• Coming Back From Injury
  • Get Trip-Fit Fast
  • Systems Wall and Symmetrical Training
  • Coaching Climbing - How To Train Juniors with Care and Caution
  • Grip Trainers - Gimmicks, or Worth the Money?
  • Hangboarding for Endurance: Not Just for Power
  • Simulation Training: How to Do a Move You Can't Do
  • Planning a Year's Climbing
  • Portable Training Rigs - How to Stay Fit on the Go
  • How to Keep Your Job and Family and Still Climb at Your Limit
  • Suspension Training for Rock Climbing
  • Eat Fat, Climb Harder - The Ketogenic Diet
  • Witness the Mental Fitness: Set Thought Aside to Improve Performance
  • Mental Training Made Simple
  • Counterintuitive Climbing Tips to Change Your Game - Part 2
  • Endurance Training Tips for Winter
  • Five Counterintuitive Climbing Tips to Change Your Game - Part 1
  • Staying Power - How to Last All Day at the Crag
  • Attack and Defend - Tips for Effective Resting
  • Change Up - Plug the Gaps In Your Strength Training This Winter
  • Training While Injured
  • The Hard Way, Easier: How to Cope with Redpoint Nerves
  • Climbing Literacy - Get Better Instantly by Reading Routes
  • The Numbers Game - How to Use Your Age to Your Advantage
  • Injury-Free Bouldering: 15 Tips to Keep You Healthy and Strong
  • Injury-Free Boarding: 14 Training Tips to Save Your Fingers
  • The Truth About Caffeine and Climbing
  • Pushing Past Your Training Plateau
  • Five Strategies to Sharpen Concentration and Climb Better
  • Five Ways to Get Better Without Training
  • Beat the Burnout: Only Ondra Should Train Like Ondra
  • Effective Gym Training Strategies (for Route Climbing)
  • Should You Add Weight or Use Smaller Holds on a Hangboard?
  • Map Out a Plan with the Radar System
  • Managing the Fear of Falling
  • Projecting 101 – 6 Tips For Sending
  • Slowing the Pump Clock - Three Strategies to Prevent the Pump
  • Training on the Go
  • How to Train for Compression
  • Nutrition: Eating Your Way to Better Climbing
  • How to Dyno
  • General Conditioning for Climbers
  • Transitioning from Gym to Crag
  • Staying Strong to Perform Your Best All Season
  • How to Lose Weight for Climbing
  • Building a Better Climber: Final Phase - Peaking
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 7 - Power Endurance Training
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 6 - Endurance II
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 5 - Strength and Power II
  • The Training Effect - Steve House and Scott Johnston
  • Training for Climbing: Injured? Train Your Core!
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 4 - Power Endurance
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 3 - Strength Training
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 2 - Low-Intensity Endurance
  • Building a Better Climber: Phase 1 - Conditioning Phase
  • Gain Confidence by Learning Not to Fear Falling
  • Get Better When You Are Scared and Pumped
  • Never Get Pumped Again
  • Gutbusters - Core Exercises for Rock Climbing
  • Rest ... or Else
  • The Intuitive Approach to Training
  • Free Climbing Tips: Why Get Stronger When You Can Get Better?
  • Crank Like a Russian - How to Power Train for Climbing
  • How to Mentally Train
  • Boost Power With Eccentric Training
  • Tips for Better Onsighting
  • Should You Lose Weight or Get Stronger?
  • Is Protein Important?
  • Getting Strong After a Layoff
  • Does Running or Biking Improve Your Climbing?
  • Training While Hungry
  • How To Use Microcycles
  • How to Improve Slab Technique
  • How to Unlock a Crux
  • How to Use a Hangboard
  • Using a Weight Belt For Training
  • Training During Pregnancy
  • Maximizing a Small Home Wall
  • How to Stay Psyched
  • How to Prevent Bonking
  • Best Ratio of Resting to Bouldering
  • The Importance of Finger Strength
  • Regaining Confidence After a Fall
  • Overcome Anxiety and Send!
  • Maximum Training in Minimum Time
  • Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
  • Do Forearm Trainers Work?
  • Ultimate Strength
  • The Secrets of Warming Up
  • Periodized Training For the Year-round Approach
  • Resting the Perfect Amount
  • How To Recover On Route
  • Does Creatine Work?
  • Recovery Supplement Truths
  • Euro Training Secrets
  • Can Old Guys Get Stronger?
  • Training With an Injury
  • How to Beat Fear
  • How Often Should You Rest?
  • Warming Up Without Warm-Ups
  • How to Develop Sloper Strength
  • Beating the Lactic Acid Pump
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    General Conditioning for Climbers


    Tommy Caldwell showing off his fitness on the first ascent of the six-pitch You Cannoli Die Once (5.13a) in Sicily.Most climbers are not “athletes”in the true sense because general fitness and conditioning are low on their priority list—an after-thought rather than a crucial training component. In most other sports, a base of general strength and endurance is built first before you concentrate on a specific discipline. But for most climbers it works the other way around.

