The Ascent Continues: Tony Moro, MS, and the Unyielding Strength of Flywheel Training

Revisiting the journey of Marine Corps veteran and climber Tony Moro. His fight against MS and the quest for the summits thrives, powered by flywheel training technology. Explore his latest triumphs, his strength training routine, and the ongoing climb to conquer the seven summits with us:

Q: Tony, it has been some time since we last read about your exploits and climbs, what has been new since the last time we heard from you?

A: Since my last article, there have been significant developments both in my mountaineering pursuits and personal life. I embarked on two challenging climbs – Denali in Alaska and Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. Unfortunately, both attempts were thwarted, one by harsh weather and unexpected MS symptoms, and the other by a change in the guide’s plans. However, these experiences were far from futile.

On Denali, I reached Camp 2, an achievement in itself, which honed my mountaineering skills and provided invaluable insights for future climbs. Although I couldn’t summit Mont Blanc, the rock climbing experience in Chamonix was unexpectedly rewarding, pushing me beyond my previous limits and introducing me to more glacier travel and cold, wet rock climbing.

On a more personal note, I became a father to a beautiful baby girl on November 25th. Balancing fatherhood with training has been a challenge, but it’s one I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. My training regime has been rigorous and consistent, involving daily use of the kBox4, weighted ruck marches, and achieving a minimum of 10 km per day with my ruck since November 1st.

My wife has been an incredible pillar of support, encouraging me to continue my training even during critical moments like her going into labor. On her due date when her water broke, she looked at me and said “Hurry up and get your 6 miles done before taking me to the hospital.” For that, I am forever grateful, and impressed!

Professionally, I continue to push the boundaries as a high-performance coach and a human performance advisor, leveraging my experiences and ongoing PhD studies in health and human performance. My training approach using the kBox flywheel is multifaceted, focusing on pre-ruck activation drills, eccentric strength training, and conjugate-style mini-workouts for overall physical preparedness.

As I plan for my next expedition next month to Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, I am still actively seeking more sponsors and funding.

“My journey is not just about personal achievement but also about breaking barriers and inspiring others, especially those facing challenges like MS.”

 

I am eager to share more about my adventures, learnings, and the unique insights I’ve gained from both my successes and setbacks.

Q: How has your training been going and how has it changed, if it has changed at all leading up to new climbs?
A: My training regimen has evolved significantly, especially in light of recent events and my growing responsibilities as a new father. The core of my training still revolves around the kBox4, which has been instrumental in maintaining and enhancing my strength and endurance. Specifically, I’ve been focusing on three key aspects: pre-ruck activation drills and warm-ups, eccentric strength training, and conjugate-style mini-workouts. These elements are crucial for building the resilience and physical capacity needed for high-altitude mountaineering.

Since the birth of my daughter, time management has become even more crucial. Despite the new challenges, I’ve managed to maintain a high level of physical training. I’ve committed to daily weighted ruck marches, carrying over 50 lbs, and have successfully achieved at least 10 km per day with my ruck since November 1st. This specific regimen not only builds endurance but also closely simulates the physical demands of mountaineering with heavy gear.

In addition to this, adapting to the unexpected has become a part of my training philosophy. The climbs at Denali and Mont Blanc, though not successful in terms of summiting, have provided me with invaluable lessons in adaptability and mental resilience. The experience of climbing cold, wet rocks and undertaking glacier travel has added a new dimension to my skill set, one that I hadn’t extensively trained for but adapted to in the field. This adaptability is now an integral part of my training approach.

Furthermore, my training has become more nuanced, integrating more specific drills that cater to the unpredictable nature of mountaineering and the unique challenges posed by my MS.

“I’ve learned to listen to my body more and adjust my training intensity accordingly, ensuring that I stay at peak performance without exacerbating my condition.”

 

I’ve even been using the kBox for the spring ankle series made popular by coach Cal Dietz. The addition of high-volume rucking adds a fair amount of stress to the joint and once I began to feel achy in the lower limbs, I added the spring ankle drills to increase load management and resiliency. I can confirm it’s been helping immensely.

In summary, my training continues to be rigorous and focused, yet flexible and adaptive, reflecting the realities of my personal life, my health condition, and the unpredictable nature of high-altitude mountaineering. Each step of this journey adds to my experience, making me not just a stronger climber, but a more resilient individual overall.

