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Will Gadd on Training for Climbing

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Will Gadd on general fitness and weight training versus climbing specific training:

I’m going to get real blunt here: If you want to be a better climber then damn well go climbing. Especially a better rock climber. I would bet any amount of money that if a person spent, say, 20 hours a week training and climbing hard in a structured climbing program (rock gym and outdoors) and an identical person spent 20 hours a week in a weight gym (even one promising some sort of climbing-specific program) that the actual climbing effort would destroy the gym program. Absolutely destroy it, as in 5.12 vs. 5.9, as in sending like a fiend and falling off before the first bolt on the same route. I guarantee this.

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the advice. I have been in a predicament regarding gym vs rock-climbing gym for a while. I live in Medellín, Colombia where the few rock gyms here are incredibly expensive, subpar and far away from where I live and study; I simply can’t afford it. However, I have a regular gym nearby that is better than nothing (which I haven’t joined yet). I will have to find away to get out into the mountains more often. no money = no rock-climbing training 🙁

  2. @Kevin: I am kind of in the same boat, so I found some el cheapo ways to training in my house. A hang board is a great purchase, and I used 2″x3″ boards to create a sort of “campus board” in my basement by attaching them to the rafters. I’ll be posting an article on that probably on Thursday. Good luck.

  3. I think Will’s scenario of 20 hours climbing or 20 hours in a weight room is a safe bet. No disagreement there. And that is true for every sport, except maybe olympic style weight lifting. It is particularly true for climbing though, because the most common physical limitation in climbing is finger strength and there is not much in the weight room that helps that. Finger boards are the closest.

    However, if you are already climbing hard frequently and regularly (“hard” being the key word here) work in the weight room can take you through some performance barriers with less risk of injury. I’ve seen positive results from exercises on balls and balance boards where the abs get worked while in unstable positions. I’ve also been able to focus on problem areas like big toe and thumb strength using weights. Climbing didn’t help those areas because I just found ways around the limitation while climbing. Using Russian kettle bells improved core strength and coordination to make dynamic moves without the finger tendon wear and tear that would come from practicing this on the wall. Just some examples, but I think the key is to climb hard, identify what weaknesses are holding you back, and then see if you can target those in the weight room.

  4. Please allow me to be blunt here too 🙂 This is really obvious and simplistic advice, true of nearly any sport I know.

    I don’t think that anyone that knows anything about sport would think that solely hitting the gym instead of practising their sport will be better. Usually though, people hit the gym because either they can’t do the activity in question as often as they would like to (be it money, time, location etc) or because they want to improve a specific aspect of their physiology (i.e. strength gains) which can be done more efficiently at the gym.

    What would be a more interesting approach/advice for us beginners would be to know alternative/complimentary methods of improving certain aspects like strength, flexibility etc. Gary Armstrong hit the nail on the head.

  5. Re Beginning Climber and alternative/complimentary methods of improving certain aspects, I’d also be interested in hearing what gym exercises and fitness programs have worked for climbers.

    A starting contribution: I began climbing four years ago and a limiter for me was foot strength, that is, the ability to stand on a small hold with just the toe of my shoe. Edges yes, toe no. In the gym I took my shoes off, got on a leg press machine, and did calf presses with just my first and second toes on the pedals. After three weeks of this in my workout routines, I was able to replace it with gym traverses limiting myself to toe stands on small holds. After a few weeks of this, it became just my normal technique.

  6. I am very fortunate in that i live on a tiny island surrounded by sea cliffs i climb at least four times a week outside but often the conditions are so wet and windy i only slide up and down a v.diff in the winter . What i have noticed is that when i go to the mainland to climb , skills like balance and grrrr seem to have improved . itrain on a local inside wall once a week but it is definately climbing low grade routes in wretched conditions that has improved my climbing !