to get good just going climbing is not enough, and is often part of the cause of plateaus that climbers whinge about. good climbing takes years of progress and to keep that on track you need to minimize base performance loss during the in-season. during winter it makes no sense to do a lot of heavy training as it only compromises the real thing out on the mountain – but it works well to keep your training edge sharp so that when the seasons gone theres minimal ‘shoulder lapse’.

ice climbing training

the stone that keeps the edge sharp…but not the edge itself

as its too late to make big progress for the season you are in, this type of training is about very short term goals that spill over to long term progress, ie fine tuning movements and stressors you will use next week, so you can climb in ways that set the goals for the next season (or three). these sessions require a high focus level, a high level of full body precision and a high level of complexity, but also minimal recovery and minimal lack of relevance. this is not really foundation stuff, its strupping the blade.

a good session to both do and use as a base for other sessions is ‘The Hole’. it has little heavy lifting and doesnt creep too far into your body reserves, but it does rev the system in confronting ways and it related directly to the stresses of steep climbing and hard approaches.


  • 3mins ski machine – mid pace

  • 3mins rope pull – mid pace

  • 3mins run – fast pace

  • 1min on/1min off x 3 GHD sit w/ 16kg KB

  • 25ea left & right side GHD extensions/twists w/ 16kg KB


  • barbell standing row 50% – 100% body weight; 5kg increments in sets of 3, the following between sets:

  • dumbell standing row 2 x 30% BW, 5ea alternate left & right

  • push row, 5ea, same DBs


  • 1min barbell standing row 50% BW non-stop, followed by:

  • 30sec dead hang

  • 5 x ring dips

  • 5 x chest-to-bar pullups

  • 90secs barbell standing row 50% BW non-stop, followed by as above

  • 2min barbell standing row 50% BW non-stop, followed by as above


  • 5mins rope pull easy pace

the warm up primes the system for working in constant motion, with a focus on everything going thru the large torso muscle groups. the first part recruits, synchopates and begins to stress the necessary muscle and structural groups, with the DB rows to stabillize imbalance recruitment and the pushrows to antagonize. the second part stresses the systems with demands from multiple systems – each set having its own prime stressor, then the hang widens the hole, the ring dips enforce stability when blown out and the pullups put the whole lot back into context just when youd rather be resting.

all movements relate directly to climbing and all stress factors will be familiar. ‘The Hole’ keeps shifting, and when standing rows are done right (launch with the legs, push with the back, pull with the arms) they mimic well the movements of being on steep ground. from this simple set of exercise can be extrapolated a multitude of variations – so long as the alternate stressor (dynamic and static), stability and integrative are kept in check.



(Warning: long article)

Recreational climbers loathe training, to the point that aversion to training is the hallmark of the recreational climber. To the recreational climber, gear, excuses and statistics will fill all the gaps.

This is just accepted though bemusing, as so many climbers never reach their ambitions and so blame the gear, the clock, the route, the guide or whatever, never seeing it is their condition that is often the primary limiting factor.

Gear can be bought, technique can be taught, attitude can be copied and facts can be memorized – only condition has to be slowly developed, through the painful, lonely hours of self-confrontation and focus.

“Just climb” is the usual false wisdom that’s offered, and it speaks volumes, namely that much or even most of such a climbers climbing is little more than training anyway, and an unfocussed and barely functional version at that. Of course a good climber climbs more, to offer as profundity the blatantly obvious is not wisdom, but the good climber knows that real progress is cyclical – where capacity is upped and then tested for weakness and limitation so it can be upped again – and that to leave this to the random, anecdotal nature of ‘just climbing’ is as smart as ‘just buying’ your gear without trying it on.

Training methods that fuse strength with endurance work because they allow you to climb more, so the old cliché isnt wrong, just misapplied.

By developing your endurance, ability and condition elsewhere (often a safer ‘elsewhere’) your ‘just climbing’ time is both benefited and freed of any serious training constraints. Those climbing days are made safer because of the known quantity the climber becomes through the training process and because of the gains from the training itself. Indeed, the faster, more efficient climber can simply cover more ground in better condition to get more climbing done in the conditions and daylight that no one can change.

