ensure that you get enough rest and acclimatization days. On our peak climbing trips, we also provide a climbing course at the base camp before the actual climb where you can learn the required skills.
Simulating as closely as possible what you will be doing will go a long way to having both your body and mind ready for your daily activities.
Remember, progression is once again an important factor. Avoid loading up your pack, put on your brand new boots, and hiking 10 miles right out of the gate. You will end up with silver dollar-sized blisters, crippled legs for days, and swearing off hiking forever.
Rather progress slowly, starting with a day hike every other week and increase distance, elevation, and the weight of your pack slowly. The physical effort required for the high altitude treks & climbs is about slow, consistent walking. It is not a race, and you don’t need to be the first one to the teahouse or camp every night.
Fact is, if this is the mindset, one is sure to have more struggles with the altitude, and perhaps may even diminish their opportunity to endure the entire trek. We call this pacing and is a vital skill in the mountains no matter which mountains, but especially in the miraculous landscape of the high Himalayas.
Being physically ready for the challenges and joys of the high altitude treks & climbs will require both stamina and strength. There are a few aspects of training that will assist in preparing the body for the challenges and joys of the trail. Recommended conditioning includes weighted backpack uphill hiking, walking, and stair climbing.
As the trip draws near, then taking the week off before the trek begins will give your body time to rest and recover fully. You will feel fresh and strong if you have scheduled rest periods. However, too much rest prior to the trek will actually be detrimental and you will begin to lose your physical edge.
3. Endurance Training for high altitude treks and climbs
Endurance training, strength training, and day hikes with a weighted pack will all aid in getting the mind and body ready.
Endurance training generally means cardio training. This means that if you are planning on hiking every day, all day for at least two weeks then performing at least three days of cardio training but ideally five is best.
This doesn’t necessarily mean hop on the treadmill and runs every day, especially if you’re not a runner this could cause more problems than benefits.
Look to doing moderate, steady-state exertion levels. Some will say HIIT training is the way to go, but remember the high altitude trips is a marathon so to speak, not a sprint.
So train accordingly. This moderate, steady-state training, and hiking all day, work on different energy pathways and train different muscles than HIIT cardio does. Train the right muscles, and that includes your brain. Your mind needs to be prepared for a moderate level of work for extended periods of time.
Cardio workouts should be 30 to 60 minutes and have a nice mix of walking, hiking, or cycling to avoid overuse and injuries.
Again, everyone starts at different levels, so some may begin with walking 30 minutes three times a week, where others with a more regular fitness routine may be ready to do 60 minutes five times a week.
Endurance Training Exercises:
- Running or jogging at a steady pace
- Mountain Biking
- Bodyweight exercises (Squat, Lunges, Push-ups, Planks)
- Improving Endurance
4. Strength Training for high altitude treks and climbs
Strength training or resistance training can increase muscle mass, improve coordination and also provides an increase in heartbeat.
Resistance training is training for strength, and no you are not preparing for a bodybuilding completion, but a few sessions of resistance training goes a long way to aiding your trek.
Even though you are not carrying a heavy pack, any weighted pack will “raise your centre of gravity and increase the stress on your muscular system”.
Building strength is different from building endurance. Strength will assist in increasing your stability on uneven terrain.
Two to three days of resistant training is adequate, and this can be done with weights or even body weight. As with any exercise, a warm-up of at least 10 minutes prior to, and a cool-down are important.
Focus on the upper body one day, then the lower body the next resistance training session. It is best to do resistance work prior to endurance work to maximize the amount of energy your muscle will need for the training.
Strength Training Exercises:
- Lifting weights
- Using resistance bands
- Using your body weight for resistance, by doing push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, leg squats or push-ups against a wall
- Using weight machines at a gym.
5. Cardiovascular Training
Your cardiovascular system consists mainly of the heart and blood vessels, which are important to pumping blood and delivers nutrients to all part of your body. Having a strong cardiovascular system allows your body to work more efficiently and improves your stamina and performance in the mountains.
Exercise helps to strengthen your heart, over time if you stay consistent in doing exercise your heart becomes more efficient as it pumps more blood per beat than it did before so the heart can pump more oxygen-rich blood throughout the body with less beat. There are two main types of exercises that can be beneficial Aerobic Exercises and Strength Training.
Aerobic training is good for building endurance and improving your cardiovascular and respiratory function. This means that your heart and lungs become stronger and more efficient, enabling you to train harder and longer as your fitness levels improve. Eg: Walking, running and even playing sports. Also, make sure you are consuming a nutritious diet and having a good night rest.
People often ask if they can prepare for the altitude. For most living in the lowlands, it is near impossible to do so, and contrary to popular belief your fitness level may not dictate how much altitude will affect you. What you can train for is the strain your body and mind will have to manage when trekking or climbing with a daypack for the extended time and days on various terrain.
Do not underestimate the importance of good nutrition leading up to your trek. All this new work you are putting your body under needs proper fuel. Balanced whole foods and a good hydration regiment will power your training for optimum results. Nutrition can also have a major effect on your cardiovascular system. Consistently overconsuming calories can lead to weight gain and an increase in fat storage which can compress organs and blood vessels making it more difficult to deliver nutrients throughout your body.
7. Mental Health
Being physically fit is a must for trekking and climbing at high altitude especially in the Himalayas. Being mentally fit is as crucial as being physically fit. It’s always a mind over the body when doing a difficult task and a strong mentality is required while doing the trek & climb. The days will be harder as the elevation gains and you lose appetite so, therefore, being mentally fit helps you achieve your goal more than anything.
In conclusion, proper preparation prevents poor performance. The more fitter you are, the more enjoyable your trek will be. To have a safe, enjoyable adventure full of happy memories is the goal. Also, make sure you have good gears for the trek and climb.
Preparing your mind and body for the joys and challenges of trekking in the Himalayan Mountains and reaching the summit successfully will require some effort on your part.
Remember, you are a participant in your own safety and well-being. So, have a body and mind ready for what lies ahead and you are sure to have memories of incredible landscapes, and amazing interactions, not pains and aches.
So go ahead, get ready and enjoy preparing for the trip of a lifetime!
We hope this training advice on how to train for high altitude treks and climbs will be useful to you.
Training Books to consider:
1. Training for the new alpinism