Two summers ago I woke up early one morning and walked up Mount Spalding with a 32kg (70 lb) kettlebell in my backpack. The deep blue skies were hanging over the breathtaking landscape, the alpine lake was glistening, and the Rocky Mountains were surrounding us. The snow from the night before and the cold breeze blowing made the morning a little colder that I had expected. As beautiful as the scenery was, I wasnâ€™t really enjoying it all that much! My goal was to walk the 32kg (70lb) kettlebell up to the peak and complete 140 Clean & Jerks. This was something I had never done before and I was really wondering what it would take to complete. I soon found out...
The idea of the Colorado Kettlebell Club Mountain Challenge stemmed from a conversation with Nate Morrison, a 15-year veteran of USAF Pararescue and a current member of US Special Operations, when we were trying to decide what it would mean to be part of the Association of Tactical Strength and Conditioning Instructors (ATSCI). To perform a mission, an operator must commute there first by his own means. We discussed stories about SEALs having to swim several miles to shore or other Special Operations Forces completing missions in the mountains of Afghanistan. In essence, a soldier needs a combination of endurance, strength, and mental toughness to get the job done under duress. I thought it would be a great idea to mimic a ruck sack march and then finish with an additional workout with a kettlebell. We discussed a few possible locations (including mountains), and then left it there. Months after, summer arrived and the mountains opened for hiking. I decided to give it a whirl. Nate was teaching mountain warfare in Vermont, so I was on my own for that one.
Our first excursion out included a light kettlebell and a camelback backpack; not a great idea. Things hadnâ€™t played out the way I hoped for; for one, the weather changed and we had to head back to avoid a lightning storm (a ball of iron on your back could make things dangerous), and carrying the kettlebell in that backpack was painful for my back. The highlight of that session was having a mountain goat stop by while I was completing my set. Having that goat stopping by to watch me made me feel like my workout had really escaped from gyms, mirrors, appearance seekers, and bad music. All I had was the range, the wind, and the animals. And with that, I was hooked.
A few weeks after, I went back to Mount Spalding, but this time I took an Alice pack and a 32kg (70 lb) kettlebell. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever walked so slowly in my life! Just past 13,000 feet, I thought someone had sucked all the air out of my lungs. I hadnâ€™t been doing any form of cardio training and I was feeling it big time. After walking on the ridge for about two hours I got to the top of Mt. Spalding, the perfect setting for the workout. The top is shaped almost like a castleâ€™s tower and it was flat enough to perform a workout. I could barely hold on to the kettlebell because of the cold, but one by one I knocked the 140 Clean & Jerk reps. It was like touching the sky with my bare hands! I felt like Thor, as if nothing was impossible if I wanted it. I can still relive the excitement when I think about it! The way back was just as hard and my upper back was on fire from holding the backpack, but I was happy and ready for more.
A few weeks after, a good friend of mine, mentioned the infamous â€œInclineâ€ in Manitou Springs. One mile up and a 2,000 foot gain, in other words, a total bruiser. So we headed there and I did my first incline at a painfully slow pace, but completed it. This was the beginning of what was to become our favorite workout routine: the Colorado Kettlebell Club Mountain Challenge. We all look forward to these climbs and canâ€™t wait for the next outing.
So how do you train for the CKC Mountain Challenge?
This is an endurance test which means that cardio-respiratory endurance is very important. The altitude and the strenuous work make breathing much harder and poor cardio will put the brakes on your ascent. Invest time developing your cardiovascular training to make the ascent more enjoyable and faster. We do cardio with kettlebells and calisthenics mostly, yet we all have our personal preferences when we do additional cardio sessions on the side. For example, I like swimming but other lifters are more inclined to running or cycling.
The challenge requires the ability to carry a 32kg (70 lb) kettlebell (a significant amount of weight for the average man) during a difficult hike while also completing 140 Clean & Jerks at the halfway point. This means that the strength component is very important. The women who completed the challenge in the incline did it with 12kg (26 lb) kettlebells, but we realized that this wasnâ€™t proportionally as difficult as it was for men carrying the â€œreds,â€ something to keep in mind for the future. Leg strength and endurance is paramount here, but so is a strong core. Carrying the backpack is by far the hardest portion of the test. Because the weight is so dense itâ€™s impossible to distribute it evenly and it puts a lot of stress in the trunk muscles. A good backpack is a must but also strong abs, back (both lower and upper), and chest.
Put the emphasis on strength endurance training and donâ€™t be shy with the lunges and squats. A few sets of 20 reps wonâ€™t cut it if you consider 2,000+ step-ups on just the way UP the incline.
Donâ€™t forget to train for your lifts as well; the 140 Clean & Jerks are just as important as the ascent. Get coached on the kettlebell Clean & Jerk if you can. Donâ€™t let poor technique hold you back.
In summary, the Colorado Kettlebell Club Mountain Challenge requires a strong body, great stamina, and technical proficiency with the kettlebell Clean & Jerk. To prepare for this event, allow yourself a few months to prepare if possible, rig yourself a backpack with an Alice system frame, or get one of the bags which are made specifically to carry kettlebells.
Best of luck in completing your challenge and donâ€™t forget to enjoy the mountain!
|This article was featured in the December 2010 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. The article was written Nico Rithner. You can purchase this issue by Clicking Here.|
|Nico Rithner is the Colorado Kettlebell Club Head Coach. From this post he trains the general public to achieve multiple fitness and athletic goals and serves Glendale Rugby men team (Raptors) as Strength and Conditioning Coach. Coach Rithner, founded USA Kettlebell Lifting, a non-profit organization devoted to promote the American Rules Kettlebell Sport and other Kettlebell sporting activities, such as Girevoy Sport. Find out more at www.ColoradoKettlebellClub.com|
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