Training matters not just because of the gains, but because of the limitations it exposes, and these 2 factors together give a picture of an individuals function. I know lots of people who can tell me what their jacket weighs, the properties of their sleeping bag or how many kcals are in a strawberry banana gel, but have no idea in how long (or even if) they could cover 10 miles.

There are 3 categories of functions that concern me in climbing because the way they integrate directly affects how and what I climb and it makes sense to develop all 3 to progress as a climber:

The gear: ropes, harnesses, clothes, hardware, tent, sleeping bags, insulation etc

The fuel: the energy, the nutrients, electrolytes, hydration, recovery etc

The person: brain, body, perspective, technique and attitude.

Theres all sorts of overlap between these categories, but as the ‘person’ category is the one I have to pilot every second of the year, often thru matters far more pressing than winter climbing, it’s the one I put the most effort into. Using and developing special gear is also important, but of the greater paradigm its about 20% of what makes up performance.

My capacity to do what I choose both recreationally and professionally is more reliant on my ability to cover vertical and horizontal distance with loads, apply strength and agility on demand, make executive decisions when under stress, apply technique efficiently, then recover from the whole lot rapidly, than it is on the weight of the jacket im wearing or fill of my sleeping bag.

The basic equation is; the more developed I am, the greater leeway I have with the ‘add-ons’. Or in another way; my limitations are not set by my equipment.

I can and do cut unnecessary weight where I can, but that’s only a third of the ‘weight/volume’ formula. The other two thirds – as anyone who moves weight for a living knows – is increasing your ability to move weight in relation to what you weigh yourself. And that means training, which is where 75% of climbers switch off.

Training and gyms are dirty words to most climbers despite the importance these things play to the high end climbers most recreational climbers admire. In a sport fuelled by emulation the focus is on copying the gear, the comments and the results in some anecdotal way, rather than taking on the process. That some top alpinist wears G14s gathers more interest and obsessive debate than that the same climber can do 25 pull ups, cover 15 miles non-stop loaded with half their bodyweight and cope with a sustained high cardio demand under stress. And yet the G14s the recreational climbers wears are judged as if they are on the same playing field…

Superficially every climber is leveled by the gear they can use. Piolet dor winner and weekend warrior alike, we can all share the same headtorch, underwear and drink bottle, making it obvious to those who choose to see that these things have little to do with achievement.

25 pullups (or 20, or 15, or 10, or 5) matters not because they are a stunt of strength, but because they are an indicator. 10 pull ups you can grunt your way through with average decent upper body strength, but beyond that strength matters less and less.

In other words; to do 20 pull ups indicates there’s a lot of other important factors in place as well – factors that don’t come together either by chance or without effort. To me 20 pull ups says im in the company of someone who understands the real commitments of climbing, who sees that the person is more important than the hardware, who is willing to do the hard work to face that equation and whos gear reflects not his choice in branding, dogma or colours, but the demands of a system that has actually delved itself.

‘Being strong’ is another misconception about training and climbing and tho there is no pursuit that isn’t made better by being stronger – ‘strong’ doesn’t mean bench pressing body weight for ten sets of ten, and like doing pull ups, stunts of corporeal strength will only get you so far. Actual strength doesn’t refer to an act, it refers to the state of the organism and its capacity to exert a level of force on demand:  the greater the force + the greater the demand = actual strength. 10 x 10 bodyweight presses in a gym – whilst impressive – is virtual strength; a narrow application of force across a very limited spectrum of demand.

Viewed this way, the guy loading 20kg boxes of bananas 8hrs a day on a moving boat in the tropics harnesses more strength across a greater set of applications than the guy with the power-belt and the Marilyn Manson shirt over at the oly set. Essentially ‘strength’ means the strength of an organism, and not just what that organism can do, but what it can withstand.

Theres several formulae out there to weigh up actual, functional strength (folks like Mark Twight, Mountain/Military Athlete and the worlds special forces have gone deep into this) and the one I like most is arguably the simplest: carry 20kgs for 20kms, nonstop. Otherwise known as the 20×20.

