As a full-time high school teacher, husband, pro climber, and father to two young boys, I don’t have a ton of time to devote to training for climbing. What matters most in a workout is getting the most bang for my buck—this means short but intense workouts that keep me strong.
Training for Climbing
Shimmying up offwidths is grueling, physical punishment that can tax your entire body, and like the routes themselves, training is a completely different beast from running laps in the gym. Brad Jackson, a prominent Vedauwoo, Wyoming, offwidth climber, says, “All athletic movement starts at the hips and core; strong hips equal a strong athlete. Plus, shoulders are the most sophisticated joints in the body; they have a crazy-wide range of motion and need to be strong at any and all weird angles for the extreme movements required in offwidths.”
Routes like the North Ridge on the Grand Teton require covering a lot of ground with a heavy pack. These—and many other Classics—are not casual outings. We’ve devised a six-week training program—approach, mountaineering, mixed, aid, and free climbing— that will help add a new level of strength and endurance to your fitness. Tackle all workouts over the six weeks, or focus on your weakest category. Bonus: You can bust these out anywhere in the country—even at sea level—and see results on any terrain.
During the climbing season, it’s beneficial to follow a training program that keeps you at a high level of strength without burning you out mentally or making you overly fatigued. Perform the same exercises you did for offwidth training after the 13 weeks is over, but follow the intensity guidelines outlined below.
Long, vertical offwidths are physically grueling—even with impeccable technique. We’ve all heard the stories about making it mid-pitch only to hyperventilate and vomit on the belayer from being pushed to your physical limit. All climbing styles require a high level of fitness, but the full-body workout of climbing wide cracks is closer to alpinism than sport climbing. It’s not unusual to take more than an hour to climb a single pitch of 5.11 offwidth in Indian Creek, and with 10 to 20 pounds of gear, it feels even more strenuous.
In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are plyo exercises to complement the program. In Phases 1 and 2, aim for 30-minute plyo sessions, then work up to an hour in Phases 3 and 4. Plyos are the most intense of the workout components and present the highest risk for over-training and injury, so start slowly and focus on proper form. The emphasis should always be quality over quantity for all exercises.
In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are stabilization exercises to practice throughout the program. There are multiple options for stabilization/core training. Choose at least two to three core workouts per week throughout each cycle. Ideas for core sessions include Pilates, CoreAlign, and core group fitness classes.
In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are stretches to complement the program. Statically stretch major muscle groups (legs, arms, back, chest, etc.). Also, try dynamic stretching while hiking, so go down deep into lunges as you move up. Stretch out calves on rocks and other terrain. Do shoulder circles forward and backward. Twist right and left with your torso. Keep all your body parts moving in various directions.
By the very nature of our sport, there are two kinds of rock climbers: those who use a rope and those who don’t. And many climbers fall into two further categories: power or endurance climbers. Unless you’re Adam Ondra, you likely don’t have an equal balance between the two. Because most climbers don’t simultaneously focus on both sport climbing and bouldering training, their endurance-to-power ratio (and vice versa) is usually pretty skewed.
Thanks to your local climbing gym, rock climbing is a four-season, every-day-of-the-week sport. It’s always sunny in the plastic paradise, even during the dark, cold, and wet winter months. Easy and instant access should do wonders for your climbing, but there’s a fatal flaw to many climbers’ training regimen: monotony. It’s easy to fall into a blah routine or just hop on any 5.10 with the shortest line. But infusing your workout (and it is a workout) with purpose, variety, and motivation will yield big results in your strength, endurance, and power.
You’ve felt it countless times: the slow-burning, inevitable sensation that creeps up your forearms into your hands, affecting your grip and throwing you off the wall—the dreaded pump. In ice climbing, this affects the hold you have on your ice tools and your ability to swing for solid placements, and on vertical ice, that pump comes sooner rather than later.
Being motivated and dedicated is the key to reaching any goal. This year-long program, geared toward intermediate and advanced climbers, will show you how to get stronger and more powerful, but you have to work for it. “Trying hard” is V15-climber Ian Dory crawling across the bouldering pads to get to his next problem, being determined to succeed and refusing to stop or give up.