Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston
First and foremost I have to say a few things about this book that need to be said so it is not quickly overlooked:
- You do not have to have any interest in Alpinism or climbing at all to enjoy, and get a lot out of this book.
- This book has nothing to do with the technicalities of climbing. There is nothing about ropes, knots, harnesses etc. in this book.
- If you are not dedicated to training for performance or you are looking for a fad exercise and diet regime – this is not your book.
If you are still here then the last little forewarning is that this is MY book review; therefore you are getting a lot of me and my relationship with this book and not a critic’s summary of how it is written. Enjoy.
I am not an Alpinist. I do not even regularly climb for recreation. I have no climbing certifications and unfortunately there are no climbing gyms within at least a half an hour from my house.
I have traversed a few mountains in Afghanistan, but they never required any particular equipment or training. In fact the only time I have truly climbed a mountain was in Ranger School and to tell you the truth I hated every minute of it. The guys who were there who climbed recreationally frequently explained that doing it outside of Ranger School was a much more enjoyable experience. I can understand that; I mean being cold, wet, tired and hungry for whatever reason seems to obliterate the “fun” factor in any activity.
Ranger students ascending Yonah Mountain
I say all of this because, again I want to drive home the point that you do not have to have much of an interest in climbing anything to reap the rewards of this book.
A bit about what lead me to this book. About four years ago I was avidly preparing to “move up” in my career. I was getting ready to attend a very difficult selection course that I knew was in extremely mountainous terrain. This put me on a manic voyage of devouring as much information as I could in order to properly prepare myself physically and mentally. Properly is the key word in that sentence. This was a task for a specialist, not a generalist. If you find yourself in a position where that applies, I will tell you that a generalist approach to fitness, no matter how appealing and seemingly convincing it sounds – you are not setting yourself up for success.
Now my venture at the time was not to prepare for vertical ascent or technical climbing at all. So I wasn’t flipping through technical climbing manuals or anything of the sort. My task was foot movement under a moderate to heavy load, as quickly as possible, through mountainous terrain, for a long period of time and to keep doing that daily for about a month.
So while sifting through all of the information out there I ended up finding what I still consider to this day a goldmine for this sort of endeavor. It was a book called Extreme Alpinism: Climbing light, fast, and high by Mark Twight. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Mark Twight is the founder of Gym Jones and is arguably one of the biggest names in the current internet fitness craze. He was the trainer that prepared all of the actors in the movie 300, Man of Steel and other movies. He is also a huge name in the climbing community as he was an accomplished Alpinist in his former life.
300 Spartan Makeover
This book told me just about everything I needed to know for what I was about to do. It got down into the weeds on everything I could have wanted to know like setting a timer every 30-45 minutes to remind you to take in an energy gel or the possible benefits of taking daily Aspirin to thin the blood in order to better acclimate oneself to high altitudes. These were the types of details I was looking for; anything to gain an edge.
El libro de oro
Extreme Alpinism was published in 1999. This however only makes a fraction of the information of the book, dated. Still however, there is probably a marginal amount of information in the book’s physical preparation section that I believe Mark Twight would write a bit differently today. The core principles for those who are truly performance oriented though, have not and I believe will not change.
This is not however a book review on Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight. I do believe it to be a necessary topic before divulging into Training for the New Alpinism as this book is the perfect – up to date – companion to Extreme Alpinism and I believe both authors would agree.
Mark Twight wrote the forward to Training for the New Alpinism and one of his famous essays has it’s own portion in the first section of the book. The essay is titled TINSTAAFL (There is no such thing as a free lunch) and really goes after a popular topic in the current fitness trend. High intensity training for Endurance.
If you are really interested in the essay you can find it here (for a price) or you can read it in Steve Houses’ book (if your confused at this point, it is the book I will start actually reviewing).
To the book – Although I use both the Kindle and Nook apps, I still prefer paper bound books. I usually find the content in certain books to appear more appropriate, especially if you are viewing charts and photographs. This book is that specific case. Remember that I told you this, the book itself is very large in size. The author was not kidding when he used the word manual in the subtitle. Personally I like the size and find it extremely appropriate for note taking, highlighting and using note tabs.
Along with it’s size, the book is very user friendly. The writing is easy on the reader however is not oversimplified. There are some complex topics that are tackled; however they are discussed in a very clean manner.
There are a lot of phenomenal photographs in the book. Pictures that make you want to get off the couch, into the latest Patagonia gear, and onto the mountainside.
Training for the New Alpinism is a manual for performance oriented training. It is not a book with magical workouts that will turn you from zero to hero in three weeks. This is for those who are in it for the long haul. It begins with a clear background in Exercise physiology, training adaptation, and training effects. It sets guiding principles for successful training and reminds the reader of the demands on training for specificity.