Its not the most specific nor the most diverse but as I see it it’s the one that levels the field more than any other. because it looks basic and simply a matter of grunt-work – and up to about 5kms in it is. That’s about the time when the powerlifters realize their virtual strength has worn off and their body mass is demanding too much oxygen, the ultrarunners realize their stripped down frames are struggling with the load, and the crossfitters realize its not just a matter of holding on and pushing out.

What sets the 20×20 apart is the element of time, and as those minutes become hours and the peripheral details of your condition get stripped away, theres plenty of time for analyzing just how much strength you think you have, because in one way or another that is the only thing limiting you. The 20×20 is a good indicator not because it overtly shows up strengths – it doesn’t, those bench presses wont be obvious – but because it shows up weaknesses, and like the 20 pull ups, you cant bluff your way through it.

By about the midpoint it becomes clear what will get you through the exercise – capacity.

Capacity to keep good posture and form to prevent the diaphragm collapsing from the load and injuries at bay.

Capacity to stay in the internal zone that overrides the stresses of a loaded system.

Capacity to mitigate arising weaknesses.

Capacity to keep those muscles firing and pushing you forward.

A decent time is anything under about 2Hrs 45mins, though anything under 3hrs indicates walking and stopping were kept to a minimum, which indicates that speed was put as a priority over pain, which indicates a ‘zone’ was entered into and that whatever methods were used were working and as absurd as it sounds id gamble that the climber who can do 20 pull ups can also do a pretty decent 20×20.


Because they have a lot in common beyond the obvious differences. Both will demand a good strength-to-weight ratio, good shoulder, upper and lower back integrity, a decent lactic threshold and oxygen uptake, good core-to-peripheral structural integrity, they share demanding good upper-lower body connection, they require developing a ‘zone’ to go into to override stress a functioning sense of integrating breathing with movement, skeletal alignment and forward-recovery.

Neither exercises will be bluff, luck, talent or ego. And none of it will have happened without realistic effort over a period that discounts dilettante dabbling, ego tripping and token efforts.

Doesn’t sound too useless for climbing to me…

Notes on the 20×20 test:

It would be foolhardy to just strap on 20kgs and head off for 20kms without preparation – but then again, it’s a foolhardy business we are in here. An exercise like this demands preparation from several angles to deliver a good result, the foremost being to injury-proof the body. Slick abs, cut pecs and sculpted lats wont do any harm, but they will have little benefit if they are not on top of actual strengthened and integrated structure.

Heres what you will want in your system:

  • Good cardio capacity combined with a good CO2 and lactic threshold.

  • Good sub-damage stress threshold

  • Adequate shoulder mass

  • Adequate upper and lower back strength

  • Good abdominal, hip, flexor and quad strength

  • Developed knee, ankle, foot and lower leg strength

  • Good hip and shoulder range of motion

  • Good lung capacity and diaphragm range

Beware the HIIT junky syndrome that without genuine non-stop 90min+ training will fall far short of the demands imposed. Likewise beware of the loss in body mass from exclusive distance training or the oxygen-craving hypertrophy of isolation weight training.

For the exercise itself steer clear of undulating routes, as though the uphills are very applicable to alpine climbing, the downhills can massively increase your chance of injury. Groomed trails are ideal as they are softer and offer greater foot micro-placement than tarmac.

The 20kgs can be carried in any way so long as its directly onto the body (no sleds etc) and doesn’t include clothes, shoes etc tho can include the apparatus the load is carried in. basically you need to have 20kgs of weight loaded onto your body. Simple as that.

Water is a good weight source as its easy to determine volume, can easily be dumped and needn’t be carried to the course.

Work out a drinking and eating system that doesn’t affect the 20kg load.

Poles are not part of it.

Newish shoes are recommended.

The clock doesn’t stop, no one is responsible for the outcome but you. The time its done in is of no value other than in relation to other pursuits.

