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Improve Your Mixed Game: Training for the Rock

Want to get good at mixed climbing? Then train.

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 247 (January 2018).

You have done lap after lap of ice climbing already this season, but mixed climbing turns out to be a little different. The first time you verge from ice onto rock, you tighten your grip to hold the tools still as your front points skate around on the small edges. Your picks creak, adjusting to the terrain. You feel a disconnect between your tools of the trade and your body. You fight up the line of rock holds and thin ice smears, and finish exhausted and beat down.

What will help is learning how to use your tools as an extension of your body. Sport-specific training will teach you to move your body and tools as a single unit.

The following exercises were designed for the U.S.A. Youth Ice team. This program is for climbers with base fitness who want to reach the next level.




All workouts should start with a solid warm- up, taking a minimum of 10 minutes. The goal is to raise your heart rate to get the blood flowing.
seconds on, 30 seconds off, six-minute duration.
JUMPING JACKS: do 100 to 200.
BURPEES: do three sets of 10 with a 30-second rest between.


marcusgarciamixedlfigurenine-7207635Since ice climbing can present the same moves over and over (pulling down with your hands, shoulders and elbows in the same position), it is important to supplement with a workout that includes antagonist (opposition) exercises. Do the exercises in control, while listening to your body, and rest in between exercises.

Expect to spend 30 minutes to an hour per session, and to perform the exercises two or three times a week. On climbing-workout days, pick a few of the exercises that target areas you did not work during your climbing session. Rest at least two days each week.

The strength and endurance programs here include suspension training: a series of bodyweight exercises using straps that develop sport-specific core stability, strength, balance and muscular endurance. Mix up the exercises as you see fit, for your level.


The dead hang is the simplest and most vital exercise. Variations exist but the most relevant are the Dead Hang Ice Tool and the Towel Dead Hang (Figure 1). Place your ice tools over a “hookable” surface, or hang them from carabiners. Hang for a set time. Be sure to place the middle of the pinky against the tool trigger (Figure 2). Use both the closed grip (Figure 3), where the thumb wraps around the tool, and an open position, thumb off the tool as the pinky rests against the trigger part of the tool. Do four sets of 10-second hangs, followed by a five-second rest between reps. Rest two to three minutes between sets, and alternate between the two hand positions. To build tool grip strength, wrap a towel over a pull-up bar, place a hand on each side, squeeze hard, and do four sets of eight- to 10-second hangs, with a five-second rest between each rep and a three-minute rest between sets.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 2.30.37 PM


Grip your tools or a pull-up bar and pull down with your lats and rhomboids teres muscles (back muscles). These are the key muscles that help to keep the tools still and your body engaged. As you get stronger, add weight slowly over time to increase difficulty. Do four sets of 10 reps, with two minutes of rest between sets.


Grip your tools or a pull-up bar, and pull your knees to your elbows. Keep the movement as static as possible. Advanced: As your core gets stronger, step it up by placing your tools or hands wider, and bring your knees to your opposite hand. Elite: Using your tools, perform a Figure 4 in slow motion, breaking down the sequence to focus on the process. Take a five-second count. Repeat for a Figure 9. Your core will greatly benefit from this exercise, and you will float those Figure 4s and 9s.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 2.28.38 PM

Hold a dumbbell on the side of your body (finding the appropriate weight will take a few trials), squat to a 90-degree angle, stand back up and continue into a toe raise, holding for five seconds. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps, with a two-minute rest between sets. Advanced: Use a box to step up onto and finish the toe raise from there.


Using an appropriate weight, raise the dumbbell slowly and in control. Once the weight touches the shoulder, continue to press it overhead. Lower, with control, and alternate sides. Target goal is four sets of eight reps on each side with two to three minutes of rest between sets.


Yes, finger strength plays an important role in ice/mixed climbing. A barbell is best, but dumbbells also work.

Start with very warmed up fingers. Choose a weight that will allow you to do eight to 10 reps in a set. Grip the bar with palms facing the body. Curl the weight with your fingers to the tops of the hands, and lower to the point where you almost feel as if you will drop the weight, then quickly roll back up. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps. Rest three minutes between sets.


Holding the straps, arms extended straight above you, pull your chest to your hands and hold for five seconds, while raising one of your legs (Figure 1). Raised leg is straight, and the toe is above your hands. Focus on pulling with your rhomboids and lats first, then your arms. Advanced (Figure 5): Attach the ice tools to a strap, and do one-arm rows. Hold at the top of the back pull for five seconds. Keep an open-hand grip, and do not allow the tool to rotate.


Adjust the height of the straps to allow you to perform eight to 10 reps. (Figures 2 and 3) Start in a push-up position with your hands on the straps. Lower in a slow, controlled motion. Press back up. Do four sets of eight to 10.


This is for advanced to elite climbers. You can use a resistance band to help take weight off. (Figure 4) Clip the tools to a sling with a carabiner that will allow them to swing. Pull your body up until the tool handles are at chest level and about shoulder-width apart. Move side to side, just like a typewriter. Start with four reps (two on the left and two on the right are a set). Perform five sets with a minimum of three minutes of rest in between sets. Tip: Less is best.


Perform slow pull-ups with a five-second count up and down. Add weight as needed to keep the pull-ups to a minimum of five to eight reps for four sets. If training for strength, rest for three minutes. For an endurance workout, rest for one to two minutes. Elite: Trade the ice tools for a towel. Follow the Dead Hang Towel description above, but do pull-ups.


Use the suspension straps to perform this exercise. Perform four sets of three to five reps. Rest two minutes between each set. Use caution and static movement. Modification for an easier version: Hold the dip static for 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for six cycles/ reps for three sets, resting three minutes between sets.


Grasp a wooden dowel or PVC with weights suspended below it, and slowly
roll the weight up and down. Two to three raises and lowers is a set. Perform four sets, with two-minute rests between sets.


Grab a two- to four-foot-long dowel at the top (Figure 6). Walk your feet back to straighten your body as far as possible, arms extended. Hold for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for eight reps. Repeat for four sets. Rest for two minutes between sets. Advanced: Grip the top of the stick, and walk your hands down to the ground, then back up. Rest two minutes, repeat five times.


Place your feet in the straps about two feet above the ground. Hold a plank position for one minute, and then rest for 30 seconds, for a total of five minutes. Advanced: Bring the knees to the elbows and extend back out for 30 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a five-minute duration.

MARCUS GARCIA is an all- around climber, a gym owner and a climbing coach of 23 years. He has been working with the U.S.A. Youth Ice Team on an Olympic development program.

Also read Art of the First Ascent: The Bold Climbs of Marcus Garcia