Over a period of 30 days I will be leading an expedition to Antarctica to ski the last degree to the South Pole and to climb Mount Vinson (the highest peak in Antarctica). Individually each of these goals is very challenging physically and mentally and to do both back to back is a serious undertaking.
Physical fitness, strength and endurance will be critical for safety and success in Antarctica. Mental toughness will also pay a vital role in success.
Generally you want to train specifically for the challenge you have selected. When embarking on a combo expedition including a ski to the South Pole and a climb of Mount Vinson you have to train for two different types of activities.
The South Pole is a ski expedition in which we will travel for 10-20km a day by cross-country ski while pulling all our gear in plastic sleds. For this, we need to have strong legs and endurance to keep going for 8-10 hours a day. Just having strong legs is not enough as you need to train very specific muscles. I learned this the hard way on my first expedition to the Magnetic North Pole. My legs were very strong from running, but I had not trained for skiing or pulling and I suffered on the trip. Since then for all my Polar expeditions I have trained by pulling truck tires around the neighborhood, up ski hills, and down trails. This activates very specific muscles used in pulling the trains them to be ready for the upcoming challenge. I get lots of strange looks from my neighbors and it can be difficult at times. When the training is hard I just remember that it is better to suffer during training than to suffer in Antarctica.
For climbing Mount Vinson the leg strength gained from pulling tires help, but you also need to build strong cardiovascular strength. This is where running and high intensity workouts come into play. When we go to high altitude on Vinson our respiration and heart rate will increase. The better your cardiovascular fitness and the lower your resting heart rate the better.
The other aspect of training that is critical is mental training. Skiing to the South Pole and climbing Mount Vinson is very mentally taxing adventures. I have seen extremely fit individuals fail to achieve their goals because they did not have the mental strength and I have seen people with marginal fitness be successful because they were tough mentally.
Mental toughness is something that is gained through exposure to tough situations. You need to repeatedly place yourself in difficult environments and figure out how you react to stress, anxiety and fear. Through repeated exposure over a period of years your mind learns how to function effectively even when things are not going as planned.