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Building a Better Climber: Phase 5 – Strength and Power II

If you stuck with the first four phases in this ongoing series, you should be feeling fit and ready to start strength training.

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Welcome back to the Rock and Ice yearlong training plan. If you stuck with the first four phases in this ongoing series, you
should be feeling fit and ready to start strength training. If you missed the previous action, simply start with two weeks of endurance training,
then commence with the strength phase outlined here.


Kevin Jorgeson powering up for the Dawn Wall with another lap on <em>Evolution</em> (V10) at the Buttermilk boulders. Photo by Ken Etzel.This
next phase is the second strength phase of the overall training program and hence it is similar in nature to Phase 3.

The main focus is bouldering, with a small amount of supporting hangboard work. The bouldering session is the same as in Phase 3, but the hangboard session
has changed slightly. There is also a small amount of low-intensity endurance work. Take three or four rest days after the first three weeks and then

At the end of the phase, take four rest days and see Rock and Ice No. 214 for the next phase. Those who have limited access to a climbing gym should substitute bouldering
sessions with a home hangboard session.


Number of Sessions per Week

    Beginner         Intermediate          Advanced/Elite    
1. Bouldering  2 2 3
2. Hangboard/Campus  1 1
3. Low Intensity Endurance  1 1 1
4. Conditioning and Flexibility  1 1 1
5. Antagonists and Core  1 1 2


Time: 2½ hours

Warm up: Pulse raiser, mobility exercises and easy climbing movement: 15 minutes

Progression of boulder problems: 45 minutes

Project bouldering: 2 hours

Intermediates/Elites: Try three different projects that you expect will take a minimum of two
or three sessions to complete. Each individual move should take between two and five tries on the first attempt. All three problems should be overhanging
but each should emphasize a different style and/or angle; e.g., slopey/pinchy holds, crimpy/positive holds, gentle overhang/severe overhang. Spend
30 minutes on each project and take a 15-minute break between each one.

Beginners: Try five boulder problems that you expect to get in three or four tries. Don’t spend
any longer than 15 minutes on one problem. Move on and return to it next time. Rest 15 minutes after every 30 minutes of climbing.

Intermediates/Elites: Finish with the arms and core exercises given for the hangboard routine
(one-armers and front levers), but not finger exercises.

Warm down with easy movement and stretches. Eat a protein- and carb-based snack within 30 minutes of training.


Warm up thoroughly. If you don’t have access to a bouldering wall, do gentle warm-up sets of hangs and pull-ups with one foot on a chair. Give gradually
less assistance each time. Rest two to three minutes between sets of all exercises.

1) Dead hangs (single hangs)

One-arm or two, subject to ability. Aim to reach the failure point before 10 seconds on the first hang. You will need to calibrate the exercise by adding
weight, switching to a smaller hold or using fewer fingers. Make each set slightly harder every time you train.

2) Campus touches (for high intermediates and elites only)

Only do this exercise if you can boulder approximately V6. Use first-joint (medium) campus rungs with a half-crimp grip (fingers bent at 90 degrees). Start
with both hands level, pull-up and lead with one arm, touch (don’t hold) the high rung and then drop back down and repeat with the other arm, alternating
to failure. The rung spacings will determine the number of sets. Rest two or three minutes and repeat.

Warm-up set x 2

6 – 8 reps (narrower rung spacing)

2 – 4 reps (wider rung spacing) 

6 – 8 reps (same rung spacing as for first set)

3) Fingertip pull-ups OR campus offset pull-ups

All sets are to failure, with a half-crimp grip using a campus rung or first-joint, flat hold. If your maximum capability for pull-ups is less than 15 reps, do standard two-arm pull-ups, with hands level. Use a weight belt to increase intensity and conform to rep targets. If you can do more than 15 pull-ups, do offsets on a campus board with your hands at different heights. Vary the rung spacings to conform to the rep targets. Repeat a second time, leading with the other arm to count as one set.

> Set 1:  Approx 6 – 8 reps

> Set 2:  Approx 3 – 4 reps

> Set 3:  Approx 1 – 2 reps

> Set 4:  Approx 3 – 4 reps

> Set 5:  Approx 6 – 8 reps

4) Pull-ups (on bar or jugs)

Beginners, use two arms. Intermediates, use one arm with a knotted rope, poor handhold or bungee stirrup for assistance. Calibrate the exercise to hit the failure point at the given number of reps. Rest two to three minutes between sets and increase intensity each session.

5) Straight-leg raises or front lever

Intermediates should do straight-leg raises (hang from the bar with arms just less than straight, and raise legs out in front, using controlled form): four sets of 10 to 15 reps (to failure). If you can do 15 reps comfortably, do front levers with one or both legs bent (hang from the bar with arms just less than straight, bend legs, bring your feet up to the bar and angle torso horizontally, using controlled form): four attempts, hold for four to six seconds (to failure). Elites should attempt a full front lever (torso horizontal with both legs as straight as possible): four attempts, hold for four to six seconds.

> Set 1:  Approx 6 – 8 reps

> Set 2:  Approx 3 – 4 reps

> Set 3:  Approx 6 – 8 reps


As for Phase 2 (see issue No. 209) of the program,
climb easy routes in multiple sets, selecting one out of the two given structure options.

1) Three-in-a-row x 5 with 12 minutes rest between sets.

2) Four-in-a-row x 4 with 15 minutes rest between sets.

Use different routes and climb them in a rotation rather than lapping the same route. Lower off and pull the rope quickly rather than downclimbing. Alternatively,
do long circuits of 80 to 120 moves or stints of random climbing for five to 15 minutes per rep.

Go to Building a Better Climber: Phase 6 – Endurance Phase II
Revisit Building a Better Climber: Phase 4 – Power Endurance


This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 213