    The value of cardio-work and gym conditioning for climbers is widely understood, yet tastes and tolerances vary considerably. There are so many different profiles here—the gym junkies and aerobic fiends who over-cook it at the expense of their climbing, the couch potatoes who can’t walk to the crag without a sit-down rest and the hit-and-miss crew whose fitness pendulums randomly according to fluctuating work schedules and motivation.

    It can be difficult to find time to run or go to the gym, especially when real climbing is so much more satisfying. But if you opt out of general conditioning for too long, you simply won’t be fit or strong enough to be able to train safely or effectively. Much of the conditioning training will also work the antagonist muscles and help to balance the body. Competition climbers have conditioning dialed, which explains why they are able to achieve and maintain a level that most of us can only dream of.

    So, if you’re psyched to get with the program, here are some guidelines for boosting your supportive fitness to the next level.


    1. Where and When

    There are two ways that conditioning and cross training should feature in your overall approach, the first is during dedicated cardio and conditioning phases and the second is on a regular basis, week in, week out.

    Any long-term training program should start with a cardio and conditioning phase that may involve a total break from climbing, or include a maximum of one or two light, endurance-based climbing sessions per week. The length of these phases should depend on how much rest you need from climbing as well as how much general fitness you’ve lost while focusing exclusively on climbing—the two are often synonymous. Two to four weeks is the approximate phase length. Conditioning phases are also ideal when recovering from an injury, in which case they may last longer, for example, up to 10 weeks.

    There is a fine line between cross training and conditioning being complementary or detrimental. Prolonged aerobic or anaerobic exercise will deplete glycogen reserves and may impair your recovery from more intense climbing sessions, resulting in a lack of progress or, worse still, illness or overtraining-related injury. The simple advice is to reduce the length, frequency and intensity of cardio and conditioning sessions during phases of hard climbing and training, especially when strength gains are the priority.


    2. What to Do

    The great thing about cardio and conditioning sessions is that you can do them anywhere, without the need for special equipment. Elite climbers may wish to incorporate rings, kettlebells and TRX straps into these sessions, but for the majority, all you need is somewhere to run and some floor-space for exercises. Early mornings, lunch-breaks or evenings may provide suitable gaps in your schedule. Above all else, set training targets to make sure that you keep improving. It’s very easy to slip into your comfort zone and allow your sessions merely to repeat themselves. The body adapts quickly, and the only way you’ll get fit is to keep changing things up and/or increasing the intensity. 


    3. Anaerobic and Cardiovascular Training

    Running and cross-trainer machines are preferable to cycling, which is prone to building up the leg muscles. If you must cycle, then stick to the roads, avoid hills and spin with a high cadence. Swimming is only suitable during rest or conditioning phases, as it can tire the arms, shoulders and upper body. The modern thinking is to avoid churning out the same old 30-minute aerobic plods. Provided you feel fit enough, you should aim to incorporate anaerobic intervals (high-intensity bursts of exercises such as sprints) to send your heart soaring, followed by controlled periods where you slow back down and recover. This will produce superior fitness gains and be more enjoyable and challenging. The ability to switch between aerobic and anaerobic energy systems is more relevant to climbing than relying purely on aerobic systems. In addition, anaerobic training is understood to boost growth hormone production, which is about as handy for training gains as it gets. You don’t need a heart-rate monitor to do these sessions, but a stopwatch is handy.

    A sample program is given above. Those who are less fit should build up from 15- to 20-minute aerobic sessions (i.e.: hold a steady pace) until they can sustain 35 to 40 minutes of effort. After this, it is safe to attempt to incorporate intervals.


    4. Conditioning Sessions: Floor and Gym

    There are many different types of routines that you can do here, but the general theme is to do lots of different exercises, with low weights and fairly high reps. If you are injured then avoid exercises which aggravate the injury and instead do a separate rehab program. It usually makes sense to avoid exercises that work the muscles that are used commonly in climbing (i.e. back and biceps) and instead emphasize the legs and antagonists. However, avoid any leg exercises that are prone to causing muscle bulk, such as squats with weight. It is good to include the core muscles, but the aim is to achieve an all-over body workout rather than a specific focus on the core (which clearly will have a place at other points in your program). A great option is to do a circuit-style routine, as this will develop anaerobic fitness as well as condition the muscles. One of my favorite routines is given below. This is just one of an infinite number of possibilities, and you may prefer to free-style and create your own.


    Coach Gresham’s Conditioning Circuit:

    Choose six exercises from the list below, making sure you include at least one of each of the full range of muscle groups. Arrange them in order so that you will be alternating between different muscle groups. The exercises are completed circuit-style, moving from one to the next, without rest, in sets of between eight and 12 reps (see targets below). Start at a level that you can just manage and then work up progressively to doing the highest number of reps and circuits. Guidelines are also given for rests between rounds of each circuit. Once you’ve hit the highest target you can reduce the amount of rest further between rounds, but note that this can have a fairly dramatic effect on performance so take it easy here!


    This article was posted in Rock and Ice 221 (October 2014)

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