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Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete Paperback – March 18, 2014
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The book's easy-to-use format and scaleable training programs are accessible for anyone looking to improve their fitness through a new approach. coolhunting.com
About the Author
Scott Johnston, who grew up in Boulder, CO, has ski raced on a national and international level and is an avid climber. He currently coaches several of the nation's top cross country skiers, and climbs, establishing local climbing routes in and around his home town of Mazama, WA, in the North Cascades, where he lives.
Mark Twight has applied the light-and-fast tactics he first developed in Europe to climbs ranging from the Himalayas to Alaska. Mark is the author of two books: Extreme Alpinism - Climbing Light, Fast and High and Kiss or Kill - Confessions of a Serial Climber. He is the founder of GymJones.
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And Lord knows, they deliver the gospel and deliver it well. House and Johnston know their stuff, from the theoretical and biological underpinnings of fitness They dispatch the tired and too-often said "just go climbing" - no athlete interested in maximizing performance "just goes climbing/running/riding." It takes more. But "more" does not just mean more often, or harder, or longer. This book tells you what "more" means - it is a thorough explanation of what the physical demands of alpine climbing actually are, what the science tells us about the best ways to train those capacities, and how to put all that together into an executable program. What, when, how much, how often, how long, how heavy, how hard . . . ALL the information you need to get in the best conditions your genes and environment allow is all there. Their treatment of aerobic capacity - why it is so crucial for what we do, and how and how NOT to organize your training to improve it - is worth the price alone.
The book has many more real gems that you can put to use immediately: an "Alpine Combine," ala the famous NFL player evaluation combine,that serves as a handy means to assess and grade general fitness; a terrific, do-anywhere core sequence that lives up to its "Killer" name; weighted pullup, hill sprint, and loaded hiking cycles that are worth their weight in gold for the "bang for the buck" they deliver. Even the strength training information is stellar. I say "even," because, as a strength coach myself, I'm often disappointed or shaking my head at the mediocre, phoned-in strength prescriptions in most training-for-a-sport books. I shake it just as often at the currently popular "Crossfit" and its various knockoffs, all of which will make an unfit person much fitter, but all of which, at the same time, amount mostly to "working out to get better at our workouts," which is a far cry from working out to get better at climbing mountains. Not a deficiency here - the strength training information and advice in this book has a clear purpose (strengthen and toughen your musculoskeletal system to execute and withstand the demands of alpinism). House & Johnston lay out the stuff that works, the stuff that is relevant to our game, without cool but ultimately useless gym tricks. You don't have to do Olympic squat snatches, muscle ups on rings, or anything else that would make you ask yourself "Why am I doing this again?" You will be box stepping, leg raising, pulling on tools, etc. - if you have ever climbed anything technical and hard, you will know exactly why you are doing what you are doing. House & Johnston include a very solid menu of general strength exercises, good, clear instructions for those exercises, and some atypical movements that are highly climbing specific. Their strength programming guidance - the loads, sets, and reps that produce specific kinds of strength or strength endurance - are dead solid perfect. No lazy "three sets of 15-20 reps" drivel: they understand, provide, and explain the full complement of strength work needed (depending on the phase of training or goal), including circuits for preparatory or work capacity development, max strength sessions, and strength endurance work - all useful, all of which must be trained in very different kinds of workouts.
