meaningful preparation

Theres a lot of discussion about ‘climbing training’, but not all of its too well informed, ie put into perspective with actually climbing. Anything not done on a mountain, with real conditions, real timelines and real risks is ‘virtual’ preparation. Its not the real thing, however much it emulates it.

But that’s cool. If youre climbing seriously, you are risking your ass, and that’s not the place to develop your inherent capabilities – it’s the place to apply them.

I suppose its essentially periodization, but defining your climbing into times when you are developing your capacity and times you are applying your capacity is useful. It stops the common climbers scourge of all your climbing falling into the middle – lots off ok stuff buffering out only a few moments of really climbing in the zone. No doubt fun, but makes for slow progress if that’s your intention.

Anyway, even the development stuff, on a mountain, is not the place to develop quantifiable capacity. Its just too sketchy, and really, how much time does anyone spend on mountains in a truly developmental zone. Once all the access, return and messing about stuff is taken out, few people are in the time and place to chalk up enough hours to really work on it. Some of us have other things in life to do.

That’s where training environments work (I hesitate to say ‘gym’ due to all the preconceived ideas that arise). These are places where you can work on and test aspects of your capacity with the superfluous bits removed – then go back to work. Which means you can do it often enough to see the patterns and weaknesses.

But time is precious, more so the time when you are in the right zone for doing something that matters. So here are a bunch of exercises (or types of exercises) that optimize time spent on climbing-specific preparation done off the mountain


Time spent under load and stress, finding weaknesses and injury resistance. Strap on +20kg of gear and carry it 20kms. Simple. Sort of. it gradually becomes not about the weight, or about the distance, or the times, or the stress. bit by bit it becomes about what you dont have, until you push thru the looking glass when its not even about finishing. a meaningful session is when you wonder how you will recover. the most meaningful sessions are when you fail.

Body weight with actual weight

Pull ups, dips, air squats, push ups etc. all the old style stuff – done with an extra +10kg. unless you climb naked, un-weighted gymnastic movements have limited effectiveness.

Stressers & pumpers

Farmers carries, dead hangs, overhead holds, rack holds, weighted steps, planks & abdominal holds – held long and hard, buffered with sets of lactic-building, pump inducing movements.

If you don’t understand the use of these exercises youre not going hard enough.

Strength endurance

Make it about sucking it up and putting it out. Long sets of powerful moves where it becomes a journey into every rep. any movement that stresses a large muscle group and extends to the peripherals. 50 deadlifts at 130% body weight, 50 backsquats at 100% bodyweight, 25 pullups loaded with 50% bodyweight. Partition into any way that works.

Integrity exercises

Link the extremities to the big muscle groups during movement. A million variations from farmers carries to weighted steps and TGUs. Stress the hell out of the big muscles then move onto something demanding precision once your system gets bombed.


Keep the body guessing and the focus to your movements. Its not basketball, but short, powerful and focused moves are the stuff that increases your survivability. Every route has a moment or two when things red line and demand a few of the right strikes to keep you out of trouble and its nice to have some muscle memory there. Plyometric pullups are good if you set up 2 bars.

Aside from the 20/20 and full capacity with the power strength endurance, this stuff works well throughout the climbing season, to keep the structure and systems tweaked in climbing mode. Its important to rest of course, but keeping these elements firing off during the week keeps you primed to make the most of the windows when they arrive. obsess over calories, heartrates and body fat if you like, but not at the expense of listening to your organic indicators – electronics only record data, they dont indicate it. fine if youre a robot, that doesnt cramp, dehydrate, burn sugar or feel altitude. tabulate it all to find the inconsistancies rather than reward yourself for aligning with someone elses system. find where it fails – this is not a charity fun run.

None of this need be done in a gym. Splitting wood for winter covers much of whats here. A big riverstone and some homemade roman rings will work.

Define the sessions too, don’t mix things up into a mish mash of below-useful attempts: when you lift, lift heavy. When you run, run hard. When you hang, make it matter. Otherwise it will all be for little, lacking in edge and without much transferal to the mountains where it matters.