Often, when we talk about weight* training in this group, a response or two will be posted to say "yeWl gEt big mUsclES", or "mountaineers don't need weight training", or, as is also claimed about running, "you'll wreck your knees". They're all wrong, misleading, and unhelpful. Here's why;
Big muscles are quite hard to get and a session or two per week of lifting won't give them to you. Even if you have the genetics to achieve "big" muscles, you'd still have a long way to go to get big, it doesn't happen by accident. Successful bodybuilders and strength athletes work hard over a long period to perfect the combination of training, rest and nutrition that works for them to maximise muscle growth and achieve the physique or absolute they want. You're not doing that, or if you are, you've gone wrong somewhere and you need to examine everything you're doing. Its not the fault of weight training if you do so much that you unbalance your training, lose sight of your goals, or eat the wrong diet.
In the early stages of weight training, you may see a small increase in apparent size, or muscle tone and definition, but that's not an issue and it won't keep increasing unless you keep making it happen. If it does, re-read the last line of the paragraph above and remember what you're training for. There's nothing wrong with building muscle, if that's what you need, or decide you want, but for climbing mountains we need functional, activated muscle that perform on the hills and a good power to weight ratio, nothing more. Much of the media representation of fitness shows muscular men and women, such as bodybuilders or fitness models. There's nothing wrong with that, except that in our case it can often convince people those are the outcomes of training with weights and therefore climbers have no need to train with weights. Wrong again. Those outcomes are a result of many factors and as a climber, you won't be pursuing those, so you won't get the same result, in the same way that doing some of what Kilian Jornet does wont make you Kilian Jornet.
Alpinists, as a general rule, can get huge benefit from weight training. There are some who can go without it of course, but generally that's because of a combination of factors such as a sporting or training history that included it, or age, gender, genetics etc, but for most of us there's benefit to it. Often those who claim they don't do any are in fact just doing it in some other way, or have a long history of doing it that stands to them but believe that they don't need it just because they're not doing it right now and mistakenly suggest that everyone else should stop. Sometimes this response is presented as an either/or, usually something like "don't bother weight training, go hiking", as though they were mutually exclusive and a choice has to be made. This is not a binary, you can do both, either in the same phase of training on different days or favouring one over the other in different phases. It's not beyond human wit to do two different things at the same time, or at different times. It's also a rule of this group to remember that we're all training in different situations which for me and many other members that means some days having the time to put in a really good gym workout, but not enough time to do a worthwhile hike or climb. At other times, depending on my training needs, even with time available, weight training ticks the right box for me and that's what I'll be doing. That simple "go hiking" response makes no sense, either in that context or without considering the rest of the training that surrounds it.
If you think that the fact that weight training doesn't look like climbing means anything, you might want to think a little broader, weight training of one kind or another is widely used alongside sport-specific training by top synchronised swimmers, golfers and formula one drivers and their sports don't look like weight training either. You might also be surprised at the weight some ultra runners can shift in the gym. One of the things that differentiates exercise, training and performance from each other is that training is composed of building blocks, you squat so that your lunges and box steps are stronger, you get stronger box steps and lunges so you're stronger on the hills, you're stronger on the hills so you can go further or faster, or both.
Knees. Poor old knees. Almost every form of training has been blamed for knee injuries, but as I said in a previous piece about running, blaming the activity is missing the truth. You can get unlucky and fall foul of an an unpredictable trauma, like putting your foot in a rabbit hole on a run or having a spotter let you down in the gym, you can do the exercises incorrectly, you can do too much of them (or any kind of training for that matter) or you can get unlucky with the hand your genes deal you that leaves you with arthritis or some similar problem, but none of those things are the fault of the exercise. Squats are probably the most blamed exercise for knee issues, apart from running, but studies have consistently shown benefits and no ill effects from properly done squats in a progressive programme, even for injured or ageing knees.
Weight training is often blamed for other injuries too, but there's really no need to suffer them if you take a sensible approach. Lift easy to start with. It's common for gym beginners to overestimate how much they can lift, or how much they need to, particularly when they're fit from other training, or lifting with their ego, but that's a quick way to bad technique, little or no progress, and injury. To get started, never mind the numbers, get your form right, it'll pay off long-term. Get some personal coaching in the big lifts, particularly squatting, deadlift and Olympic lifts if you're going to include them. Once you've got that right, the kind of weight you need on the bar will be more apparent to you. There are any number of weight training programmes to choose from with any number of claims, but for the most part they don't apply to the kind of training we're about. In Training for the New Alpinism, the authors recommend a programme of 4x4, ie 4 sets of 4 reps per exercise. From previous discussions in the group the 4x4 really does seem to be ideal and most of the other protocols I've looked at are aiming for an outcome we don't want. Commonly, it's recommended that larger volumes of weight training are good for endurance training, particularly larger sets in the order of 12-20 reps, but personally I'm not convinced there's good evidence to support that method. It's easy to see how it looks good; more reps= more endurance seems instinctive, but actually those big sets are too light to develop strength beyond a fairly low limit and not long enough to develop the kind of local muscular endurance we're after in the way a longer session of an exercise like box steps would, making them a kind of no-man's land that wastes energy and overworks your tendons without sufficient benefit to justify the effort, in my view. There can be benefits from sets of 8-12 reps in an early conditioning phase, but once you start building strength, drop the reps and up the weight. That methodology will change again when you're building up muscular endurance, moving away from a sets x reps model to emphasise a time based effort, but the better your work in that "heavy" phase, the better the payoff in the ME period and the better that phase will transfer onto the hills.
If you look at the validity of weight training for alpinism as a simple cost v benefit analysis. The cost in time is minimal, you can get a very good workout in under an hour. The cost in energy can be weighed against your available energy and recovery time and the cost in money is generally fairly low. The benefits are potentially huge if you do it right; you could have more endurance, be more injury resistant, get better core strength, be quicker up and down the hill, have a 5th gear to use when the situation demands, improve your balance, offset muscle loss associated with ageing, rehab injuries or address specific weaknesses, improve or maintain body composition, handle typical expedition loads more easily and recover better on multi-day trips. QED on the the cost v benefit equation for me.
If you don't want to weight train or don't believe you don't need it, by all means, don't do it. If you think alpinists shouldn't train with weights, think again.
Hope you're training and climbing well,Kevin.
*Weight/resistance training comes in many forms. As a term, weight training can quite properly be used to refer to things like cross-training with weights, powerlifting, weightlifting, or bodybuilding. They could also be legitimately called resistance training and they often are, but "resistance training" encompasses any training where work is done against resistance and could include hiking with a loaded pack, swimming, aqua aerobics, spinning, rowing and many other things that aren't "weight training", so for the purposes of this piece take any reference to weight training to be a workout typically composed of a number of exercises such as bench press, squats, cleans or deadlifts performed over a prescribed number of sets and reps using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight machines or similar loads. The particulars of how those sets and reps are made up and the specific exercises used can vary as needs change, but that's for another day.