PS: anyone reading this who has cracked 2:30 please send me an email, ive got lots of questions for you.


after a heap of questions about our training programs im going to devote a bit of keyboard time to training for winter/alpine climbing. theres plenty already out there, but not much of it seems to bring together all the factors i think necessary to be realistic for alpine climbing.

climbing gym training

rage against the machines: medicine ball, a wooden box, kettle bells and some plates and bars. despite the vanity factor a mirror is useful for checking form if you train alone.

i figure too, with 9 months or so until the next northern hemisphere ice season theres time to actually do something useful training wise. ignore most of this if you spend the northern off-season climbing in south america, new zealand, the extreme north or the big ranges, or if you do something already that ticks all the boxes. if not, then heres my thoughts on how to start the next ice season in better condition than you left the last one.

heres what i think needs to go into realistic ice/alpine preparation:

  • injury prevention: conditioning weak spots

  • stress inoculation: upping your capacity to mitigate the bits that arent fun

  • endurance: increasing your capacity to go further under greater demand

  • efficiency: nutrition, recovery, body mass

  • climbing training: vertical hours, systems, contingencies, ergonomics

  • actual (as opposed to virtual) strength/agility: body integrity, ROM, functional strength, dynamic strength

  • non-adaption: keeping active without over-stressing or over-developing the ‘climbing muscles’.

and heres how i divide it up for the sake of training:

  • on-mountain training: real time in the actual environment

  • gym training: using a virtual environment

  • field training: off-mountain but outdoors, cross training, capacity training

  • living room training: familiarizing yourself with ideas, designs, experimenting with food, tweaking gear

im going to start with the most controversial and mis-understood training element for climbing: the gym.

to not understand the gym environment is to not understand training at a very basic level: think of the gym as a simulator. its not real and its not meant to be.

its a virtual environment where you can go into aspects of physical conditioning you cant out on an icefall or alpine route. if you approach it as an alternative to real climbing you have failed – its to compliment actual climbing. gyms offer a place that allows total focus on your physical state so you can see where its at, and a safe environment to push boundaries, making a functional tool for developing indicators. this is a factor common to sports ranging from shotput to ultramarathons. firemen, rescue workers, soldiers, skiers and paramedics all know about it. for climbers to think they are different is ignorant.

gyms come in different shapes and sizes and to be applicable to climbing training dont need much, a bunch of bars and free weights in a garage will do. due to the non-virtual needs of real climbing a more primitive set up (ie without levering machines) is ideal – ‘the gym’ need not actually be a slick franchise of some californian corporation with the walls covered in homoerotic posters, the smell of foam matting and cheesy power-ballads on the sound system. the weight element need only extend incrementally to about double your body weight. as an indicator, i did 6 months of rehabilitation, ultramarathon training and expedition training with a ‘gym’ that consisted of a few lengths of scaffolding, 2 sets of dumbells, a bench to step onto, some boulders, 2 thick ropes and a home-made medicine ball and rings.

from the first list above heres what you can do in a gym and why:

  • injury prevention: strengthen joints and muscle groups that are easily damaged, weakened with age/sedentariness or could just be stronger – joints, knees, lower back, shoulders, forearms and lower legs. bodyweight stuff like squats & pullups, low weight Range-Of-Motion stuff, balance exercises. functional for obvious reasons.

  • stress inoculation: similar to high intensity training but not necessarily as high heart-rate, for longer duration & with a focus on inducing a panic reaction – breathing ladders, static hangs and holds, inverse rest periods, exercises that present elements of risk due to weight, form etc. functional for overriding physical demands with mental clarity, preparing the system for high demand situations and building contingency into climbing plans.

  • endurance: obviously not extended stuff, instead muscular/movement endurance. low, mid & high weight exercises done for long sets at the border of aerobic/anerobic threshold with minimal rests, eg full body lifts that mimic climbing movements repeated with minimal variation. functional for developing an upper capacity to climb within

  • efficiency: using large muscle groups and complex movements to create oxygen/lactic/anerobic demands to be developed. full body lifts, dynamic exercises, movements under weight done to intentionally spike inefficiencies. functional by increasining what you can put out in ratio to the fuel/oxygen etc you have to peform with.

