Fit for the Himalaya
Whenever people plan a trekking or ski vacation in the Himalaya they start thinking about fitness requirements and try to find some helpful information. With this article I write about my training methods and describe the most relevant points for getting fit for a sports holiday in high altitudes.
It doesn’t matter whether you plan to participate in an expedition to summit an 8’000m peak or whether you intend to enjoy a ski or trekking vacation in the Himalaya Mountains – a sound physical and mental condition is a prerequisite for being able to fully enjoy such an adventure holiday and also to avoid becoming victim of acute mountain sickness (AMS).
To get ready for a trip to the high mountain area of the Himalaya it is therefore important to build a reasonable physical fitness level and to develop the right mental attitude. This article is not providing medical advice or proposing any specific training programs but instead highlighting some key points which should be taken into consideration for the physical and mental preparation for your ski, snowboard or trekking vacation in the Himalayas.
To participate in a ski or trekking program in the Himalaya participants have to be healthy and physically fit. A good physical condition not only improves the flexibility of our body movements but also contributes to our ability to perform our sports activity in a more relaxed manner and with more confidence. A purposeful preparation for a sports holiday in the Himalaya demands a strong personal engagement and a lot of discipline from each participant. Trekking expeditions with daily walks of 5 to 8 hours or ski and snowboard descents with up to 10’000 vertical meters per day at altitudes of 4’000m and more pose even for well trained people a challenge. Especially for skiers and snowboarders the approach of “training by doing” can have fatal consequences.
Without a certain physical preparation participants will get tired quickly and therefore the risk of falls and accidents with serious injuries increases. It is therefore indispensable to start a training program at least 2 month before departure to strengthen and stretch muscles and ligaments. Whether you plan to join a trekking expedition or to participate in ski and snowboard program in the Himalaya it is necessary to spend some time on training the following areas: Strength, flexibility and endurance.
Strength is the foundation for an athletic form. Only with sufficient strength it is possible to cope with the demands of a full day of trekking or snow sports activities in high altitudes. Adequate strength is a prerequisite for being able to perform the required body movements in a relaxed, coordinated and controlled manner and to adapt quickly to the ever changing conditions of the terrain. Without adequate pre vacation training participants get tired very fast and especially in high altitude reach a stage of exhaustion from which they can hardly recover.
Trekking, skiing and snowboarding require a lot of strength in the legs and therefore it is important to focus on training these body parts well before going on a trip to the Himalaya. To train the strength of the legs many different methods are known. A simple one is the decision to use stairs instead of elevators in your daily life and also to use every possibility for short walks, e.g. shopping tours, lunch breaks, etc. Following these simple training routines is, however, not enough. Especially people who are not exercising regularly and who are above the age of 40 should establish their personal training rituals to prepare themselves for a trip to the Himalayas.
The best methods to build strength for the participation in trekking and winter sports programs are walking and biking in hilly terrain. Between my ski and trekking missions in the Himalaya I keep fit with regular walking and mountain bike training units. About three month before leaving for my next assignment the training rhythm is increased and I establish weekly training routines with three short distance walks of 10km to 15km with 1’000m to 1’200m vertical meters of ascents/descents and one long distance walk of 20km to 25km with 1’500m to 2’000m vertical meters of ascents/descents. Participants who adhere to a similar training routine can be sure to have built up sufficient strength to ski and snowboard a number of long runs in deep powder snow or to complete walks of 5 to 8 hours at high altitudes for several days . For participants in an 8’000 m peak expedition, however, this type of training is not enough. An example for a typical Everest training you find here: Everest Training
A high flexibility is a key factor in avoiding injuries but despite its importance it is an often neglected training element. Flexibility is the ability to stretch muscles and ligaments as far as possible without having to put too much pressure on the joints. With age our muscles get continuously tighter and the flexibility of our joints is decreasing. Daily stretching routines in the morning should therefore become part of our habits. To expose untrained muscles, ligaments and joints to high pressure can have fatal consequences for our health. For trekking and winter sport activities in the Himalaya specific flexibility trainings are therefore a must!
