I overheard a woman talking on a crowded tram at a ski resort a few years ago and it really stuck with me: “She works out, like, all the time at the gym, so you think she’d be in really good shape. But you get her into the mountains and she can’t keep up. She’s gym-fit, but, not like actually fit”
That comment stuck because I workout at the gym a lot, it’s part of my job as a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer. I don’t want to just be gym-fit, I want to be able to do a 12-hour day in the mountains. I put in my time on the treadmill or the spin bike for conditioning, but my ability to move faster in the mountains improved once I started incorporating more weight-training into my workouts. I won’t bore you with all of the science behind why it works, except to say that improving your muscles’ capacity to process oxygen for the breakdown of fuel requires forcing the muscle tissue to adapt via a training stimulus (or overloading the muscle, to put it simply). Cardio is great for your lung-capacity, but unless you’re adding external weight, it won’t improve your strength. Hiking with a heavy pack will help, but if you don’t have endless hours to explore the mountains, spending 45 minutes in the weight room is the best way to maximize your time.
Here’s what my typical week in the gym looks like:
MONDAY: Run and heavy leg day. I start with a 4 or 5 mile run, because I know I won’t be able to do it after I lift. In the weight room, I do Hang Cleans, Deadlifts, Squats, Lunges, and Leg Press. I vary the number of reps and sets, but usually do 3-8 reps for 3-5 sets. I mix in different secondary exercises like Box Jumps or Single-leg Deadlifts to keep it interesting. I do core exercises every day: Planks, Side Planks, V-ups, and Sit-ups to name a few.
TUESDAY: Spinning and heavy upper body day. I either teach a spin class, or I ride on my own for an hour. Bodyweight exercises are challenging for me, so I do Chin-ups, Push-ups, and Tricep Dips for max reps. I also do my overhead lifts like Push Press or Split Jerks for 3 sets of 6-8 reps on my heavy day.
WEDNESDAY: Run 5 or 6 miles. Every other week, I incorporate some interval training into my run by doing 1-minute sprints with a 1- or 2-minute recovery jog in between.
THURSDAY: Light leg day: Front Squats, Romanian Deadlifts, Leg Press, Crossover Lunges, Split Squats, Clamshells, and balance exercises like Single-leg Squats on a BOSU. I usually do 3 sets of 8-15 reps, and my focus is on building knee stability and hip strength.
FRIDAY: Spin for 45 minutes. Light upper body day: Incline Chest Press, Lat Pull-downs, Bent-over Rows, Front and Lateral Raises, Straight-arm Pull-downs. I do 3 sets of 12-15 reps so I’m building some upper body endurance.
SATURDAY & SUNDAY: Ski, hike, or run.
I try to get my heavy days in early in the week, so I’m not sore when the weekend comes around. If I went hard over the previous weekend, I’ll switch my heavy leg day to later in the week for a little extra recovery. Anytime I can swap my cardio conditioning for a hike or a dawn patrol ski tour, I will take full advantage and get outside! Sometimes that means skinning for laps at Hyak on a Thursday morning before work, or trying to beat my best time up to Rattlesnake Ledge on a free afternoon. Even if you can’t get out as often as you’d like, think of every hike or ski tour as a training opportunity for your next objective. I’m notorious for carrying more weight than I need to on training hikes: on more than one occasion, I’ve found crampons and avalanche gear in my pack during a summer day hike. Perhaps I should clean out my pack once in awhile? As I said before, that extra weight will make me stronger and I’m happy to carry it for a bonus leg-day!
I’m happy to answer questions, and I’ll still be in the gym 5 days a week. Unless I can squeeze in some weekday hiking or skiing…because that’s so much more fun than a treadmill!
Nikki Brown, CSCS
Author & Contributor
Nikki Brown is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a passion for skiing. When she’s not in the gym, she’s playing in the mountains. Nikki and her husband ski every month of the year, and are currently working on climbing and skiing all of the PNW volcanoes.