  • climbing training: mimicking climbing elements that translate specificly to climbing (as opposed to generally as much of the other stuff does). one arm hangs, single leg squats, weighted step ups, upper body & arm endurance exercises, grip strength exercises, complex climbing movements under weight etc. both develops the necessary motor skills of climbing as well as keeps the ‘climbing muscles’ firing when not being used. functional in obvious ways

  • actual strength/agility: get stronger. actual strength is about you being able to apply strength when you need it and covers form, integrity, body tension and muscular efficiency along with raw power-output. very misunderstood, actual strength is an indicator of multiple aspects of performance.  olympic-style lifts, progressive weight additions, powerlifts, weighted body exercises, kettlebells etc. functional in a multitude of ways spanning lifting gear to rescuing partners and pushing bogged vehicles.

  • non-adaption: throw in exercises and lifts that mix up the bodys responses. drive blood to the legs then flip to torso-limb integrity stuff, over-stress the limbs then flip to complex, detailed lifts, complex exercises that demand full body attention. keep your body guessing, put your brain across your whole system. functional because you dont climb all the time and it would be stupid to be able to nail WI6+ but not go surfing or play with the kids because you are too over-specialized

of course a degree of these things can be done on-mountain too – but 5 days a week? in amongst other things? in bad weather? safely? quantifiably?in some ways its simply more efficient to make some gains off-mountain, minimizing time spent in dangerous places on peripheral aspects of climbing.

like sex or climbing or anything else, the gym is only boring if you make it so. if wonder, intrepidation, positive-anxiety and the excitement of progress isnt foremost in your attitude to training then you need to readjust your misconceptions, get over your social stereotypes, confront your prejudices and come to a more informed understanding of preparation. to cut out an entire aspect of preparation makes it hard to qualify as a committed climber.


Climbing takes place against gravity, so the upward movement of mass and weight is a major aspect of the whole matter. Even at the most simplistic level, this is affected by 3 factors:

①The force of gravity

②The weight of the climber

③The power output of the climber

#1 we cant do much about, but #2 & #3 we can drastically affect with another 3 factors:

①reducing the weight of the climber: minimizing body weight without affecting necessary mass for storing fuel & strength

②increasing the output capacity of the climber: optimizing endurance, functional strength, fuel efficiency, agility & stress threshold

③reducing the weight of the climbers add-ons: stripping unnecessary weight in equipment, designs & requirements.

In a scene obsessed with trinketry and exploited by marketing departments that target this, many climbers approach to the push against gravity focusses massively towards #3. Incredibly, tho the millions of images promoting climbing equipment feature athletic people behind the sophisticated gear, the human element is ignored in favor of the shiny, colourful equipment. Likewise, despite the detailed volumes written over the decades of carefully developed methodology for optimizing a climbers functional capacity, it is ignored in preference to the slick bullet point promises, numbers and blurbs churned out by the advertising wings of manufacturing corporations.

On the (vertical) ground, it is rare to see a climber fail their objectives due to wearing a jacket 50gms too heavy or having a pack 2 seasons old. At the sharpest end of the sport this may matter, when all other factors have been exhausted and things are seen in the light of very tweaked algorithms, but when most climbers fail  their objectives its more often because they don’t have the condition for it – and no amount of the latest gear will make up for that – another thing the climbers at the top of the game frequently reveal but which is again ignored by the gear-hungry masses.

A climbers functional-weight to functional-output ratio cannot traded, it must be cultivated. No corporation can provide it for you, you have to choose the process, not just the end product. You have to be there for all the phases between conception and result, you cant just show up at the end and claim it, and you cant blame anyone else if it doesn’t work how you intend it to. You have to go it alone, let it get ugly, take the risks.

(Actually, the equipment design process isn’t that dissimilar, taking a long and detailed series of dedicated elements to bring a design to fruition with true innovation being the result of hard work done and risks taken – I often wonder how peoples attitudes to their condition would shift if they had to design their own equipment as well…).

Optimizing your ‘Function Quotient’ begins with your perspective: what does climbing mean to you and how far will you go to fulfill that? How hard are you willing to push against gravity?

