Rock climbing is a rewarding practice that lets you to engage with nature and your own body in a unique way. Training is key in preparing your body for challenging climbs and avoiding injury. Unfortunately, not everyone has a rock climbing wall to practice on in their own backyard, and there are some days (and weeks) when it is simply not possible to get to the climbing gym and keep up consistent workouts. If you want to improve your climbing abilities or are preparing for an upcoming trip, it’s best to stick to a training schedule, even if some of the workouts are short.
Here are a few ideas to help you maintain your strength and endurance in short increments, and stay in shape for when the opportunity for a longer climb arises.
Power vs. Endurance Climbing Workouts
Rock climbing training falls into two kinds of workouts: endurance oriented and power oriented. Endurance training builds the stamina you will need for long climbs, and power training builds your strength and muscle in a shorter period of time. Many trainers recommend short and power oriented if you have less time, like during the week, and saving an endurance focused session for a long workout, perhaps on the weekend.
One power oriented workout that can be done almost anywhere in little time are hill sprints. Hill sprints are running up a steep incline or stadium stairs in short bursts, and walking back down for your recovery. The incline helps to build muscle but in less time and distance than you would on a regular run.
Fingerboards can also be used as part of your strength training, and can be easily purchased and installed at home for a quick workout when you can’t make it to the gym. It can be easier to control and gauge your progress using a fingerboard than on a climbing wall wall. To increase the challenge of using a fingerboard, you can wear a weight belt. To decrease your weight for a more relaxed session, stand with one foot on a chair or stool as you do the exercises. As always, be aware of your limits—the tendons and ligaments fingerboard training exercises are especially sensitive. There are beginner, intermediate, and advanced fingerboard training workouts that can be done in as little as 10 minutes.
Other Fitness Options
If you can’t fit in a climbing specific workout, it is still great to maintain fitness by doing other forms of exercise. Weight training, running, core strengthening, and yoga are especially complimentary to climbing. Cardiovascular fitness is essential to maintaining endurance on climbs. While you should mix up your training, be sure that your additional activities don’t detract from your climbing workouts—for instance, don’t use up all of your energy before your climb on a long run. Controlling your weight through exercise and healthy eating is an ongoing process you should do even when not training, and the lighter load will make your climbs more successful.
Getting the Most Out of Your Short Rock Climbing Workout
Make sure you are rested and recovered between each workout. Going to training still sore from the last one is a bad habit, and your motivation will decrease each time. Be familiar with your body and don’t push yourself to injury. You should always stretch before any workout and especially before climbing, holding the poses on each side for at least 10 slow breaths. Stretching is also a good time to make yourself mentally present. It’s easy to get distracted by thinking about work and family obligations, or by chatting with your fellow climbers. Use your stretching time or your first easy climb to focus on your body, breathing, and surroundings. Decide on a purpose for this particular session, and how it will contribute to your climbing aspirations. Try to carry this mindfulness throughout the workout, and see how much more you feel like you’ve done in a short amount of time!
Mix it up!
One of the easiest ways to back out of a workout is if you’re bored with your routine, or feel like you have plateaued in your ability. It’s important for your workouts to include variety so this doesn’t happen. If you typically train alone, try training with a partner or group—they will have different techniques and may challenge you to overcome obstacles in a way you would not have thought of. Conversely, if you usually train with others, try training by yourself and seeing if you can take it to the next level without your usual distractions. Write down your goals, and keep a detailed training log to see how you’ve progressed and where you can improve. Review your original climbing objectives to see if they are manageable. If you’ve surpassed them, set new targets for yourself. You’ll be more excited and willing to fit in a short workout if you are motivated by an end goal.
Easing Back Into Training
While it is ultimately up to you to hold yourself responsible and stick to a training schedule, it’s easy to get sidetracked by other responsibilities and fall out of your climbing routine. When that happens, don’t try to jump back in with the same fervor as before you stopped training. This could lead to injury and then you will be even further out of commission. Start from the beginning by building up endurance, only training or climbing every other day for a few weeks. As the weeks go by, increase your intensity and get back to your peak level. If you are going on a trip or a big climb, give yourself time to recover after you’re at your peak level so you are not burnt out before you even arrive.
Rock climbing is a challenging sport, but time commitment should not be a deterrent if you want to experience the rewards you’ll find at the summit!