Training for Climbing: Square One

If you haven’t climbed in a while because of life, career or family has taken you to Peaklessburg, training to climb by just climbing is almost impossible, and yet that’s what the experts tell you to do. In fact, I reached out to a climbing guide in the Adirondacks recently about climbing some routes on Gothics (everyone needs a goal). Since I haven’t climbed seriously in years, I also asked for his advice about training, as in how I should prepare for this climb. He responded with the answer I’ve found unhelpful for years: “To prepare to climb any route you need to climb, simple as that…”

Despite this, I remained hopeful that there was a way to maintain general climber fitness, even if my skills deteriorate from lack of practice, without climbing. However, it’s difficult to get at climbing training information while avoiding what I would call extreme training regimens of super alpinists. I admire the climbers that maintain that level of fitness but it’s impractical for me, and maybe you too. But I have taken serious looks at them to see what truths might be applied to acheive goals on the more modest end of the spectrum.

I’ve been impressed by Rob Shaul’s programs at Mountain Athlete in Jackson, Wyoming and Mark Twight’s Gym Jones. Twight is better known and created the popular 300 Workout used by a lot of ambitious people. Shaul’s program, on the other hand, is more specific to mountaineering, though it appeals to military personnel too.

At Mountain Athlete, Shaul applies the fundamentals strength training to achieve of power, stamina and durability. This is especially important for professional mountain guides because they are “industrial athletes,” as he refers to them, that rely on their daily, physical work to earn their livelihood. However, Shaul’s standard for personal fitness is beyond my goal, such as lifting twice your body weight. I would like to do that, but to do so I would have to rearrange my life priorities too much, which is beyond my interest.

I have also looked to well-known, successful climbers like Ed Viesturs and Steve House. Like their approaches to climbing as well as their public persona, their advice differs. The advice based on Viesturs’ workouts talks about the exercises mainly. House gives his own advice on his blog and he doesn’t fret about giving technical advice. For instance, he explains the absolute need for training phases and varying the routine and taking rest days in order to build strength, finesse and speed.

Having explored those avenues, I turned to the American Alpine Club Henry S. Hall, Jr. Library and borrowed Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Imrpove Your Performance by Eric J. Hörst. After reading House’s blog, which is informative but just introductory, Hörst’s book is in depth and reminded me of the text book in my college health class (I took it one of two required science classes.) It goes through what you should know to create your own training program. It does presume a baseline climber fitness level, but it also explains what that level is.

Hörst seems to answer all of my questions. I’ve learned that he role of running is to help increase my VO2 max alone and that training doughnuts are not ideal for training for several reasons except in special cases like injury rehab or obtaining a baseline grip strength. What he emphasizes you focus on is 1) grip strength, 2) lock-off strength, 3) lunging power, and 4) core strength. He goes into each in great detail.

He also clears up the key issue of whether climbing alone is the only means of preparing to climb. He acknowledges that climbing skills cannot be learned through strength training: “Skill practice is paramount, since climbing skills and tactics are distinctly unique from those of other sports. Only going climbing will make you a more skilled climber.”

But the rest of his book — all 11 chapters and 247 pages — address making you a better climber by enhancing your strength needed for climbing. He provides the principles to apply, the reasoning behind them, and what they do to make you a stronger, fitter athlete for climbing.

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

Sources: 1) Hörst, Eric J., Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Performance, 2nd ed., Falcon Guides, 2008; 2) Shaul, Rob, “Mountain Athlete: Weight Training for Climbing,”, June 4, 2008; and 3) House, Steve, “The First Entry,” Training Blog.


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