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How a busy woman trains to climb to the top of Half Dome

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Triumph at the top of Half Dome

Terror grips your gut even before you slide up onto the near vertical granite wall you’ve got to glue your nose to if you want to haul yourself to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite. Call it a summer highlight or sheer foolhardiness, but this week’s ascent of Half Dome ranks as one of lifetime’s peak experiences.

The crazy journey to summit Half Dome begins with an over-eight-mile hike (yes, that’s one way!) and UP nearly 5,oo0 feet of steep mountain trails, with the most challenging leg – hauling yourself up the cables with sheer arm strength and purpose of will to the top – the last.

The cables. Straight up. Here I go.

We hoofed it out of base camp at 6:15 a.m., steeled by a cup of courage and giant, steamy bowl of oats and bananas. Backpacks crammed with water bottles and a full arsenal of eats (more on food and fuel in another post), we layered up against the 4,000 ft. elevation Sierra cold, fully mindful that the day’s trek would more than double our elevation, with the Half Dome summit hovering at just under 9,000 ft.

How Does a Busy Woman Train For This One?

What kind of hours do you imagine you might need to get into this kind of shape?

Truth is, with just 2 tweaks to my usual, time-minimized workout routines for busy women, I was primed for the job.

How 27 Minutes Of Workout Time Got Me To The Top

Believe it or not, my weekly workout routine time – totaling 3 1/2 hours/week overall – that averages out to about 27 minutes a day – did the trick. Here are the key pieces that put me, literally, over the top.

1) Burst Training: I knew, looking ahead to the Half Dome climb, that I would need explosive bursts of energy to meet the demands of clawing up the cables the last portion of the climb. I not only kept up with my 3x a week 15 minute Burst Training (see my FREE Fitness Breakthrough Kit for complete instructions and schedule), but I added one more 60-second burst. Still did the whole bit in 15 minutes per session.

With Greg at the top of Half Dome, west horizon

2) I added pull-ups: Using my ballet bar as fitness toy, I added 2 – 3 sets of 15 reps per week. With my feet on the floor, body in table position and an overhand bar grip, this move strengthens arms, shoulders and back – really targeting the lats in a big way – for the task ahead: Pulling my body weight UP those cables, with feet as stabilizers and back up.

3) Quad strengtheners: Thigh Warriors, Fit Quickie #6, has proved to be my best friend in building rock-solid thighs and were my ace in the hole on this one. I did my usual routine on this one, just making sure I pushed my limits each time. (How low can you go?)

4) I kept up the calf work: Knowing that gecko-style climbing and holds on vertical faces demand strong calves, my usual calf-raise routine did the trick.

5) Glutes and hamstrings: Fit Quickie #6, Gorgeous Glutes and Hamstrings are a mainstay of my workout schedule and proved to be excellent prep. Incredibly, I came back without a sore fiber in my backyard.

Here’s The Best Part

The same targeted body-shapers that I’ve come to love for the feel and look they create turned out to be the very best tools for building the body I needed for undergoing the strength challenges of the Half Dome quest.

And when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. At least for the cable-climb portion of the journey, extreme demand on muscles held under tension was critical to prepare for.

Later, at moonrise from Glacier Point, Half Dome floating in the background

Much of the time was spent hovering in bent knee position, calves and quads tensed for the hold. Arms, doing same, with short pause points at crossbars on the granite face, following by explosive seconds to the next landing.

As it turned out, I had the wind, the arms, the back and the legs to do it. And make it back the full 16+ mile hike round trip, hitting camp once again after 4:00 that afternoon. And all on my focused, minimized workout schedule. Yahoo!

Next time I’ll tell you all about how I fueled for this one. This may surprise you, too!


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  • […] I shared how I trained for this Yosemite climb and how our eats were easy, delish, and energizing:  to the top of Half Dome on plant […]

  • […] same time, body weight resistance on pull ups and push ups did me just fine when prepping for the haul up the cables at Half Dome in Yosemite last month, which required  strength and endurance.  Tailoring your workouts to match […]

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