How To Cross Train For Your Sport

Brooks-Range ambassador Carlos Buhler is one of the leading high-altitude mountaineers in the U.S., specializing in using minimal equipment and no oxygen on his climbs. He talked to us about how he trains for his adventures using his passions.

Transitioning from winter into summer activities is not the easiest physical challenge to tackle. However, with the right attitude, the cross-training effect is phenomenal. (Take a look at this link for an introduction.) There are three training categories to cross training: strength, endurance, and flexibility. Combining all three develops a rounded fitness level, keeps motivation high and helps to avoid overuse injuries. At the same time, this training method allows injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons some time to recover without coming to an activity stand still.

Carlos Buhler on Siula Grande’s West Face (20,000 feet) during the first ascent of a new route called “Avoiding the Touch” (photo credit: Mark Price).

Fortunately, the seasonal variety of outdoor activities offers a pretty good path for physical development. In my case, I tend to concentrate on my body’s larger muscles during the fall and winter months – specifically my lower body and my back, as well as my aerobic endurance. I shift my focus during the spring and summer months to my upper body’s smaller muscles – particularly my shoulders and forearms. It’s not a complete change from season into another, but the balance or ratio changes.

My cross training makes sense due to the sports I enjoy. When spring arrives, I change from ice and mixed climbing to rock climbing. My aerobic activity changes, as well; I trade my cross-country skate skis for my road bike. Stretching is my weakest link and I know I always have to put energy into in order to maintain. However, all of this may be different depending on the sports you appreciate.

However, I cannot expect to equal the peaks of performance of the dedicated athlete in any one of these disciplines. Clearly, if you only spend a third of your training days on cross-country skiing, for example, the level you reach will be less than if you’re putting all of your training efforts towards skiing. But the cross training effect is excellent as a supplement. My overall fitness is great and I never get burned out psychologically on one activity. Plus, I rarely have to deal with overuse injuries.

While I am excited to engage in new seasonal activities, I know that when hopping on my road bike for my early season rides, I’m going to get passed by many cyclists. Likewise, when I rock climb, I will find the first month a very humbling experience.  The right approach is to not be too demanding of myself during the early season.  The first month of a new seasonal activity needs to be moderate in order to be motivating. A season offers plenty of length in order to intensify my workouts and performance level.

My long-term intent is to keep up a reasonable level of varied activity throughout the year rather than to train very hard as a transition approaches. The trick is to stay motivated over a lifetime. And I think, by accomplishing that, you have achieved success!

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