Guides are known for what sometimes seems like superhuman fitness. After all, they do make daily runs up and down hills like the 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier. Many guides use a combination of running, CrossFit, and recreational climbing to stay in peak physical condition, but it’s also important to incorporate strength training and injury prevention to avoid missing days in the mountains.
Connie Sciolino knows a little something about both. As the owner and head coach at the Alpine Training Center (thealpinetrainingcenter.com) in Boulder, Colorado, and a mountain guide, Sciolino helps keep athletes of all disciplines in great shape—including alpine, rock, and ski guides.
“So many guides are active all the time,” says Sciolino. “They’re active during on-season guiding, and they’re active in the off-season because they’re doing their own climbing and activities.” Strength and mobility work are key, says Sciolino. Below are common exercises and stretches that Sciolino uses to keep her guides strong and injury-free.
Do these workouts two to three times a week during the off-season, and once or twice a week when climbing season is in full swing.
A few common exercises you can easily employ are the front squat, deadlift, pull-up, pushup, and forearm plank.
Do five sets of 10 reps each of pushups and pull-ups; do four sets of four reps for the squats and deadlifts at 80 percent of your maximum, resting one to two minutes in between. Hold the forearm plank for one minute, rest one minute, and repeat for five sets.
Strengthen your quads and stabilize your core to improve posture and increase stamina
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out about 30 to 45 degrees (but always pointing in the same direction as your knees). Rest a barbell on top of your shoulders, near your collarbones, and just touching your throat. Use a few fingers (palms up) on each hand to support the bar; your upper arm should be parallel to the floor. Inhale and slowly bend your knees, maintaining a straight spine and forward gaze. Lower all the way down until the angle between the thigh and calves is slightly less than 90 degrees (thighs are below parallel to the floor). Exhale and push up, straightening the legs, keeping chest out and elbows up.
Target your lower back and hamstrings to ease pack stress
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, balls of the feet positioned underneath a barbell. Point your toes slightly outward for more balance. Bend your knees until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor, keeping a straight spine; bend from the hips, not the waist. Look straight ahead, and don’t tuck your pelvis or arch your back. Grasp the bar overhand, hands shoulder-width apart. Exhale, push with your legs, and stand up; keep your chest lifted as you stand upright. Return to starting position; repeat.
Fortify your core
Start in pushup position. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, with forearms flat on the floor and parallel to each other. (For an easier variation, interlock your fingers.) Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders, and your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Keep your core tight and engaged.
Prevent injuries by keeping joints and muscles nice and loose throughout the season. Do five Turkish getups, rest one minute, and repeat for three sets. For both the plank and shoulder dislocates, do each exercise for one minute, rest one minute, and then repeat for five sets.
Work on thoracic spine, hip, and shoulder flexibility to prevent pain while hiking and climbing
Lie on your back. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, arm stretched straight toward the ceiling—it should stay skyward throughout the exercise. Your left leg is straight and pointing slightly away from your midline. Your left arm is on the floor, about a foot away from your side. Bend your right knee, crunch up using your abs, and lean over into your left forearm. Lead with your chest—don’t hunch. Transition the weight from your left forearm into your left hand. From here, push off your right heel and into a bridge with your hips off the ground. Sweep your left leg back so that your left knee is on the floor under your hips. Keep a neutral spine with a lifted chest. In one smooth movement, straighten out the lower left leg so it’s in line with your right leg and stand up on your left knee. Then perform a split-squat to stand upright with feet side by side. Go back down the exact opposite way you came up.
Stabilize your shoulders and strengthen your core for better balance
Same as the forearm plank before, but with arms straight and wrists directly underneath the shoulders.
Stretch the chest and deltoids for better flexibility
Use something light, like a broomstick, or stretchy, like a therapy band. Flexible equipment allows for more wrist angles, but use whatever is comfortable—just not anything heavy. Grip wider than shoulder-width apart. The closer the grip, the more intense the stretch; start wide and gradually decrease the width with more practice. Lift the handle over your head and back down behind you until the stick reaches hip height. Return and repeat for one minute.