Cardio: Is it better to split the long runs, or do them in a few big sessions

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  • #3277

    I don’t have a lot of time to train cardio and would have to give some thing up in order to pull off a 2 hour session. It’s because I also train for and compete in powerlifting, so I already do about 7-8 hours of strength training a week.

    In addition to that I do one 2+ hour climbing session, one 1 hour bouldering session (ice climbing soon also). Using the guidelines in Training for the New Alpinism I also do 30 minutes of zone 2, some sprints using the progression in the book, and 3 hours of zone 1. To fit all this together I do the strength session quickly with supersetting etc, and then do cardio after for maximum of 1 hour. I don’t have much more time than 2.5 hours a day for training (I go 5x a week, 6 if you count climbing).

    Would this work at all or will I be spinning my wheels? I was thinking I could fix it by periodization, by slowly moving my zone 1 workouts into larger blocks and then cutting back on strength as I close up on a big alpine project.

Posted In: Alpinism

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    Max McKee on #3278

    I used to compete in powerlifting but have transitioned into mountain sports, though, I always backpacked and skied.

    I have the same problem with time. If you can’t cut out time from another activity, cut out time from sleep. I know sleep is important, but if the training is important as well, you have a choice to make. And what’s two hours of sleep anyways?

    My long runs on my last training cycle were at least 2 hours. And with a wife and newborn baby, time is precious. I ended up taking up night running when I couldn’t run with the baby during the day. I would start around 9:30 or 10pm and finish before midnight. Cops will stop to ask questions if you’re on the street and mountain lions may lurk on the trails, but it actually becomes quite peaceful and enjoyable. It worked for me at least.

    I believe that splitting a designated long cardio day negates the benefits of such a workout. I may be wrong however, this is just my belief.

    I am just starting my training again, I am on week 7 of the transition period. I am going light this time around due to time, so here is my week 7 plan:

    Monday AM: 35min run Zone 1
    Monday PM: 80min Strength Session (Scott’s core then 3 general strength circuits).

    Tuesday: 50min Hike Zone 1

    Wednesday AM: 25min run Zone 2
    Wednesday PM: 30min hike Recovery

    Thursday: 80min strength Session (Scott’s core then 3 general strength circuits).

    Friday: Rest

    Saturday: Climb 8 pitches and 30mins hiking in recovery

    Sunday: 60min run Zone 1

    Colin Simon on #3279

    Two triathlete coaches around Boulder(Dave Scott, Eric Kenney) urge athletes to get away from the 1-hour mark, arguing that pushing their 50-60 minute activities to 70-75 minutes provides a dramatically better endurance stimulus.

    Cutting sleep sounds pretty risky!

    Thrusthamster on #3280

    Yeah, I wouldn’t cut sleep personally, that would be a last resort. I guess I could try to get into 2 hour blocks, but with law school that could be a tall order. Maybe when I’m done studying this spring and actually have free time during the weekends.

    I see Ueli Steck usually runs about 2 hours, with one 3.5 hour session, when he trains for his longer climbs ( I figure I don’t need to be Ueli, I can be half a Ueli and get up the Heckmair route in 5 hours instead, hah

    Anonymous on #3282

    Great discussion guys!
    Sleep: First and foremost, all the training in the world will not do you any good if you do now allow the needed recovery time for your body to adapt to the new larger workloads imposed by the training. You get weaker from training/ stronger during the recovery. REM sleep is critical to recovery because that is when many of the hormones responsible for signaling the various adaption processes are the most elevated. So scrimping on sleep is very risky and likely to lead to overtraining.

    A little clarification:
    Cardio is a bad term for endurance training and has gotten popular due to the fitness fads of high intensity gym routines involving interval style workouts. The cardiac muscle gets a significant training stimulus when it is beating hard and fast. So high intensity work has a good cardiac (cardio) training effect and tend to increase cardiac output by increasing the ejection fraction (the blood pumped per heart beat). However endurance training is about much more that increasing the cardiac output. It is largely about improving the muscles’ ability to use the oxygen and fuels that are delivered to them in the most effective way. This is where it complicated and why we spent considerable time in our book explaining the myriad metabolic and physiological responses in the muscles to various intensities and durations. The two principle determinants of the training effect are duration and intensity. Each of these provides its own training stimuli. There is some overlap of course; we a very complex organism and the multiple systems involved in endurance adaptations are inextricably interconnected.
    But, the role of duration of the low intensity training needed to improve the aerobic capacity of the muscles is well documented and understood by many decades of endurance training evidence.

    In sum then:
    The training effects of long duration low to moderate intensity are directed mainly that the peripheral muscular adaptations not so much at the cardiac muscle (although there some). So these adaptations will respond best to longer workouts rather than shorter ones. However that may not be possible on a daily basis for many people.
    It comes down to what your goal is: If it is to be fast and fit in big mountains then you will have to prioritize the most effective training for that goal. If it is to bench press 350 pounds then you will need to prioritize that goal. Unfortunately for the original poster; Thrusthamster , he has chosen 2 events to train for that are diametrically opposed on the scale of metabolic and physiological demands required for them. Any attempt to elevate the performance of in one event is going to compromise the performance of the other. I will be writing an article for the US website soon on this topic.

