Conrad Anker’s accomplishments in high-altitude climbing are astonishing. For over three decades he’s been an elite climber and world-class mountaineer, often leading expeditions with climbers half his age in tow.
His list of first ascents is both lengthy and impressive, the pinnacle probably being the 2011 summit of India’s Meru Peak via its Shark’s Fin route, accompanied by Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. That ascent — and Conrad’s personal story — became the subject of Chin’s successful 2015 documentary film Meru, propelling Anker into mainstream stardom.
Known for his extraordinary ability and endurance at high altitude, Anker summited Everest without oxygen in 2012 on a National Geographic Expedition, for which he also partnered with the Mayo Clinic to help study the effects of high-altitude climbing on the human body. All the tests results from that climb pointed towards a super-human Anker, performing at a level equal to that of athletes a fraction of his age; he was the only climber in the entire expedition to summit without using supplemental oxygen.
After 30+ years of adventure, Anker is still going strong. Here’s how he does it — and how you can, too.
1. Staying active
“This is probably the most obvious thing,” Anker says, “but it’s also the most important. The best way to make sure you stay in shape is not to get out of shape, especially as you get older.”
For Anker, this means a mix of climbing at his local gym in Bozeman, MT, getting outside and into the mountains as often as possible, climbing the frozen waterfalls in nearby Hyalite Canyon, and walking a few miles every day. “The human body is evolutionarily designed for walking the equivalent of four miles a day,” Anker explains. “It’s incredible how beneficial walking is for us.”
2. Heat = medicine
A few years ago, Anker installed a Finnleo sauna in the bathroom behind his office. It’s since become a daily ritual when he’s at home, and he absolutely swears by it. “After an intense day climbing,” Anker says, “relaxation for me comes in the sauna. It’s a very important part of my personal health care.”
His routine includes 15 minutes in dry heat, followed by pouring some water infused with birch essential oil over the hot rocks to increase the humidity for another 15 minutes. “The humidity accentuates temperature,” Anker explains, “encouraging blood to move through the body.” The heightened circulation helps muscles recover more quickly.
Other benefits of a daily sauna routine include increased cardiovascular health, stress relief, the flushing of toxins, and improved sleep, and it can also help reduce the severity and duration of the common cold and flu.
3. The 20 breaths
“This is my personal meditation practice,” Anker says, “taking 20 deep, mindful breaths. It re-centers and re-charges me, no matter where I am. Hanging off a big wall at 20,000 feet, in the sauna, or at my desk, those 20 breaths and around two minutes of calm focus do wonders for both my body and mind.”
Try it yourself and see if you agree: Even a couple deep breaths can bring about substantial shifts in both body and mind, especially when we’re outside our comfort zone or stressed. Inhale deeply through your nose for two beats, hold for two beats, then release and exhale for two beats. Do that 20 times and it’s like a strong cup of oxygen coffee.
4. Feeling the pump
“If I’m working at my desk,” Anker explains, “I’ll make sure to do about five to 10 minutes of exercise every hour, just enough to feel the pump.” For those who don’t know what “the pump” is, it’s that moment when your muscles become tight and engorged, full of blood and swollen with exertion. Climbers live for it.
Some of the quickest and easiest ways to feel the pump are pull-ups and push-ups — five minutes of each should do the trick. “I also like to make sure my core gets some work every day,” Anker explains, “so I’ll plan on doing a two-minute plank at 2pm when I’m working at home.”
5. Circular motions
“A good warm-up routine is really important for me,” Anker says. “Circular motions are key, especially for the shoulders and hips.” Taking a few minutes before any type of exercise to get the blood flowing is always a good idea, especially if it’s cold outside or you’ve been sitting for a while or sleeping. At the base of every climb, Conrad swings his arms and legs in circles both ways, followed by a few grip extensions with his hands, which is basically stretching your fingers out all the way and then clenching them to make a fist.
“It’s simple,” Conrad says, “and I love how good it feels as the blood and heat starts to move through my joints.” And with that, he’s equipped, ready for adventure.