Planning and programming information is similarly good, but has a distinct "major race" focus. House and Johnston are strong advocates for block periodization - spending sequential blocks of 2-5 months on specific components of fitness, leading to an overarching, major climb. The premise and prescribed approach is similar to, for example, the ideal training one would do for an Ironman, the Boston Marathon, or a championship meet in any similar sport - basically organizing the entire year toward one big audacious goal. That makes their specific planning prescriptions most suitable to climbers who build toward one or perhaps two major climbs or expeditions each year. If you are going to a big range for a bucket-list climb, this is exactly how to be in the best shape of your life for that trip - and why you need to begin that training about a year out. The book is less specific for one whose goal is closer to "high fitness year round." The authors point out, accurately, that it is impossible to be in your absolute best shape all the time - you have to build to that, and peak for it, and they show precisely how. But it would be a mistake to regard this book's value as limited to "training for an expedition." The concepts and workouts can easily be modified and used, in my opinion, by people who are less oriented around some huge annual or semi-annual project, and instead need to stay at a high level of fitness for various climbs and tick lists over their summer rock, shoulder alpine, and winter ice seasons. The authors' base and strength-endurance periods, for example, can be melded into an undulating periodization scheme that varies emphasis and exercise mode by the season, with transitions and 2-3 month builds toward the longer or more important climbs on the calendar. Some of us know how to do that, but I suspect others don't, and I'd like to see House & Johnston in the second edition include at least a chapter for the climber who isn't necessarily preparing for THE BIG CLIMB, but wants to stay in great shape over the course of a typical year and knock out a couple or three dozen significant alpine, ice or rock climbs during that year. Those folks, too, can be much fitter, and climb much better and more safely than if they "just go climbing" and practice random acts of exercise. Would love to see these authors comment on how they would organize the training of the avid weekend or twice-a-month alpinist across the seasons.
Climbers will also appreciate their solid, no-nonsense nutrition section, which provides solid guidance on performance eating during training and on climbs. What they say works, every time, as opposed to "diets with names," which are hit or miss at best, and may work for Jill but not for Jane, and many of which border on stupid for an alpine athlete.
Bottom line: Terrific book, well written, well organized, given the breadth of subject covered, and lavishly "iced" with relevant stories and sidebars from many of alpinism's leading lights and superb action photos. If you train to climb mountains, especially big challenging ones, where superb conditioning is a necessity more than a luxury, buy this book.
Steve House, who claims not to be a genetically gifted athlete, is considered by many to be one of the greatest American alpinist of our time. House has no shortage of great climbs to his name but his marquee work is “The Central Pillar” (M5 X, 5.9 WI4) on the Rupal Face of Nagat Parbat (8,126m). For his efforts he and his partner were awarded the coveted Piolet d’Or. Scott Johnston has a well-established career as a climber and World Cup cross-country skier. With his own spectacular resume of climbs in the greater ranges Johnston now coaches many of the country’s top athletes. With authorities such as these the skepticism had to be put aside for intriguing dive into the book.
Much like the process of training this book requires a fair amount of discipline and commitment. It reads more like an old college science text book rather than the overly simplified light read that you might find in the pages of Climbing or Men’s Health. With a deep push into the actual physiology of the physical fitness training it may take multiple rereading of sections to really fully understand and incorporate many of the concepts. This is not a book for the half-hearted two week New Year’s resolution crowd. It is for those who are willing to ingrain themselves with commitment towards an actual long term training regime.
For those who are up to the challenge what they will find is perhaps the highest level of knowledge and expertise on the topics of training as they apply to the alpine climbing world. House and Johnson drive home what seems to be a mantra of gradually building through purposeful planned training. The book is not a system or gimmick and makes clear the importance of hard work over a great period of time to achieve the optimal results. What they are attempting to do is simply educate the reader on the tried and true methods of training world class athletes and apply them to the realm of alpine climbing.
While I found it sometimes overly dense in information the authors made a considerable effort to break up the pages with poignant stories of success and failures from many of the World’s top alpinists. Supporting essays from Vince Anderson, Ines Papert, Mark Twight, Caroline George and other greats athletes bring home the importance of the concepts and yet another tier of legitimacy to the book. Everything in the book including the color photography and print quality are reflective into the high level of professionalism that these men put into their work.
In the end I came to realize that the “New” was not just a change in the style in climbing as the author’s suggested but a ‘new’ approach in the way to think about your climbing. While I cannot recommend it for the ‘average’ lackadaisical climber I can say, for those committed to taking their climbing higher and further, that this book is the definitive work for alpine training. It doesn’t matter how great of climber you are, or aren’t, if you are serious in your commitment towards furthering your alpine career this is a must own book. 5 stars