If it means defining yourself tribally and having something to do on the weekends then a bling-heavy perspective will allow lots of margin that an undeveloped functional capacity can happily fail within. Realistically, how demanding will things ever get an hour from the car? You don’t need a survival strategy to swim between the flags.

But, if your attitude demands more than the outward display of climberness and what you want gets further of the grid, the more gravity there is to push against so the more your condition takes precedence. Skiing in 30km to try an unclimbed icefall warrants a different degree of commitment to a well-known route you can see from the road – in more ways than one there’s more gravity in the equation. To be who you think you want to be demands putting a different sort of effort in.

It makes sense to optimize your capacity for climbing by increasing your physical ability to climb (the fusion of technique & organic applied strength). An efficient & strong climber harnesses more of the benefits of stripped down or sophisticated equipment, as well as all the potential of an optimal weight-to-strength ratio. The unconditioned climber’s demands on their gear differ from those of the well-conditioned climber in that the formers brings them towards baseline whereas the latters takes them from baseline upwards – actual progress against gravity is made rather than simply progress against the self. Put another way, the optimally trained climber can expect to see more benefit from the same add-ons the overweight climber struggles with because hes already reached zero.

Don’t underestimate the demands of climbing condition:

The ill conditioned climber breathes less efficiently, sweats heavier, stays in the high output zone longer, takes longer to cover ground, requires more fuel for the same output, has a more haphazard performance curve, demands more oxygen, metabolizes fuel less efficiently, tires faster, recovers slower, has reduced reaction potential, covers their strength and endurance needs less effectively and just generally takes on gravity less successfully, which wouldn’t matter if this was macramé – but its not.

Optimizing your functional output against the laws of gravity is primitive stuff and brings with it a primitive honesty – who the hell are you? what are you doing? how are you trying to do it? – and when the fundamental indicator of whether what youre doing is working or not is as simple as ‘does it make me perform better against gravity?’* theres not a lot to second-guess around.

And of all the things you could be doing to increase your potential against gravity, which of them do you chose? And why? If your actual condition and ability isn’t your primary choice, why not? Have you found something better?

Optimizing condition is a streamlined process where reducing body mass and increasing function evolutionarily goes hand in hand, with excess weight and volume being stripped by the same process that increases applied strength, endurance and range of function. Its not hard to tell the useful methods from the others, and even after decades of passing trends the same original formula of hard work, focused intent and intelligent process still stands – after all, weve pushed against gravity for a really long time.

*and other forces of nature, more on that coming soon.

ps. If perusing the internet is your primary source of inspiration, don’t waste your time on ad-saturated sites and hard-man grunting – go see what the paralympian scene is up to for some serious perspective.


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. where perspective tends to get lost is in reflecting what actually goes into climbing – its not all hanging from tools, pulling into thin air.

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. think about what goes into climbing: how much effort is spent on approached and retreats, hauling, coiling and waiting around in stressful places. yep, its fun to train all the stuff like tooling and raw power, but who wants to train the 60% that isnt that, and which has just as much impact on your results and safety?.

But time is precious, more so the time when you are in the right zone for doing something that matters. by preparing for the entirre experience you optimize on the time when you actually hit the ‘real stuff’. 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.

less about the weight, more about the crazy feedback loops as your brain stresses out as it spearates from your body. better to have looked into this void before it hits you high up on early season ice. If you don’t understand the use of these exercises youre not trying very hard.

Strength endurance

Make it about sucking it up and putting it out. Long sessions of powerful moves where it becomes a journey into every rep. any movement that stresses a large muscle group and extends to the peripherals, with enough overlap in each movement to affect the others. 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 and focus 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 during 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. all of this is only as relevant as it is to getting you climbing better – thats the test. if it doesnt do that its not because ‘training’ fails – its because your training fails, and its time to tweak things upwards.


Interval training has countless applications to almost any form of preparation for any activity. Variations of intervals can be done anywhere, from running on trails to climbing gyms to weight gyms to athletic facilities and swimming pools. Decades of research and analysis show results.

