Thinking out of the box for new training methods is a good idea. You know, keep things fresh and always try to ‘shock your muscles.’ But there is a limit to that…at least for some people. Take Adrian Ballinger, for instance. He not only gets his exercise done inside the confines of a gym, but also outdoors. And not the kind that most of us are used to. No light jog on the beach for him. No, this guy takes it to the extreme and considers climbing Mount Everest merely part of his program.
So just who is this Ballinger fellow? He’s a 38-year-old Squaw Valley (Lake Tahoe), California resident by way of Central Massachusetts, by way of Washington, DC, by way of England!
The 6’2”, 147-pound Ballinger, a AMGA/IFMGA Certified Guide, has been mountain climbing for over half a century and has been a full-time guide for the past 15 years. FitnessRX For Men had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him and you will not believe what he said.
FitnessRX For Men: How did you make up your mind to switch from attending medical school to climbing mountains?
Adrian Ballinger: After graduating from Georgetown undergrad, I deferred my med school acceptance (also to Georgetown) for a year to get climbing “out of my system”. I spent the year traveling the US and the world climbing and guiding. During that year, I recognized my love not only for personally climbing, but also for helping others to achieve their big mountain dreams. It was just an amazing, challenging job, where every day we are problem solving in environments with very real consequences if we get it wrong. I decided after a year that as long as I kept feeling challenged and inspired (and could pay my bills!) I wanted to continue mountain guiding and climbing.
FRX: What are some of your major accomplishments climbing?
AB: I have summited Mt. Everest six times and have summited 12 times on 8000-meter peaks (of which there are 14, the tallest peaks in the world). I was the first person, along with 2 Sherpa partners, to summit three 8000-meter peaks in less than a month and also the first American to successfully ski two 8000-meter peaks – Cho Oyu and Manaslu the 6th and 8th tallest peaks in the world.
FRX: What type of training program do you follow to prepare for such a taxing activity?
AB: A lot of my time at home between trips is actually recovery. I travel and climb internationally on high altitude peaks seven to eight months a year. And on an 8000-meter peak, the stress on my body generally causes me to lose 10-15% of my body weight (mostly muscle since your body craves protein while at altitude).
I generally finish a season in the Himalaya weighing somewhere between 130-135 lbs. So, when home, I’m working on gaining back weight (in the right places!). I do a bunch of strength training, mostly using functional exercises. Also core workouts. And then, once a bit stronger, I begin ramping up endurance running or backcountry skiing depending on season, with a focus on interval training as well as lower intensity distance training.
FRX: Any specific diet/hydration that needs to be followed either in prep or during the climbs?
AB: On the mountain hydration is essential. We are constantly dehydrated, and dehydration can be extremely dangerous since it compromises our circulatory systems that are already working in overdrive. Water of course, and also often some sort of added electrolytes. I tend to use Nuun tablets since they are lightweight, not sugar based, and taste good hot or cold.
Diet on the mountain is difficult. Above base camp our bodies don’t digest protein very well, and we often don’t feel like eating much. But it is essential to put in calories. I focus on easy to digest carbohydrates (often energy gels, chews, and bars) combined with soups (hydration and salts) and then a few high-calorie treats (good chocolate, high quality cured meats and cheeses).
At home, again, it’s about recovery. Generally a high protein diet combined with lots of raw greens helps me to get healthy and strong quickly, so I can focus on my activities!
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Photos courtesy of Maracaibo Media Group