Q: Is your training still heavily focused on eccentric overload? If so, can you share how you balance climbing and strength training as part of your routine?

A: Yes, eccentric overload continues to be a cornerstone of my training regimen, primarily due to its effectiveness in enhancing strength, improving muscle control, and reducing injury risk – all crucial for the demands of high-altitude mountaineering. However, balancing this with the specific skills and endurance needed for climbing has been key to my overall training strategy.

The kBox4 remains an essential tool in my training, particularly for eccentric overload workouts. These sessions are designed to improve my muscle’s ability to absorb and generate force, which is incredibly beneficial when carrying heavy loads uphill or controlling descents, common scenarios in mountaineering. It’s also been clutch on the days I’m on solo dad duty and can’t afford time to drive to the gym. Having the kBox at home has been one of my biggest assets in staying fit.

To balance this with climbing training, I’ve adopted a holistic approach that integrates both strength and skill-specific work. A typical week involves a combination of kBox sessions focused on eccentric overload and climbing-specific exercises. This might include light pre-ruck activation drills with the small-sized disc to prepare my joints for the load-bearing demands of mountaineering and conjugate-style mini-workouts for general physical preparedness (GPP) with the medium to large-sized discs. The GPP workouts are crucial as they contribute to overall fitness and endurance, complementing both my climbing and strength training.

Climbing training, on the other hand, is more focused on technique, agility, and endurance. This includes practicing on varied terrains and conditions to mimic the challenges of mountaineering. I ensure that my climbing sessions are strategically placed in my weekly schedule to allow adequate recovery from the high-intensity eccentric workouts. This not only prevents overtraining but also ensures that each training session is effective and safe.

Moreover, given my condition with multiple sclerosis (MS), I’m particularly mindful of how my body responds to training stress. I regularly adjust the intensity and volume of my workouts based on how I’m feeling on any given day. This adaptive approach helps me manage my MS symptoms while still pushing forward in my training.

In summary, my training is a careful blend of eccentric overload for strength and injury prevention, combined with skill-specific climbing training for technical proficiency and endurance. This balanced approach allows me to continue progressing towards my mountaineering goals while managing my health effectively.

Q: Everything you continue to accomplish is sure to inspire many of our readers to emulate your training. Can you share a basic flywheel strength training routine for aspiring climbers?

A: Absolutely, it’s inspiring to know that my journey can motivate others. For those aspiring to improve their climbing strength through flywheel training, here’s a basic routine that focuses on key areas crucial for mountaineers. Remember, flywheel training, particularly using a device like the kBox4, allows for a high degree of control over eccentric loading, which is great for building strength and improving muscular control.

Basic Flywheel Strength Training Routine for Climbers:

Warm-Up

Pre-ruck Activation Drills: 5-10 minutes of light exercises to activate the core and leg muscles. Include exercises like sports squats, zercher squats, RDLs, hamstring curls, and hip flexion.

Eccentric Squats

Purpose: Build leg strength and control, crucial for ascending and carrying loads.
Perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, focusing on a slow and controlled eccentric (lowering) phase.

Eccentric Overload Calf Raises

Purpose: Strengthen calves for improved endurance and stability on uneven terrain and resiliency for load carriage.
3-4 sets of 10-12 reps with emphasis on the lowering phase.

Eccentric Overload Bent Over Rows

Purpose: Strengthen upper body and back, essential for load carriage.
Use the flywheel for resistance. Perform 3-4 sets of as many reps as possible, focusing on a slow lowering phase. Change up the grip for variation.

Core Rotations

Purpose: Strengthen the core muscles, important for climbing movements and load carrying.
3-4 sets of 12-15 reps on each side, maintaining a controlled motion. I use a towel directly on the carabiner and go low-high as I’m rotating. When fatigued, extra assistance from your legs is a nice variation.

Deadlifts

Purpose: Build overall strength, particularly in the back and hamstrings.
Perform 5+ sets of 2-5 “working” reps, with a focus on maintaining good form. Don’t count your first few reps used to get the wheel moving. This is where you can add on as many discs as you can tolerate, it’s important to also load your central nervous system (CNS).

