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Archive for the ‘Exercise and Performance’ Category

A mystery solved/ exercise tip

February 13th, 2011

I found out a few weeks ago that I had giardiasis, an intestinal parasite. I have no idea where I got it or how long I’ve had it. Maybe since this fall, or this summer, or since I’ve been back from Everest, or from K2—who knows? It certainly wasn’t a typical case; most cases of Giardia start ‘explosively’ but about 20% don’t follow the standard symptoms. One dose of drugs (Tinidazole 2 grams) took care of it and I feel like a new person. I’m thinking that I’ve had a subclinical case for quite some time. I blamed my constant fatigue on the frostbite injuries, but maybe the little critters deserve some credit as well.

My big project right now is the revision of my rock climbing guidebook. Once that’s done in June I’ll likely have some surgery to improve my fingertips. I have a bunch of topics in mind to talk about here so I’ll do my best to get started on those.

Today’s tip

Here’s one little thing that I know I’ve touched on before. If you’re going to work on any stationary aerobic machine other than a recumbent bike, don’t read! I see people every day trying to read on an elliptical machine or treadmill and their biomechanics are completely screwed up. Put away the books and magazines, and while you’re at it, turn off your phone and quit fiddling with your music player. Keep your head up and look out at eye level. Your whole body will respond positively in your workout will be much more effective.

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It’s fast and easy

September 17th, 2010

The workout facility that I use has magazines lying around for those using bicycles etc. the beauty/fitness magazines plaster their covers with the same things every month–promises of great results quickly with little effort. I picked to cover at random to show you what I mean: Get it now! Do it fast! Guilt free! Not boring! Easy! These are the messages that people want to hear, so of course the magazines will oblige. And I’m not just picking on the women’s magazines, but they are probably the most extreme.

a typical fitness magazine cover Guess what? It takes time and effort to truly improve. Most people will take several years to reach their potential in endurance activities such as marathon running and alpine climbing. Showing improvement in simpler activities (losing weight, gaining strength) will still take months of dedicated effort.

As I watch the many overweight people doing their aerobic workouts and reading these magazines, I wonder what sorts of psychological damage these messages cause: ” If it’s really so easy, fast, and not boring, then why am I bored, why is it so hard, and why aren’t I losing weight? I must be a failure!”

In The Altitude Experience I spend a lot of time talking about how we are all different from each other. No matter how much you want to, you may not be able to go faster/get stronger/be more confident/lose more weight. And this is where the dark side beckons; steroids, weight-loss drugs, and human growth hormone have trapped many with the promise of results without effort.

So you need to set realistic goals, research the best ways to accomplish them, and be willing to put the time and energy into reaching those goals. At some point you need to readjust your goals up or down, depending on your progress.

And ignore the siren’s song from the six pac abs, airbrushed hips, and silicone chests of the magazine covers when they whisper “it’s easy, it’s fast.”

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Question: going really high

July 28th, 2010

I was recently asked for any tips, tricks, or suggestions that would help this person successfully climb Everest in 2011. The facile answer is “read my book.” But most of us (including me) will look for the shortest and easiest way to get the information we want, and there is a lot of information in the book that doesn’t apply to this person’s question. So with the caveat that this post is incomplete and certainly doesn’t contain everything you need to know to climb Everest, here are a few tips for the climber going to extreme altitude.

Physical conditioning. You should be in decent shape, able to keep moving for eight hours at a stretch, uphill and downhill, carrying a 30 pound pack. In Chapter 12 I lay out the general rules of the training program. If you are traveling with a guided party you will likely get some specific training advice from your guide. The most highly stressed muscles in your body at extreme altitude may be your breathing muscles–not your heart, not your legs. Train those breathing muscles! And being in good shape doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily do well at altitude.

Technical skills. Practice ascending fixed ropes and rappelling prior to the trip. Practice with mittens on, in the dark, in the howling wind. Technical skills must be ingrained into your brain so that this ‘muscle memory’ is available when you’re hypoxic, cold, and half asleep.

Psychological skills. While the previous two skills may seem to be the most important, failures on Everest and other big peaks are more likely to be caused by other factors. In my discussion of physical performance in Chapter 3, I list a whole series of factors that affect performance, and in many cases performance (= climbing Everest in this case) will be strongly affected by psychological factors. Figure 21 summarizes these factors and how they affect performance and judgment. Examples: are you a control freak? Prepare to be stressed, because a guided expedition means you relinquish control of almost every decision once the airplane lands. Get bored easily? Can’t stand sitting around for days on end? Then you’re going to have trouble on expeditions unless you are prepared to cope with it.

Social skills. Your relationships with fellow climbers, guides, and staff will have a major effect on your emotional and psychological well-being, which affect performance. When I wrote the book, chapter 9 (Interpersonal Relations) took on a life of its own as I realized how critical it was, especially on expeditions. On a guided trip you will be insulated from most of the backroom politics among expeditions, but you’ll still have to deal with people on your team. Zen-like detachment is the only way to go.

Even if you’ve been to Denali and Cho Oyu, don’t assume that you have the expedition game all figured out. You can expect things to happen a certain way, but don’t get frustrated if they don’t! On the other hand, if something seems screwy, speak to your guide or Sherpa privately and reach an understanding. Of course any life-threatening situation needs to be dealt with openly and immediately.

Even if you are surrounded by guides and Sherpas, things happen. Know what can go wrong and think about how to deal with it if suddenly you are in charge. Chapter 11 discusses decision making and accidents and will acquaint you with the major types of problems you may face.

Know the primary symptoms of altitude illness and thoroughly understand any drugs that you might use (Chapter 5). Along with that, know the major changes that take place during acclimatization (Chapter 4). If you wake up gasping for air, at least you’ll know why.

You might be surprised that I’ve left out the vast majority of the biology of altitude (Chapter 2). If you’re interested, go for it, but frankly you can climb any peak without understanding the basic science. Okay, maybe you should read the summary statements in the page margins of Chapter 2. It’ll take you about two minutes.

Finally remember that you haven’t paid to climb Everest. You’ve paid for the opportunity to climb Everest. And return safely. If you do so, you’ll return home and still be essentially the same person that you were, with the same problems, the same opportunities, and the same family and friends. Don’t expect Everest (or any mountain) to change your life.

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Decision making link

December 31st, 2009

Best wishes to all in 2010! Be happy, be safe.

Here’s an interesting article from Wired Magazine on the science of screwing up. Since proper decision making is critical at any altitude, I thought you might enjoy it.

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New Year’s Resolutions

January 22nd, 2009

As we start the new year, I have a few suggestions for resolutions that you might want to adopt this year:

In Chapter 12 of The Altitude Experience, I have a bunch of suggestions for training that apply even to low altitude activities.

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