We know a number of different methods to train flexibility and various fitness centers offer specialized stretching programs for a variety of sports. Since my introduction to yoga my personal flexibility and stretching training consists of the sun salutation (example see here: Sun Salutation) and additional 90 minute yoga sessions with various postures. Between and during my trekking and ski missions I practice the sun salutation every day and the longer yoga session once a week. To get ready for a new assignment I practice the longer yoga session 3 to 4 times per week. As an alternative to the sun salutation you find here another example for a typical daily stretching routine: Daily Stretching Exercise
Possessing a good endurance means being able to perform a physical activity over longer periods of time without getting tired. Whether you are enjoying the powder snow runs in Gulmarg, Kashmir or trekking through the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal and India a strong endurance is crucial. Endurance can be trained in various ways. The best method, however, is walking. With three 30 minute units of “easy walking” per week in flat terrain it is possible to start building your physical condition.
Preparing for trekking or skiing in the Himalaya is not the same as preparing for a sports competition but a certain training effort is still mandatory for being able to fully enjoy a vacation which for many is often a “once in a life time” experience. The main goal of an endurance training is to get “Fit for the Himalaya” which means being able to walk 5 to 8 hours per day over distances of up to 20 km in high altitude. Also skiers and snowboarders should dispose of the same endurance level despite the fact that they have the opportunity to finish their day before the maximum number of vertical meters has been reached. Before leaving for their trip participants can easily verify if their physical condition meets the requirements for the planned outdoor activity, either by walking 5 hours in hilly terrain or by completing 5 to 6 runs in deep powder snow. Ideally this fitness check is done at altitudes of 2’500m to 3’500m
My personal endurance training combines strength and endurance which I can easily exercise with the previously described long and challenging walking routes and the yoga routines. The faster I can complete the distance and the fewer breaks I have to take the more strength and endurance I have built up.
To believe one could just go on a vacation in the Himalaya and build up the required fitness level while participating in the program would be very naïve.
For a trekking or skiing vacation in high altitude mental fitness has certainly not the same importance as for joining an 8’000m peak expedition or for participating in a sports competition. However, in order fully enjoy a trip to the Himalayas the aspect of mental fitness should not be completely neglected. The following points are providing you with some tips which can be helpful to build up the right mental attitude for your mountain adventure.
Positive visualization is a means to raise awareness for certain situations that may occur on a ski or trekking trip in the Himalaya and can help to imagine how we would react when confronted with the imagined challenges. This focused thinking method provides us with a chance to project past experiences on potential challenges in the future and helps us develop the right mental attitude for particular situations. Of course perceptions resulting from the visualization process cannot be compared to reality but they contribute a lot to calm and sensible reactions in certain critical situations.
Critical Self Assessment
Before going on a trip to adventure zones one has to go through an honest and critical self assessment. What is my fitness level, how strong is my health, what are my weaknesses, how good are my ski or snowboarding skills, how am I dealing with critical and unknown situations, how am I coping with group pressure, etc.? Once this process of self analysis is completed it is important to confront identified problems by reading about them and by seeking advice. Honesty and a strong will to prepare for the outdoor adventure are the best disciplines to make us mentally and physically fit for a trouble free trip to the Himalayas.
The most important elements in the mental trip preparation process are the ability to be unconditionally thrilled by the upcoming experience and the mental strength to cope with all negative influences that may come from the personal environment including disturbing media reports. When travelling to foreign countries or to remote areas it is impossible to anticipate every detail. A healthy optimism provides us with the right mental attitude to combine the joy over the trip with a strong determination to turn our ideas and desires into realities.
The permanent brooding over unknown and possible challenges of the trip makes everything look more difficult than it will be in reality. The most important is to accept that we cannot know today how we will feel or think tomorrow. The ability to let go and to forget everything around us is the best method to stay motivated before and during the trip.
People who prepare themselves well for the trip to the Himalayas and who establish an adequate training program can start their journey with full confidence. However, if certain weaknesses are discovered during the preparation process one should seek advice and in case of health problems consult a medical doctor before going on a trip to high altitudes.
A trekking or a ski and snowboard holiday in the Himalaya demands a considerable preparation effort from all travelers, however, compared to the exceptional moments people can enjoy in these mountains and the many unforgettable experiences they can make there this energy is well invested.
Visit our website to find out more about our ski programs and trekking expeditions: Free Ski Himalaya