In this podcast, I talk about the importance of dietary supplementation. Taking supplements will speed your recovery and muscle soreness will decrease faster than normal. I have found these all to be a huge benefit for multi-day climbing trips and training for climbing. The convenience of using these supplements versus eating real food is worth it to me.
Before you read the article (or even if you don’t! ) watch this video first! Rob Shaul of Mountain Athlete is one of the foremost training gurus in mountain sports. He trains professional guides and athletes every day. To read my experience training in person with Shaul, check this out.
If you’ve read my site for some time, you know that I’m a huge proponent of general fitness and conditioning to help augment the climbing specific training. By no means is it a substitute for climbing specific training, as that is still the most important aspect. But the reason why I harp on general fitness so much is because I think it is so overlooked in the climbing community. I think we would have a stronger climbing community if climbers focused somewhat on general fitness, but more importantly, we would see less climbing related injuries in my opinion.
The video really got me thinking! Granted, he focuses on skiing a bit, but it directly translates to how he trains climbers. There is a reason why “base fitness” is the base of the fitness mountain; it’s extremely important. Rock climbing is very taxing on our entire body, not just the forearms. Nothing will prepare the entire body like base fitness will. Training sport specifically for climbing will not prepare the entire body sufficiently. The forearms (and sometimes lats/shoulders) are always the weakest link, so training sport specifically will not provide enough of a stimulus for the remainder of the body. I’ve seen way to many personal friends with climbing related injuries. We all know someone who has had a tweak. It’s not always their hands or forearms that become injured. I know many climbers who have injured their shoulders, back, abs, and even hips and knees! I started training base fitness rigorously about a year and a half ago, and since then my body has never felt stronger. My hips, legs, core, and shoulders all feel much stronger due to this training. I haven’t had any injuries and I attribute that to my durability, as Shaul calls it.
Now is Shaul’s model apply to all types of climbing? Training for bouldering, hard single pitch climbing, or long multi-pitch climbing all have specific attributes. Obviously you wouldn’t train for these different types of climbing in the same way! Shaul’s approach usually focuses on long multi-pitch routes in an alpine setting, due to his location in the Tetons. I climbed in the Tetons this past summer, and it’s worlds apart from single pitch sport climbing at the New River Gorge.
In my opinion, the harder the climbing becomes (in grade), the more sport specific training you have to implement. Waiting for the last few weeks before the season will not cut it. However, if your goal is a route in the Tetons, or other long multi-pitch route, his approach would be ideal. Base fitness for hard single pitch climbing, like the type that I’m currently focused on, would include equal parts sport specific and general fitness. Your forearms need a break, so you give them a break by training the rest of your body! Base fitness for me would focus more on strength, work capacity, and durability; less on stamina. In fact, Mountain Athlete has revised their “base fitness” approach and they now call it “mountain fitness”, which always includes a small portion of climbing specific training. This mountain fitness climbing portion is in addition to the sport specific training that is in the middle of the fitness mountain.
If you’ve noticed that this article is focused on base fitness more than talking about sport specific training for climbing, your right! It’s very important and the cold months of winter are the perfect time to focus on some general fitness, making your body strong and durable. What do I do? Well, during the off season I still train for climbing in a sport specific manner, but the emphasis is on base fitness. If I had to put a number on it, I would say 60% of my time is on base fitness, while 40% is spent on sport specific fitness. This will likely last until February some time and then I will switch to approximately 70% training specifically for climbing and 30% base fitness for the upcoming Spring season. During the off season, I will focus on strength (ie: hangboard) over endurance (4×4, moving hangs, etc.) for my sport specific training. In season will focus more on endurance for the forearms to prepare me for hard sport climbing.
So that’s about it for now. Perhaps an upcoming article will talk more about periodization, which I outlined briefly in the previous paragraph. What are your thoughts? What questions do you have? More importantly, do you put some emphasis on base fitness??
During my recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had the pleasure to visit Mountain Athlete. What an incredible experience! Much of my training methodologies have been inspired by Mountain Athlete and I will continue to hone my training to mimic their programming in the future. Before I get too far, if you aren’t familiar with Mountain Athlete, visit their site and browse around. Much of their information and the reason they train the way they do is all on the main site for free. Head Coach Rob Shaul runs the private gym in Jackson. His clients include professional rock climbers, ice climbers, skiers, mountain guides, and other mountain athletes. Shaul also runs a sister company called Military Athlete out of the same gym.
