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Sport Specific > Climbing-Rock > climbing Endurance Training

Part I of IV: climbing Endurance Training

If you are like most relatively new climbers, your typical workout at the local climbing gym may involve a brief cardio warm-up, upper body stretches, an easy route or two, then attempting 3-4 more challenging routes until your forearms beg for mercy. This may be okay while you are familiarizing yourself with climbing technique and exposing yourself to various moves, but if you already feel you have fairly strong technique, have been climbing for 6+ months, and are looking for a way to raise your climbing to the next level, try the following systematic approach to periodizing your climbing workouts. If you are brand new to sport or alpine climbing, we highly encourage you to enlist the help of an expert climbing instructor who can teach you how to stay in balance over your legs, focus on footwork, master new moves, and, in general, critique your technique so that when you move into the first cycle of this workout, you will already have a lot of skills available upon which to draw.

This 4-part series is designed to help beginning to intermediate rock, alpine, and sport climbers enhance their performance by improving their climbing conditioning. Part I is to be done for 4 weeks, and includes tips for your climbing routines at the gym as well as strength training exercises to help you keep in balance and healthy. Part I will provide you with a good base for the remainder of the program by developing general muscular endurance. Part II will be followed for 3 weeks and will focus on power, including suggestions for gym climbing training and complementary strength training if you can't get to your local crags or climbing gym. Part III includes power training, which will last for 2 weeks, and part IV is a week of active rest or recovery. This program differs from the one suggested by John Long in his How To Rock Climb Series in that we focus not only on the climbing itself, but on complementary strengthening exercises that will help the novice to intermediate climber stay balanced, injury-free, healthy, and climbing. It also differs somewhat from Eric Horst's How to Climb 5.12 in that we're assuming many of our readers are not necessarily at that level of climbing, yet want to safely make improvements at the lower levels as well.


In order to successfully climb more and more difficult routes, you need three things: 1) experience on a wide variety of rock; 2) sufficient local muscular strength (in all muscles of the body) and 3) muscular endurance. In this first phase, our goal is to increase muscular endurance while warding off what�s popularly referred to as the "pump". If you are climbing crimpy or difficult routes without sufficient forearm endurance, you will not be able to graduate to the harder routes, and in addition, you may run the risk of straining tendons or pulling muscles. To build up your climbing stamina, choose a route that is rated 3-4 numbers lower than your highest redpoint level and bribe a friend to be your belay slave for 20-30 minutes.(You will then trade off, so your friend will have a chance to do the same.)After you have warmed up in typical fashion (5 minutes of light aerobic activity to break a sweat, light stretching, easy traversing for 5 minutes or so) tie into your "easy" route line and start climbing, making sure you shake out your arms, chalk up, rest when needed, and at all costs, avoid generating a pump.Your friend can lower you down, or you can downclimb, then start right back up again.(You may have heard people refer to this as "doing laps.") MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT PUMP OUT. If you pump out, STOP and move to an easier route. Once you have reached your allotted time, stretch your biceps, forearms, and fingers, pop out of your shoes, grab some water and a sweater, and belay for your partner.If you typically reserve two hours at the gym, you might split your 120 minutes into 4 segments and climb 30, belay 30, climb 30 more and belay the final 30; or split it into 6 segments of 20 minutes each. Do endurance training for 4 weeks, up to 3-4 times a week. Be cautious, however, if you do not already have some training and climbing experience, or if you generate a serious pump, you run a greater risk of having tendon problems (they take an inordinate amount of time to heal) or straining muscles. Better to ease into this (maybe in shorter 10-15 minute segments at first) than to dive right in.


To provide balance to the rest of your upper body muscles that get neglected in your climbing workout, add in the following strengthening exercises, twice a week, preferably on a non-climbing day. Rest at least 48 hours between strength training workouts to give your body enough time to heal. Note that these are all supplemental exercises for muscle balance; for exercises to directly enhance your climbing (to strengthen fingers, help with pullups, etc.) stay tuned for future articles or get a head start by contacting a Body Results conditioning specialist.

March's move of the month is featured in our Photo Archives: the Corner Reverse Pushup. Don't miss this important posture-enhancing exercise!

2-3 sets, 10-12 repetitions of Pushups

Perform full-length (or knees if you must) pushups, at a steady pace of 2 seconds to lower, 2 seconds to lift. To make these more difficult, and change the angle at which you work the pectorals, place your feet up on a sturdy bench. You can alternate this with the wall reverse pushups--do a set of rhomboid work, a set of pushups, another set of rhomboids, back and forth for the desired number of sets. This technique (known as compound setting) allows you to cram a lot of work into a shorter amount of time, increasing local muscular endurance, and letting one muscle group rest while working the opposing muscle group. This will strengthen the oft neglected chest muscles (pectorals), the opposing group to the rhomboids.

2-3 sets, 12-15 repetitions Plie Squats

With legs wide apart (as though you were standing up against a wall in "frog stance"), knees tracking over toes, and torso upright, slowly squat down as low as you possibly can, hold for a count of two, and then spring up to straight leg position, and repeat. Keep your legs pressed wide apart and do not allow the knees to collapse inward and forward. This will not only help you stretch out and strengthen your hips, thighs, abductors and gluteals, but will also get you ready for springing upward in more dynamic moves ("dynos") in the next phase.

2-3 sets, 12-15 repetitions Reverse Dumbbell Wrist Curls

Don�t bother with regular wrist curls at this point, as you�ll be getting plenty of that in your climbing workouts.Instead, focus on the opposing muscle group. Hold 2 light dumbbells, 1 in each hand, palms facing down. Prop your arms on a bench (kneeling in front of it) or on your thighs (sitting and leaning over) and place your thumbs on the same side as the fingers, so you can work through the whole range of motion. Lower the weight as far as you can without losing control of it, and raise your knuckles up and back, but be sure you don�t incorporate biceps--leave the arms still.You can compound this with the rhomboid work, if you like.

2-3 sets, 12-15 repetitions Pronators

Using a slightly heavier dumbbell, or a pronation tool, grip the non-weighted end with arm supported on your leg, or across the bench, and start with palm facing down. Turn your hand (almost like opening a doorknob) so palm faces all the way up, allowing the weighted end to move through the full range of motion.Complete one arm and then move right into the other.

This very, very basic climbing strength program is a portion of what you might include in your own strength routine. Such a program would help you round out your climbing endurance phase, improve the balance between opposing muscle groups, and fend off injury. Remember, however, that every one of you has different needs depending on your training age, body type, individual goals, exercise history, and time available. For leg strength, variations, flexibility, shoulder and arm work, muscle assessment, and a personalized program developed specifically for your body�s unique needs, contact your local Body Results Conditioning Specialist.


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