Climbing Specific Training – Drills

It is widely accepted that one of the best ways to train for climbing is to ’just climb’.  However it isn’t the only way to train and there are many other areas worth considering such as endurance, power-endurance, strength and antagonistic muscles.  Each should be weighted appropriately when starting a training program of your own and considered against the criteria of ‘what will be most beneficial for me’.  Once you have decided which criteria to focus on you can create your training schedule.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of periodization you should get reading.  Periodization is a strategy for physical training that utilises various training activities performed with a strict schedule. It results in a synergistic effect for your overall performance resulting in a “performance peak”.  I could write a whole article on it but that is not the emphasis for today. If you can develop a training cycle that incorporates the following climbing specific exercises you are sure to see improvements.

The following climbing drills can be used as their own form of training or they can be used in conjunction with other training activities.  Always remember to progressively warm up before performing strenuous activities, stretch everything and make sure you have adequate rest between exercises and again after you train.

Projecting and Power

Training for power is a hard task and the best way to boost your power is to try hard moves when you are already tired. Find a climb (or project) that is at your limit; preferably one that you’ve never tried, isn’t your style and something you wouldn’t mind putting some burl into. Work on the climb for about 15 minutes and then spend five minutes crunching out 50 push-ups and 20 pull-ups. If that number is too hard for you then do as many as you can in the five minutes. Complete four sets of this exercise.  While this exercise is easier to perform on boulder problems you can also try it on sport routes.  Be efficient with your time and if you can, work with a partner who is equally motivated.

Endurance: Traverse Eliminates

Traversing isn’t only useful for warming up but also a wonderful activity for improving endurance and body position. Traversing can be done in any gym that allows for more that 15-20 metres of lateral movement. It doesn’t have to be performed on a fully vertical wall either as variation in angle can be beneficial. Each traverse will be out and back, so you’ll travel double the distance. Do four sets with a different eliminate each time. The eliminate means you won’t be allowed to use holds in certain ways. First, traverse the section of wall using only side-pull handholds. All hand and footholds will be on but you can only grip using the sides of the holds. The second traverse is a finger eliminate, meaning you can only use only two fingers of each hand to grip (alternate the fingers if desired). Do the third lap using only the pinch grip on each hold. In the fourth and final set, traverse the wall using only one hand.  Rest three to five minutes between each traverse.

Lock-off Strength: Three Second Lock-offs

Find a few boulders or sport routes that you can climb consistently ensuring they build in difficulty (usually a few grades below your redpointing level). Climb the problems in order of increasing difficulty and lock off every single move.  Hold the reaching hand just below the next hold for three long seconds. This drill will make you really focus on the intricacies of each move, prompting you to align your body position perfectly for the lock off.  If you don’t feel like you have worked hard by the time you reach the end of the climb then down-climb in the same fashion, pausing the hand that’s reaching down to the next hold. Rest a few minutes and move on to the next problem using the same technique for each climb.

Maintaining Body Tension, Endurance: Peter Pans

This drill requires an over-hanging section of either a bouldering or lead wall. It is a fantastic exercise for those pressed for time but wanting a burly work out. This drill helps to teach your body to control swing and stay on the wall when you lose your purchase on a foothold. Choose an overhanging route or problem with decent holds all the way up. Grade doesn’t matter as long as the holds are big and easy for you. Each time you make a move with your hands you are going to intentionally cut your feet from the wall and swing them back on. Challenge yourself and put them back on in a different orientation. Be sure to keep your arms slightly bent to help engage your core and don’t straight-arm anything. This workout will tire your entire body pretty quickly so you might not need as many climbs to get worked. Beginners should aim for 5 routes or 10 problems and intermediate/advanced climbers should aim for 10 routes or 15 to 20 problems. Alternatively you can do a combination of routes and problems.

Strength and finger-Strength: Hyper gravity Bouldering

Hyper-gravity can be achieved by adding weight to your climbs using either a weights vest or a scuba diving belt.  Due to the natures of this drill, it should be reserved only for more advance climbers.  Adding weight does increase the stress on your fingers and joints so make sure you warm up and stretch thoroughly.  Start with lighter weights to allow your body to get used to working with the additional load.  Each consecutive session you can increase the weight volume. Select routes or problems that are not overly technical, are generally overhanging and do not contain tiny or tweaky holds. Make sure you are climbing grades comfortably below your limit, as you do not want to be taking controlled falls with weight on your body. You should aim to climb the problem three times back-to-back and once completed take a five minute rest before jumping onto another problem.  Once you are used to carrying the additional weight aim to climb 4 to 5 problems.

Remember that the most important aspect to training is maintaining a positive mind-set and to enjoy what you are doing.  Train safe!