Mountain Athlete programming is extremely intelligently designed. They combine workouts that focus on strength, work capacity, and stamina with sport specific exercises for the athlete. For someone looking in, it may at first look like a Crossfit gym. However, the workouts are designed specifically for the athlete to peak when their sport’s season begins. Think of Mountain Athlete like Crossfit, but much more honed for the specific needs of a mountain athlete combined with sport specific workouts. Many professional climbers and skiers workout at Mountain Athlete. Coach Rob makes these athletes very strong but durable and healthy at the same time. His goal is to work them in the gym so they can excel in the mountains. When in the mountains, the athletes can focus on the technical aspects because they have been so well trained by Coach Rob.
I was able to go out to Mountain Athlete twice while I was there. The first session I joined two Exum Mountain Guides for a climbing workout. Actually, one of the athletes was Jessica, our climbing guide that I mentioned in the previous post. Our workout started off alternating between step ups on a box and climbing on what they call the “tech board”. The tech board is a bouldering wall with many wood handholds at approximately a 30 degree overhang. We would just hang on the tech board, climbing and shaking when needed while the other athlete did step ups. The second workout involved: a dumbbell exercise called man makers, toes to bar, and running 400 meters. This one left me gasping due to the altitude difference and dry air in Jackson. Coach Rob is very much like a drill sergeant at times. He’s all business. This style of coaching is my favorite. He kicks your ass! I was kipping during the toes to bar and he looked at me and yelled “Don’t fucking kip, this ain’t Crossfit! Start from zero!”
Our last workout involved climbing and shaking as needed on HIT strips on a 45 degree wall. We didn’t use the HIT strips in the prescribed way by Eric Horst, the designer of HIT strips. We simply hung on for an extended period of time in order to work endurance. You get pumped silly hanging on to this angle of wall! We combined the HIT strips with weighted sit ups. Our last workout was for shoulder health and durability. It involved reverse wrist curls and external rotation of the shoulder.
The above video was the workout the skiers did while I did the rock workout. You can hear Coach Rob in the background for much of the video. His dedication to his athletes is awesome.
While we were there, a ski strength session was occurring. These skiers were getting put through the wringer for sure. Their day started with heavy back squats and progressed to work capacity workouts. I thought one comment by Coach was hysterical. One skier was having a tough time during the workout and he looked at her and said “Do you want to be a model or a skier?! Look at me when you say it!” Fantastic! Hahaha.
The second session I went to was an ice climbing session as there weren’t any climbing sessions that day. I worked out with two amazing ice climbers during that session. Our workout started with some core specific work with ice tools. We moved on to ice climbing boulder problems in the bouldering cave. Rob agreed to let me do HIT strip laps instead of the ice problems. Then we did a short, work capacity workout involving kettlebell swings, kettlebell squats, and renegade rows. This one definitely got the heart pumping. I finished with more hit strip laps while the ice climbers used their ice tools on a steep wall with door hinges they use as holds. Think a HIT strip wall for ice climbers!
The above video shows the ice boulder problems the other two ice climbers did while I was on the HIT strips.
I truly believe Mountain Athlete is one of the best facilities with one of the best coaches in the country. Coach Rob doesn’t believe that the best way to train for a sport is to just do the sport. “Just climb” is not the best answer for him. He feels that mountain athletes need a foundation of strength and conditioning in which to build their mountain skills. Strength, conditioning, stamina, and durability/mobility are all crucial aspects. When you train in this manner, you will have a more balanced body and will be healthier overall, avoiding injury. Many climbers become injured due to the muscular imbalances that they have, a result of “just climbing”.
I wish I lived in Jackson so I could train at Mountain Athlete. However, they offer programs online that you can buy and work through. They have many customized workout programs for various different sports. You can also become a member and have access to all their online material and archived workouts. So check out their website, do one of the free workouts available online, maybe buy a program that interests you, and get training Mountain Athlete style!
Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on the interwebs if climbers should focus on technique training, or strength training. Much of this talk was spawned from the Sean McColl training video, which shows him doing many supplementary exercises. McColl is no stranger to high level competition, so obviously he’s doing something right. Notice the something in italics… we’ll get to that.
On one side, you have the climbers that say to only train technique, or “just climb” a lot. These climbers will work routes or boulder problems until they send them, endlessly working individual moves. Many of these climbers think proper movement is the answer, and that their current level of strength is not their weakness.
On the other side you have climbers who train like monsters. They work some movement, yes, but most of the time is spend on hangboards, campus boards, system walls, and in the weight room. They will perform many precise and calculated exercises that don’t really replicate actual climbing movement. These climbers tend to think that you need a certain level of strength to perform certain moves. No matter how refined your movement is, you may not be strong enough, hence their desire to train for strength.
So who is right? Which method generates the better climber? What’s the best way to train for climbing? Well, in my opinion, they are both right. It’s an extremely complex problem.