Relevant to winter climbing are several versions, and the variants I put at the top of the pile are intervals focusing on stress. Stress in this context being where the usuals of strength, endurance and power are secondary, and ‘system anxiety’ is the focus. simply put: where the cause of failure is spread across as many aspects as possible, and ‘you’ fail as an organism rather than simply one aspect of your capacity.

System anxiety applies well to climbing because anxiety is a major component. Indeed I think anxiety is one of the few things that sets climbing apart from other pursuits. System anxiety is maybe best described as ‘when the organism faces multiple points of failure due to stress across multiple organic systems’. you know it when you feel it: when as the hypoxic tunnel fades, your breath comes back, and you realize you cant feel your hands, then that your lower back is tightened and your mouth is dry.

It differs from regular training in that it blows out 3 or more systems. Properly 4, because when done correctly the mind is the first to go.

A good example might be the following:

– 30seconds of heavy push rows (at around 60% of body weight)

– Followed by 90seconds of dead lifts (at about 75% of body weight)

– Followed by 2 minutes of rest

Repeated 3 times.

What happens here is the compromising of multiple organic systems, reducing the capacity for one system to make up the overlap of another.

The heavy push rows blow the torso and the dexterous shoulder/arm musculature, and stress the body symmetry which messes with balance as the smaller muscle groups tire. The stressful posture reduces diaphragm capacity for oxygen intake. Stress spikes across several elements and repeated complex movements prevents the mind from tuning out.

The 90secs of dead lifts shifts the body into a longer rhythm of basic movements that would be fine if those rhythms hadn’t just been disrupted. The weight is about fifth on the list of relevant factors, with compromised oxygen intake kicking in fast, boosted by so much blood being in the arms when its needed elsewhere. Confused by the lateral, asymmetrical demands of the push press, the torso/hip complex/lower back has to realign to provide decent form for the lifting.

And on top of all that and most importantly, the grip starts to slide, making for a very long 90secs where the mind, instead of going into auto-pilot with the big dumb movements, starts screeching about peripheral failure instead. The internal monologue becomes heated as the urge to go faster is defeated by the lack of blood/oxygen to do so – either way offers no way out.

Each set escalates as the 2 minutes recovery is barely enough to satisfy the demands for blood/oxygen flow back to the arms, back and large muscle masses.

failure here is a complex conglomeration of things:

– not enough juice to see thru the reps

– grip strength

– loss of form

– brain cant override the stress demands

– not enough strength in the large muscle groups

– inability to maintain balance and integrity

– loss of focus

– loss of dexterity

– incapacity to recover

– inefficiency of movement

– lack of strength across range of movement

This set can be changed to any exercises that have similar demands: A short powerful stressor on multiple focused systems, to maximize demands on power output, followed by a relatively longer stressor that antagonizes the demands of the previous set and gets the mind screaming about something rather than tuning out to robot country.

Its not hard to draw parallels to alpine climbing: you punch up a neve slope on all fours, transition onto dexterous vertical ice with a pack on, scramble over the mixed stuff at the top pumped and charged. Brief rest. Repeat to the top. The large muscle mass stressors, the demands on asymmetrical integrity, repetitive endurance, fine motor skills, grip strength and mental focus are all present. Only on a remote icefall ‘failure’ has different consequences.

Climbers don’t blow out because of isolated weaknesses – the reason lots of pull ups alone mean little.

15 pull ups after a 7min mile, 30 weighted sit ups and 30 body weight squats is more relevant.

Climbers blow out because the blood and oxygen they needed for those 5 hard moves was somewhere in their legs rather than where they needed it in their arms and lower back. And rather than making focused, pre-emptive decisions they were howling to themselves about their calves and forearms, flailing for anything instead of setting up the sequence.