Cool Down

Stretching: Spend 15-20 minutes stretching all major muscle groups, with a focus on flexibility. During my wife’s pregnancy, we did the Pliability pre-natal yoga together. As odd as it sounds, this focused heavily on hips and core and I recommend you give it a try before being a hater!

Key Points to Remember:

  • Control: Flywheel training allows for a great deal of eccentric load control. Pay attention to the eccentric phase of each exercise, as this is where a lot of the strength-building occurs.
  • Progression: Start with a resistance level that allows you to maintain good form. Gradually increase as you get stronger. Remember, eccentric training can cause the most adaptation, which means it needs greater recovery.
  • Recovery: Ensure adequate rest between sets and training sessions. Flywheel training can be intense, so recovery is crucial.
  • Adaptability: Adjust the workout to your current fitness level and climbing goals. If you have specific weaknesses or are training for a specific type of climb, tailor your routine accordingly.
  • Safety: Especially for those with health conditions like MS, it’s important to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare team or a trained coach to ensure the training is appropriate for you.

This basic routine provides a solid foundation for building the strength and control needed for climbing. As with any training program, consistency and proper form are key to seeing improvements. I highly recommend you team up with someone who can adequately assess your needs and custom-tailor a program to set you up for success.

Q: I know that you mentioned that during your trip to Denali, the sherpas and guides told you on day eight that they would not let you continue the climb. How did that feel and do you feel that it is a stigma with your condition that people would rather be on the safe side instead of listening to you when it comes to setting limits?

A: Facing the decision of the guides on Denali was a complex and emotionally challenging experience. On one hand, their decision was rooted in a deep concern for safety – a paramount aspect in any high-altitude expedition. Mountaineering inherently carries risks, and the role of an experienced mountain guide is to mitigate these risks as much as possible, for everyone in the team. Their decision, although tough, was made with the group’s safety in mind.

On the other hand, as an individual living with multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s natural to feel a sense of disappointment and frustration when external limitations are imposed, especially when you feel capable of continuing. To this day, I have not been able to find my mental barrier, I’m a combat veteran and Recon Marine so I’ve certainly been tested. It’s a delicate balance between proving one’s capabilities and acknowledging the genuine concerns others may have about your condition.

While I understand their caution, it’s also important for individuals with conditions like MS to be heard and to have their self-assessment of their abilities considered. The reality is that I’m not the athlete I used to be, but I’ve developed mental and physical strategies to deal with losing my step. Being slower than others isn’t quitting, especially when you’re slower and still able to keep a big smile on your face! My personal goal is to love every minute I get to spend on the mountain and have others around me notice.

“This experience does touch upon a broader issue – the stigma and preconceived notions about what people with MS, or any chronic condition, can and cannot do. It’s a reminder of the ongoing challenge to break down these barriers and change perceptions.”

 

Every individual with MS experiences it differently, and their abilities can vary widely. It’s crucial for guides, and even society at large, to recognize this diversity and engage in open, empathetic dialogues about capabilities and limits.

However, it’s also a learning opportunity for me. It underscores the importance of clear communication and building a mutual understanding with guides and team members about my condition, my capabilities, and the specific challenges I might face. It’s about creating a balance where safety is paramount, but personal limits are set by a combination of self-awareness and mutual respect.

In summary, while the decision on Denali was disheartening, it also reinforces the importance of advocacy, education, and dialogue about living with MS in extreme conditions. It’s about continuously working towards a world where decisions are made based on individual assessments and collaborative understanding, rather than assumptions or stigma.

Q: What have you learned from these experiences when it comes to your training specifically for climbing and recovery?

A: The experiences on Denali and Mont Blanc have provided invaluable insights into both the physical and psychological aspects of high-altitude climbing, particularly how they relate to my training and recovery routines.