A big takeaway for a lot of readers, I believe is his described “Language of Intensity”. In the current world of physical preparedness it seems as though the control of intensity has gotten out of hand (in my opinion). The internet is filled with sites posting workouts without even a recommendation on the proper intensity that should be used in the workouts. Thus you have a large possibility for injury as people are in their garages doing 300 Snatches for time and end up with seventeen holes in the wall from flying barbells.
The physiology discussed in the book is not revolutionary or new, but is described in an engaging manner that clearly portrays what is happening when you are going through everything from a slow run to the fatigue you feel two days after a training session.
Periodization and the cyclic phased process is described in detail for both Endurance and Strength training. Strength and Endurance training are divided in almost completely separate parts. They do have overlap in discussing how the two benefit each other and how to train for one and not neglect the other. The third major component of this book is training yourself mentally which in itself is invaluable.
He has an interesting fitness test that I plan on taking. Although he claims it is not very specific to climbing, I believe it is at least very relevant to it. Along with the fitness test the only other real written “workout” or series of movements is what he called Scott’s Killer core routine (after Scott Johnston, Steve’s trainer and the co-Author).
The “Killer Core Routine” consists of movements that one would traditionally place on a theoretical “core” chart of exercises like sit-ups, planks, and windshield wipers.
With the exception of the aforementioned, the book does not go into a lot of detail about specific exercises, sets, repetitions etc. There are plenty of examples, but the base of the book is built around solid principles of Strength and Endurance training.
I take that back, there is also a very interesting maximal strength pull-up program that looks like my next test, retest program for pull-up progression. According to the author, it has turned 14 year old girls into pull-up machines.
Two quotes I love from the book are, “You can’t coach desire” and “Progress is simple: you must want who you might become more than who you are right now”.
For those without the formal education, like myself – you will learn volumes about physiology. You will also learn an astronomical amount about structured training plans, periodization, nutrition and mental preparation. If you are not interested in these topics, then I have pretty much wasted your time.
So with all of that said, I love the book. It will be one that remains on my bookshelf for a life time. Even as I was skimming the contents to give it a proper review, adult attention deficit disorder was kicking in and I was deep in a chapter and it was hard to pull away. That is just how my mind works, I love the content in this book. It captivates me much more than any drama or fiction could, ever.
It also serves as a good reminder for me as I continue in lifelong physical endeavors. Random daily workouts will only get you so far, and only so far in a general direction. Specific training is just that, specific. If you want to be the best at anything you have to have a plan. Yes, there are people out there who can wing it and destroy the population physically (Rich Froning). He can eat anything he wants and throw together a billion 5-10 minute “functional fitness” workouts and win the CrossFit games. I know, I hate it too, but it doesn’t work for me…trust me, I’ve tried.
I am a certified Level I CrossFit trainer and a certified CrossFit Endurance trainer. These two certifications are almost in complete contradiction with the content in this book. Personally my take on that is – that principles in both philosophies (this book and CrossFit) can be used in synergy. I think that once someone says, “This is the way and it is the only way” – you just told me that you are either selling something, you are not open minded, or you have ceased to accept that you can never stop learning. So take this paragraph and book review for what its worth, but remember that when you are learning something you are being given a tool. You decide whether to put that in your tool bag or not.
That is the end of the review for the general population. If you are a big nerd like me and stalk fitness sites and books then this might interest you:
You will get the feel that the author is really arguing his point of view on the traditional periodized Endurance model. Justifiably he has reason to with a lot of the content being published on the internet today. If you do not understand what I am talking about, do some research on CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance. Then read this book and you will see the argument. There is some history behind the argument and the people telling the stories. It clearly shows where Steve House definitely sides with the opinion of Mark Twight on Endurance training. His opposition on this topic has been known to be Brian Mackenzie; the founder of CrossFit Endurance.
Brian Mackenzie has been known to prescribe the use of high intensity interval training in combination with CrossFit to see revolutionary improvements in Endurance training. This is however after one has grasped the skill of his or her chosen sport. His skill model is centered around a method of running, swimming and cycling called The Pose Method®.
According to their website; The Pose Method® is a system for teaching human movement developed by a 2-time Olympic Coach Dr. Nicholas S. Romanov in 1977 in the former Soviet Union. The name of the method comes from the word “pose” or “body position”.
If searched for, or regularly read CrossFit Endurance and Gym Jones have butted heads in the past. Very specifically Mark Twight has had what appears to be almost legal differences with CrossFit Headquarters.
If you want to get really nerdy you can look at the comments section of the very early CrossFit WOD posts (circa 2003-2004 off the top of my head). You will see that Mark was definitely in with what CrossFit was putting out. If I remember correctly he was actually going to be the first or one of the first affiliates. He clearly does not deny this, and actually writes about it frequently.
Anyway, I just kept this section because I went on a typing rant about it before I realized I was completely going way off topic from the book. I only decided to keep it because I spent the time writing it and wanted to waste yours in the process.