All winter I see construction workers, ultra-runners and firemen consistently make better climbers than rock climbers. Not because they are stronger, but because they have better complex stress thresholds. Carrying buckets of render up scaffolding or covering stairs wearing a respirator simply counts for more when it matters than having the latest karabiners or lightest jacket.


winters looming so its been time to hone the sort of skills needed for trips in the pipeline. time spent on walls is always valuable, especially when its all about working stuff out, and usually thats easier done when its not -15c. this trip covered a lot of ground over almost 3 weeks, with time at Mizugaki yama, Yatsugatake, lower Kaikomagatake and then down to Tanzawa, each spot having its own stuff to work on.

rurp aid climbing walls alpine japan

theres nothing quite like a RURP, especially hanging from it when its in the underside of a lip

stacked wires clean aid alpine walls training japan

…tho stacked wires come pretty close

clean aid ball nuts alpine wallls japan
weird tools for weird placements: ball nuts fill a gap where nothing else besides nailing will

over the time we spent only 2 nights in hotels (the 2 nights when typhoons hit hardest), with the rest spent in portaledges, bivvys, tents and in-situ shelters. days were spent covering the logistics for foreign expeditions, playing about on dodgy aid placements, drilling systems, lugging huge loads, hauling water, reconning locations and refining the processes of extended periods being self-sustained – all the things that make the difference at the sharp end.

alpine walls clean aid hanging stove portaledge japan

living on a wall makes you rethink everything: hanging the stove between portaledges

clean aid training trip bivvy japan
after long, steep approaches its a luxury to stay right at the base of a wall

clean aid japan alpine wall training

getting onto the wall is only one part of a complex process, especially in a foreign country where you have to make all the decisions yourself. to succeed takes time spent not just on the sharp end, but getting a handle on the elements of a trip that dont get the romance and thrills that many overlook. by the time your clipped in above the ground youve already covered a lot of ground


January had perhaps the best winter weather window in the last 5 years, where we clocked up 22 climbing days across half a dozen locations. after a brief Tokyo hiatus to get office stuff done it was back out for 9 days of expedition development and making the most of the winter peak conditions.

ice climbing japan  gear up

another addition to our Car Park Gear-Up photo collection: getting a lot of stuff into shoulder-able loads

kaikomagatake ice climbing

lumping it all in: Kaikomagatake has broken many a team, often over the approach/load equation

ice mixed climbing kaikomagatake

steep ice and mixed climbing isnt rock climbing: getting good at the hard stuff requires a lot of time on top rope doing things you wouldnt risk on lead

ice climbing kaikomagatake

by the time you get onto the deep fat stuff you should be well honed and climbing well within your zone

ice climbing japan kaikomagatake

single pitch stuff is a no brainer, but multi-pitch routes soon become about the transitions between climbing, linking icefalls and rigging/derigging belays. staying warm and tangle-free over 8 pitches of varied climbing is about much more than clipping ropes and changing gloves, especially in a group of 3. the risk managment as the days goes on and complexity increases escalates – especially when you also need to rappel the route too.

ice climbing kaikomagatake

ice climbing amidadake

a shift to Amidadake across the valley bought a change in style, this time faster, lighter and covering double the distance

ice climbing amidadake

after enough time working it out and building confidence, short steep stuff becomes solo-able and a much faster (ie warmer) process getting to the bigger stuff further in

alpine climbing amidadake

the ice is of course what we come for – but its usually the snow between that gets the pulse up. 12 pitches over several kms makes for a lot of transitions between low angle trudging and steep agility.

alpine aid training tanzawa

after 9 days in the cold relocating to a lower, warmer place to focus on alpine aid basics was a welcome change

alpine aid climbing training tanzawa

alpine aid is a stripped down and guerrilla version of ‘true’ aid; racks are lighter, theres less cams and moving parts, rope systems simpler and clothing heftier – all better developed somewhere comfortable before being used high up

alpine aid climbing training tanzawa

…especially things like high-stepping onto hooks in big boots

aid alpine training backwards toucan

…and using gear in ways that push the design; yes, thats a Pika Toucan touqued in backwards

alpine aid stacked micro wires

stacked micro-wires are another thing best worked out on top-rope before done on lead…

alpine climbing japan

mixed alpine climbing is about a varied skill-set executed with confidence and focus. it takes time to develop and needs attention and committment. getting to the top is one thing, getting home is another.

all photos by ‘Green Machine’ Cam Bowker & ‘Aero-press’ Rob

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