  • Adaptability in Training: The unpredictability of mountain environments, combined with the challenges of my MS, underscored the importance of adaptable training. I’ve learned to tailor my workouts to be more specific to the conditions I might encounter on climbs. This includes training for varied terrains, weather conditions, and incorporating exercises that mimic climbing movements more closely.
  • Mental Resilience: Mental toughness is as crucial as physical strength in mountaineering. These experiences have reinforced the need to train my mental resilience, prepare for setbacks, and learn to adapt and push forward in the face of adversity.
  • Listening to My Body: With MS, it’s crucial to be attuned to my body’s signals. I’ve become more vigilant in monitoring for any signs of exacerbation and adjusting my training intensity accordingly. This approach has been essential in preventing overtraining and managing my condition effectively.
  • Recovery as a Priority: Recovery has taken on a new level of importance in my routine. I’ve learned that adequate rest, nutrition, and hydration are vital, especially given the extra challenges posed by MS. Incorporating active recovery days, focusing on stretching and using techniques like foam rolling has helped in better recovery.
  • Training Variation: Diversifying my training has been a key takeaway. While eccentric strength training remains a core component, I’ve incorporated more climbing-specific exercises, endurance training, and flexibility work. This variation not only improves overall climbing performance but also aids in injury prevention.
  • Technical Skills Enhancement: My experiences, particularly on Mont Blanc, highlighted the need to enhance technical climbing skills alongside physical training. This includes bettering my rock climbing technique, rope skills, and navigation, which are all critical in mountaineering.
  • Collaborative Training: Working closely with guides, other trainers, and fellow climbers has become more integral. Sharing experiences, learning from others, and training in a collaborative environment has enriched my preparation, providing new perspectives and techniques.

These experiences have refined my approach to training and recovery. I’ve learned the importance of adaptability, mental resilience, listening to my body, prioritizing recovery, diversifying training methods, enhancing technical skills, and collaborative learning. These lessons are not just vital for my climbing pursuits but are also applicable to managing my life with MS and my overall well-being.

Q: Are there any challenges that you feel affect you more than other climbers who do not have MS?

A: Certainly, living with multiple sclerosis (MS) presents unique challenges in the realm of high-altitude climbing, differentiating my experience from climbers not contending with this condition.

  • Fatigue Management: One of the most common symptoms of MS is fatigue, which can be both physical and cognitive. In the context of mountaineering, this means I have to be extra vigilant about managing my energy levels. Pacing myself, ensuring adequate rest, and being mindful of how much I exert myself are crucial strategies.
  • Temperature Regulation: MS can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Extreme cold, which is typical in high-altitude environments, might exacerbate symptoms. Preparing with appropriate gear, acclimatization strategies, and possibly adjusting climbing schedules to optimal times of the day are necessary adjustments.
  • Neurological Symptoms: MS can cause a range of neurological symptoms, including numbness, tingling, or weakness in limbs. This can impact grip strength, balance, and overall coordination – all essential for climbing. I have to continuously adapt my training to maintain these skills and be prepared for fluctuations in my symptoms.
  • Cognitive Functioning: MS can sometimes affect cognitive functions like memory and concentration. On a climb, this means being extra cautious with navigation, decision-making, and staying focused, especially during long, demanding ascents.
  • Recovery Needs: Recovery might take longer or be more complex due to MS. I have to factor in additional time for rest and be more attentive to signs of overtraining or symptom exacerbation.
  • Medication and Medical Care: Managing MS often involves medication, which might have side effects or require strict timing. This adds another layer of planning, ensuring I have access to my bi-yearly medication and that its effects are considered in the climbing context.
  • Psychological Impact: Beyond the physical challenges, there’s a psychological aspect of dealing with a chronic condition in an extreme sport. The mental resilience required to balance the uncertainty of MS with the rigors of mountaineering is significant.

While MS introduces unique challenges to high-altitude climbing, it also offers a perspective of resilience and adaptability.

“Each climb is not just a physical test but also a testament to managing and overcoming the additional hurdles posed by MS.”

 

These experiences, though more challenging, are incredibly enriching and contribute to both personal growth and the broader narrative of what individuals with MS can achieve.

Q: What has been your experience while climbing the summits so far? What has been the best part of the experience?

A: My experience climbing the summits thus far has been a journey filled with both challenges and profound rewards. Each mountain has presented its unique trials and triumphs, beginning with Kilimanjaro, then Denali and Mont Blanc, and Aconcagua next, contributing to a rich tapestry of experiences that extend beyond just the physical act of climbing.