Climbing is not just technical or not just physical. Climbing requires technical, physical, and mental strengths. But this is not a unique problem to climbing alone. Many sports are like this, and debates are frequent on how to train for them. Take for example, olympic weightlifting. Weightlifters must obtain perfect movement perform the clean and jerk and snatch effectively. There must be no inefficient movement and body position must be optimal. They train technique a lot. At the same time, they must possess a certain level of strength to move heavy loads. It doesn’t matter how technically sound their movement is, if they don’t have enough strength to move the barbell, the lift isn’t happening. Therefore, they train strength too!
Ideally, climbers will increase their technical abilities and their strength. Practicing movement is good. Climbing harder boulder problems at the gym or outside is good. But did you succeed because you got stronger, or your movement skills increased? This is why training only by climbing is not the best method in my opinion. You may be advancing your movement, but you may not be getting stronger. It’s very difficult to gauge. A better gauge for strength increase is very controlled and easily measured training such as hangboarding, campus boarding, and weight training. If you can hang on the hangboard for a longer period of time or with more weight, you got stronger… simple!
Unfortunately, we all only have a certain amount of time and resources at our disposal. I, for one, live 1 hour away from the climbing gym and 3 and a half hours from the New River Gorge. This makes movement training during the week (as well as bouldering, 4×4′s, etc.) very difficult. I simply don’t have the time to drive 1 hour each way to the gym. So I’m left with strength training. I utilize the hangboard, rock rings, and weights to train. It certainly is better than nothing.
Too many people argue that a certain way of training is a “waste of time”. I don’t think any of it is a waste of time! Whether you are climbing at the gym, working movement, hangboarding, or other strength training, you are getting better. Something is always better than nothing. There are many theories on the best way to train at any sport. They all have some sort of validity. So, in short, get out there and do something!
Now that you have the video instruction on how to do a Kettlebell Swing, Thruster, and Burpee, I’ll hit you with a killer workout. This one will surely leave you out of breath and will build that anaerobic endurance that we strive for on steep, pumpy routes. When your body can reduce a pump faster, you are better off. This workout and this style of working out, in general, will help that. I have personally noticed an increase in my endurance when climbing from doing these full body workouts.
5 Rounds (as fast as possible with good form) of:
20 Kettlebell Swings
15 Thrusters (use Kettlebell, dumbbells, or barbell)
Bonus exercise: 5 Pull ups
Double Bonus: 500 M Row or 300 M Run
The main workout contains the swings, thrusters, and burpees. If you are feeling frisky, do the pull ups and/or the running or rowing. Obviously, the rowing requires a Concept 2 indoor rowing machine. I think rowing is great and is another awesome, full body workout. Give it a try if you have access to a rower! You can do this workout outside and for the running portion, run up and down your driveway a few times. Ideally, the rowing or running will take 1-2 minutes for each round.
I hope you all enjoy! Let me know if you give it a shot.
This video shows you how to do the infamous burpee. Burpees are great because they not only work most of the muscles in your body, but they are also very rough on your cardio system. You’ll be gasping for air after a set of fast burpees. They work many antagonist muscle groups for climbers including the legs, butt, core, chest, and shoulders. Do some burpees and feel the pain.
In this video, I show you how to perform a Thruster. I use a kettlebell in the video, but you can do this exercise with dumbbells and barbells too! Thrusters work the antagonist muscle groups all at once. They target your quads, butt, core, chest, and shoulders. If you are looking to do a great antagonist exercise to balance all the climbing and pulling, try some thrusters!
In this podcast, I talk about the benefits of heavy weight training. If you haven’t listened to my previous podcast on the myths of heavy weight training, check that out first. The highlights from this episode are that lifting heavy weight will make you really strong, reduce your chances for injury, create a more balanced body, and increase your mobility when you couple lifting with a good mobility program. At the end of the podcast, I mention the Mobility WOD. Be sure to check it out…it’s awesome.
In this video, I show you how to do a kettlebell swing. You will see some exercise instructional videos show up here in the near future, then I’ll provide you with a killer workout you can do! Swings are great to do on non-climbing training days. They are helpful for climbers because they work your core, hips, and legs. The exercise helps climbers keep their core tight and hips into the wall. I incorporate swings into many of my workouts. Hope you enjoy some of these new training videos!
Here’s another podcast in my training series on the myths of heavy weight training. I’ve touched on this before but hopefully this will complement the previous article and add some new things. The main thing to take away from this podcast is that lifting heavy weight will not make you huge!! Your weight gain or loss is predominantly monitored by your nutrition. This podcasts focuses on the myths of heavy weight training. I will do another shortly that talks about the benefits of lifting heavy. Does anyone out there lift heavy weight? More importantly, did you suddenly get HUGE?!