I started this article with the intention of designing the perfect training program for those folks whipping their bodies into shape to climb mountains. After much fafing about I decided to reconsider my intention and rather bring up some of my own techniques for training that can be incorporated into a program. This is partially because I myself do not have a clear “program”. I train in the time I have allocated and push hard on the muscles that are going to be used in the current or next season.

Firstly I will state that more important than any specific exercise is training regularly and with strong intention. By strong intention I mean that you execute the motions in the exercises with good technique and with a goal in mind. An Example would be: When I am training for a coming ice climbing season I will do offset pull ups on my ice tools with good form, in my mind I will be pretending that I am pulling a roof with no feet. This allows me to not only mentally train for what I will be doing but it also makes it more fun, just doing offset pull-ups is kinda boring… If you can enjoy your training it will be a lot easier.

Below are the techniques that I have to share:

Circuit Training

Made popular these days by programs such as “Crossfit” and Mark Twight’s “Gym Jones” it is combination of a number of exercises into a longer circuit, hence circuit training. The classic Crossfit circuit that is well suited towards climbing is known as the Cindy Workout. It involves 15 pushups, 5 pullups and 15 airsquats (squats without weight), these are completed one after the other for 20 minutes with no rests, the goal being to execute one circuit per minute (it’s not easy…). What this does is trains your body to deal with constant exertion, each of the exercises involves full core stability, so the whole time the core is getting worked, and since the core is our ‘pillar of power’ in the body this is a very good thing.

The exercises can of course be changed around, making it very easy to keep your circuits interesting and to keep your body guessing. It should be designed with your goal in mind, so if you are training for rock climbing you may want to modify the pull ups so that you are doing them on smaller hold. Or if you are training to climb the West Buttress of Denali you can involve a stair climb in the circuit. Be creative it can be a lot of fun.

Core Power Training

The classic core exercise is the crunch, we all know it well, and if preformed with proper technique it is very effective at building endurance. But what about those times when you want the strength of a sprint from your core, versus a marathon? For this power we need to move to a different exercise…

The best way that I have found to execute this type of training is while hanging from a pullup bar. Hanging with straight arms the legs can be raised to so that they are perpendicular to the body, holding this is a pretty wicked workout! Lifting them up and down is great as well. Also on my list is to lift one leg at a time reaching up and into the opposite direction with the foot. So if I am lifting my left leg I am reaching it up and to the right. Do one leg at a time and try to keep the legs straight. Also keep swinging to a minimum, it wrecks the workout because of advantage created by momentum.

Remember that crunches are very important as well, they train the slow twitch muscles that keep you going all day. So try to incorporate both of these techniques into you training regime.


You know what they are, you know how it works, up and down, up and down. Boring right? Not necessarily…

Once again the idea of training with intention can be applied to not only keep it interesting but also to make it more effective.

When your walking up a snow slope in the mountains you are often not walking straight forward. Utilizing “French Technique” or walking sideways will reduce the strain on your legs and allow you to switch sides therefore reducing the amount of time you have to stop and rest. When your running stairs do the same thing, cross your feet over as you run up sideways, one set to the left one to the right.

If your climbing up a steep slope with knee deep snow you end up taking very large steps to attempt to make up all the ground lost as you wade. Simulate this by lunging up stairs three at a time. On the same principal train for the power needed for these steps by jumping up 2-3 steps at a time with your feet together.

Once again creativity is the key, make it interesting, make it intentional. You’ll have more fun both while training and while your crushing in the mountains.

Mental Training

Often times is overlooked while training in the city. It can be difficult to do while your in the comfort of a warm home or when that warm home is not far away but through basic meditation as well as the intentional training discussed above it can be achieved.

Rather than getting into the depths of the psyche of a climber I will refer anyone interested to a couple of books which I have found to really help me develop my mental ability to handle testing situations in the mountains whether it be dealing with a hard lead or getting my legs to haul me up the final 100 meters to the summit.

-The Way of the Spiritual Warrior by Dan Millman
While not directed at climbing it is a story that acts as a metaphor for how to train in order to be a more objective observer of your surroundings and make rational decisions that are based upon what is going on around you versus your emotions (or ‘ego’).

-The Way of the Rock Warrior by Arno Ilgner
It basically takes the lessons taught in Millman’s book and applies them directly to rock climbing. An excellent read.

-Extreme Alpinism by Mark Twight
Now one of the classic reference books on hard climbing. Twight does a fantastic job of honestly analyzing himself and by doing that creates strong insight into how to climb harder. Be aware, he has a strong opinion and ego that comes through in a strong way, don’t let it deter you, there is much to be learned… It also has extensive discussion of technical technique, training and equipment.

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