    Scott Johnston

    Max McKee on #3285

    Thanks Scott!

    I will have to make sleep more of a priority. Though, even when I get a “full” nights sleep, I still have to wake up for my daughter as she can’t sleep through the night yet. So I pretty much always feel sleep deprived. Still, I always get at least six hours of sleep, even when I have a late night. And it will just be that, maybe one late night a week where I lose an hour or two. I am also only putting in 7-8 hours of training time right now, each week, including my climbing.

    How many hours of sleep do most athletes aim for? Will a little bit of sleep deprivation dramatically decrease my training benefits at such a low volume, compared to someone putting in double that time? Or is my volume low enough where my body can still adequately recover? I am very aware of how my body is feeling from over 15 years of “training” for various sports and hobbies, so I will take an easy day or the day off if I feel the need to.

    I had a feeling that training for something like powerlifting would have negative effects on endurance, and that endurance training would negatively impact your strength. I seem to recall reading that in the book.

    Thrusthamster on #3294

    Hi Scott,

    Just wanted to make clear that even though I compete in powerlifting, I mostly just do it for fun, and being stronger can’t really hurt. I also am getting strong for my bodyweight with more climbing relevant strength exercises due to all the accessory work I do (which compromises about 70-90% of my lifting, the same way that you and Steve put most of the work in Training for the New Alpinism in the zone 1 category). Like pull-ups and lunges. My performance in the mountains this year actually improved because I started doing more high-rep work with my accessories.

    However, I know that eventually when I go to do a big trip (first one will be Chamonix probably) and not just the odd day trip here in Norway, I’ll have to sacrifice lifting for a more specific program for alpinism to peak properly.

    My thinking was that I can keep training for both sports while I build an endurance base in the “off-season” by running/hiking uphill for 5-10 hours each week at the various intensities outlined in the book, combined with climbing (and bouldering for muscle endurance work) that I am now. Then about 6 months before a big trip, like an expedition or similar where I go on a longer trip where climbing is the main goal, I switch over to something like one of your programs and only focus on that.

    It doesn’t matter much to me that my strength will suffer, it’s just something I enjoy working on when I have nothing else to do.

    Max McKee on #3295

    Sounds like a pretty solid plan. Chamonix sounds awesome!!!

    Anonymous on #3305


    The rule of specificity applies here very well. You only need to be just so strong for alpine climbing. Not being able to dead lift 50kg is probably going to negatively impact your climbing But, being able to deadlift 200kg, while it is cool, will not make you any better climber than the guy who can only lift 100kg. So, yes you can have too much general strength. Specific strength is another matter altogether. All the Power Lifts have to be considered as general strength for every sport except Power Lifting. If you want to be the best climber you can be then at some point you need to convert that (probably excessive) general strength into a type of strength specific to your intended event (alpine climbing). For alpine climbing the most important specific strength is going to be muscular endurance that allows you to move uphill fast for a long time. This type of muscular endurance is highly dependent on the aerobic metabolism in the main locomotive muscle groups. If your “general” strength training is eating into your aerobic training volume, which you have said it does, then you are not effectively training for alpine climbing.

    All that being said however: If your goal is to be the best alpine climber that can also deadlift 200kg then you are probably doing a decent job of managing your training and can forget everything I have just said. But, since this a web site for people interesting in maximizing their performance in the mountains I feel I need to point out the “best” path.

    Good luck,

    Thrusthamster on #3308

    Thanks Scott,

    My goal isn’t to be the best alpine climber of all time, but to enjoy myself and be safe when going up some challenging routes on big mountains. We’ll see how it goes when I start doing (shorter) but more serious objectives before I start going abroad. If my current approach doesn’t work then I’ll rather have the goal of doing minimal work to maintain my strength (will just need a few sets per week for that) and doing more endurance training.

    Anonymous on #3316

    A good infographic on sleep:

    Sleep to be an all-star

    Thrusthamster on #3350

    Btw Scott, how long should my zone 1 sessions ideally be? Say if my goal is to be able to comfortably do 12 hour days and ascend 2000 meters without being on death’s door.

    Anonymous on #3352

    Thrusthamster: In Scott & Steve’s book, you can find the information you need between pages 189 and 271.

    They lay out how to estimate your previous training volume, how much volume to start with, how to distribute it across intensities, and how to gradually increase both. It starts from a general transition period, works through a base period, and finally a specific period for whatever your objective is.

    Anonymous on #3353


    There is a very wise saying among endurance coaches: “You can never have too much aerobic capacity”. You can have too much anaerobic capacity however which is the case I see all too often. So, the answer to your question is: As long as you can make them. This was why I originally said that the hours and hours you were spending in the gym were going to eat into the training time/energy that will be what really makes a difference when you go in the mountains.

    There is no formula like 10 hours of Z1 a week to ascend 1000meters/hour. It is just way too complex of a system. I can tell you that the elite climbers I coach and advise often do 2-4 hour mountain runs 2x/week and ski tours will be even longer. In the base building phase they will be doing upwards of 18-20 hours of low to moderate intensity aerobic training a week. They understand what those wise old coaches were saying: “Enough is never enough”.

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