  • Diverse Challenges: Each summit has tested me in different ways. From the technical difficulties and harsh weather conditions of Denali to the unexpected change in plans at Mont Blanc, these climbs have pushed my limits. They’ve taught me valuable lessons in adaptability, resilience, and the importance of being prepared for any situation.
  • Learning and Growth: Despite not reaching the summit on some attempts, the learning experiences have been invaluable. Understanding the nuances of mountaineering, refining my skills, and adapting my training and strategies for future climbs have been significant aspects of my journey.
  • MS Management: Climbing with MS has added a layer of complexity, requiring me to be acutely aware of my body, manage symptoms effectively, and adapt to the changing demands of the environment and my health. This has been both challenging and empowering, as it underscores my ability to persevere despite a chronic condition.
  • Personal Achievement: Each climb, irrespective of the outcome, has been a testament to personal achievement. Overcoming the physical and mental barriers, and pushing past my perceived limits, has been incredibly fulfilling.
  • The Best Part – Connection with Nature: Perhaps the most enriching aspect has been the deep connection with nature. Being in such remote, pristine environments offers a sense of tranquility and awe that is hard to replicate. The moments of serenity amidst the challenging climbs, the beauty of the landscapes, and the sheer scale of the mountains have been profoundly moving.
  • Community and Teamwork: The camaraderie and bonds formed with fellow climbers, guides, and porters have been a highlight. Mountaineering is as much about individual grit as it is about teamwork and shared experiences. The sense of community in these expeditions has been both supportive and uplifting.
  • Inspiring Others: Sharing my story and potentially inspiring others, especially those with MS or facing their own challenges, has been incredibly rewarding. It’s gratifying to think that my journey might encourage others to pursue their passions and overcome their obstacles.

My experience climbing the summits has been about more than just scaling mountains. It’s been a journey of personal growth, learning, and connection – with nature, with others, and with myself. The best part has been the blend of overcoming personal challenges while experiencing the profound beauty and camaraderie that mountaineering offers.

Q: Are there any tips that you have learned along the way that you would like to share with other climbers and other individuals who have MS when it comes to your training, your climbs, or your mental attitude?

A: Absolutely, my experiences in climbing and living with MS have taught me several valuable lessons that could be beneficial to other climbers and individuals with MS:

  • Embrace Adaptability: Conditions in mountaineering can change rapidly, and having MS adds another layer of unpredictability. Be prepared to adapt your plans, training, and strategies as needed. Flexibility in mindset and approach is key.
  • Listen to Your Body: This is crucial, especially with MS. Be attuned to what your body is telling you and adjust your training and climbing plans accordingly. Recognize the difference between pushing your limits and risking your health.
  • Prioritize Training Specificity: Tailor your training to mimic the demands of your climbs. Include exercises that build strength, endurance, and skills relevant to mountaineering. For MS, focus also on balance, coordination, and exercises that help manage symptoms.
  • Mental Resilience is Key: Cultivate a strong mental attitude. Mountaineering is as much a mental challenge as it is physical, especially when dealing with the added challenge of MS. Develop techniques like visualization, mindfulness, or positive self-talk to maintain a resilient mindset.
  • Safety First: Always prioritize safety. This means thorough preparation, having the right gear, and being willing to turn back if conditions are too dangerous or if your health is at risk.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to lean on your support system. This includes family, friends, fellow climbers, and medical professionals. Sharing your experiences and challenges can provide valuable support and insight.
  • Educate Your Team: If you’re climbing with others, educate them about MS and how it might affect you. Clear communication about your condition can help your team understand your needs and how to provide support during the climb.
  • Celebrate Small Victories: With MS, even small achievements in training or climbing can be significant. Acknowledge and celebrate these milestones to maintain motivation and a positive outlook.
  • Stay Informed and Prepared: Keep up-to-date with MS research, treatments, and strategies that might help manage your condition. Similarly, stay informed about climbing techniques, safety protocols, and environmental conditions.
  • Be an Advocate and Educator: Use your experiences to educate others about MS and mountaineering. Sharing your story can inspire others and help break down stereotypes about what individuals with MS can achieve.

Remember, each individual’s experience with MS is unique, as is each climber’s journey. These tips are guidelines based on my experiences and may need to be adapted to fit personal circumstances and abilities.

The journey, with all its challenges and triumphs, is deeply personal and profoundly rewarding.

 

Anthony Moro

Mountain Climber, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran & Exxentric Power User

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