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The Outdoor Athlete Book by Courtenay and Doug Schurman

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Wilderness Sports > Rock & Ice Climbing > Rock and Ice Climbing Training Program Development

Rock and Ice Climbing Training Program Development

Training Program Development Factors

Alpine rock and ice climbing require cardiovascular endurance (via anaerobic training), total body strength (through strength conditioning), a high degree of flexibility (via flexibility training), sport-specific skill, and cross-training for muscle balance. While being in strong physical condition is important for success on a trip, even more crucial for the alpinist is appropriate development of sport-specific skills. The five major fitness qualities your general training should focus on are:

Fitness Levels need by Training component for rock and ice climbing
Fitness Levels need by Training component
  • Aerobic Endurance
  • Anaerobic Endurance
  • Upper Body Strength
  • Lower Body Strength
  • Flexibility

The chart on the right indicates fitness qualities needed for alpine rock and ice climbing compared to baseline health. By comparing your current levels of fitness with the needs of climbing you can better prioritize your training. The Outdoor Athlete book has quite a bit of detail about how to test your levels of fitness for each of the components along with measures that can help you evaluate where you need the most work for your particular sport.

Additional Training Considerations

Sport Specific Training: While you need to train each specific fitness component above, you will have far more success in alpine climbing when you include several weekly sport-specific skill-development training sessions such as:

  • indoor climbing at rock climbing gyms or local crags
  • dry tooling practice (for ice climbing)
  • high degree of familiarity with gear, rope management, and protection which comes from regular and consistent practice, much as you train your muscles
  • hiking with a pack uphill or up and down stairs to condition you for arduous alpine approaches

Developing footwork, locating resting points of balance, becoming familiar with crack and overhanging routes, and boosting your confidence with a wide variety of types of climbs simply requires time and practice. Your tendons and supporting structures need more time to adapt than the muscular system, so regular and consistent climbing training is crucial to your success in rock climbing.

If you are training for ice climbing but do not have suitable local areas to practice vertical ice tool climbing, build as much stamina as you can in the core, calves (for cramponing), shoulders and grip / forearms (for holding ice tools overhead for long stretches) and try to allow for several extra days before your trip begins, at your destination, to re-acquaint yourself with ice techniques before heading out on your trip. One way for ice climbers to develop the body specifically for their sport is to include training on a diverse mixture of rock routes.

Finally, if you live where it is relatively flat, develop uphill and downhill stamina by going up and down stairs and short hills, or train on an inclined treadmill or elliptical or whatever terrain you have access to. For suitable training options read our Flatland Training article. Back-to-Back Pack Training can also be very helpful in preparing for any overnight trips.

Technical Skill: Within your regular training, since climbing requires such a high degree of specific skills, you will need to devote ongoing time to develop and maintain them. Such areas requiring skill development might include:

  • Rope handling and gear management skills for speedier travel
  • Footwork and route finding
  • Small party rescue (photo: self-rescue.jpg in folder)
  • Locating good belay spots and resting positions while climbing
  • Weather forecasting
  • Avalanche awareness and safety (for ice climbing)
  • General wilderness skills

Climbing Training Program Priorities

The top priority in your training plan should be climbing-specific training as suggested above. Join a local indoor climbing gym and take lessons on enhancing your technique. Plan to devote at least 2 or more weekly sessions to climbing, including appropriate drills to enhance development of the supporting tendons and ligaments in the fingers and elbows. Include sufficient rest between climbing sessions in order to avoid overtraining injuries.

A good article for beginners on starting out at the right intensity is located at finger Training. Our article Climbing Drills suggests some gym climbing drills you can include to enhance your vertical ascending skills.

Many people drawn toward alpine climbing will require strength training as the next priority to help establish and maintain healthy muscle balance. Full body strength training (see climbing strength training and ice climbing training tips for more specifics) twice a week should help you see noticeable improvements.

Finger extensor provides information on training the finger extensors to keep the forearms in balance. Adding in 5-6 flexibility movements for areas that tend to get tight following strength training and climbing will be beneficial. For individuals who lack normal range of motion, or who may be recovering from climbing-related injury, 4-6 weekly stretching sessions may be required.

Particularly beneficial for ice and rock climbers are weekly anaerobic interval sessions; for ideas on how to train appropriately, please see fartlek intervals for ideas on how to do this, as well as interval training. Training on elliptical machines, inclined treadmills, or step mills, trail running, and other such spinal-loading cardiovascular options will have more carryover to your sport than other modes. Plan to travel uphill with a weighted pack at least once a week.

Below are pages that provide greater detail about the items discussed above and will help you develop your own personalized training program.

Program Development Specifics
Back to Back Training
Increasing Hiking Speed
Intervals for High Altitude
The Alpine Warm-up
Mountaineering Cardiovascular Prep
Conditioning Needs for Mountaineering
Developing a Strength Program for Alpine Pursuits
Climbing Conditioning Essentials
Outdoor Sports Conditioning: Preparing for Alpine Climbing Season
Upper Body Training Favorites: Preparing for Rock Climbing
Tips for Safely Reaching Rainier�s Summit
Outdoor Experience: Education You Can�t Get from Books
Lofty Ambitions: How to Select Your Next Goal

Additional Considerations

  • High Altitude
  • Over 50 Training
  • Women's Issues
  • Approach Preparation
  • Technique Development

Back to the Climbing Training Overview Page


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