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Wilderness Sports > Ice Climbing Training Tips

Ice Climbing Training Tips

Q: What advice do you have for ice climbing training?

A: First of all, remember that any exercise that simulates ice climbing moves, including "dinosaur training" techniques such as framing houses, chopping wood, and other full-body activities in multiple dimensions (read: NO MACHINES) will help you prepare indoors for your favorite outdoor activity. Dry-tooling on rock can be a good training method when ice conditions are less than optimal.  Some gyms around the country actually offer indoor ice climbing walls, such as Cascade Crags in Everett, WA at (425)-258-3431.

Second, analyze what is most needed for ice climbing: pulling strength and endurance, calf and forearm endurance, healthy wrists and arms with a strong flick of the wrist, and core strength.

Choose Chins or Pullups over Lat Pulls or Gravitron

I've been asked over and over about the pros and cons of chins and pullups compared to lat pull downs and machine-assisted pulls on something like the Gravitron or Nautilus' version of the same machine. I firmly believe chinups and pullups do more for the rock and ice climber than lat pull downs, DEPENDING ON HOW THEY'RE DONE. I'd also insert that if you cannot do pullups, but you have the choice between Gravitron or weight-assisted machine and the lat pull downs, go with the Gravitron.

Why? Doing pullups, chinups or the Gravitron requires that you pull your body up rather than pulling something (bar, handle, etc) down to you. It requires the use of abdominals, shoulders, lats, biceps and muscles in the forearms. However, many people performing lat pull downs will brace legs under a knee pad, hence recruiting hip flexors and quads (and other smaller muscles involved in hip flexion) in addition to the upper body muscles listed above. If you must use a lat pull down, and your goal is to get as much transferable strength to climbing, THEN get on your knees with feet behind you (much like the position you'd be in using the Gravitron or performing pullups or chinups) and perform them that way. Even better, perform your pullups using dowels tied to a squat rack, to simulate the same grip you'll be using on your ice tools. See our other climbing training pages including pullups, ladder training, floor-assisted pullups, and finger training

Remember that the best training for climbing of any sort is climbing, BUT apart from that, in adverse weather conditions or off-season, if you can in fact do pullups, they will never HURT your climbing in any way UNLESS you neglect taking the time to learn any technique and rely forever on your brute strength. In many cases with rock and ice climbing you're NOT actually doing a pullup move; in the event that you need to be able to pull over an edge, however, or are on something slightly overhung that causes you to keep popping off, you can bet your life that I'd want to be able to do several pullups if only to have the lat and arm endurance to make several attempts at topping out without expending any extra energy worrying that I didn't have the upper body strength needed!

Calf Endurance

I suggest sticking to standing calf raises of some sort (Universal, leg press machine, dumbbells, barbell, back pack or even the Smith machine) rather than seated calf raises or ballistic jumps (as in boxer's shuffle or jumping rope). The point here is one of use: try to keep legs straight so you can work the gastrocnemius, rather than the soleus which is primarily worked when knees are bent, as in seated calf raises.

To train for muscular endurance in the calves, try this simple but demanding routine: start with 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions on your favorite 1 or 2 calf-strengthening exercises listed above and over several months, try to build to 5 sets of 30 (2-leg, bodyweight to start, up to pack weight as you progress) and your calves won't have any trouble once you get out on the rock or ice. Emphasize the pause at the bottom for a full second (the fully stretched position) and be sure to stretch well afterwards.

Climbing Core Strength

A good exercise to incorporate to your gym workout is hanging knee raises: On your chinning bar, hang with hands about shoulder width apart and arms straight, palms facing forward. Make sure you perform the knee raises under control so there is no momentum. Exhale and bring your knees up to your chest, inhale as they return to the start. To make this harder, add ski or climbing boots to your feet (or ankle weights), straighten the legs, or try alternating one leg at a time, knees bent or legs straight.


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