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How can a climber cope Corona

I, like many others, am trying to think how best to use this quarantine time effectively. Being forced to stay inside is maddening for anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors, particularly when the sun is out - a rarity in Scotland. So, I have tried to turn this time into a positive, by getting odd admin jobs done that have been on the back burner for a while as well as trying to train.

Here, I have detailed several training methods that I use below. Depending on what you are training for and what type of climbing you participate in, the degree to which you implement each method will vary largely. A boulderer for example may use 3 hangboard sessions, 1 upper-body weight session and 1 cardio session in a week. A mountaineer might use 2 weight sessions and 5 cardio sessions in a week. Obviously we would all be climbing too, if that were something we had access to. The more training sessions you can fit in, the more stimulus you have to improve, provided you are resting enough. I find this is something you have to work out and feel for yourself. It is important to note at this point that I am not qualified in this area and am just drawing upon personal experience and research that I have done myself.


How effectively people can train will depend largely on the tools available to them. Hangboarding has understandably become hugely popular in the last few weeks, as it is a tool that can be used at home to great effect and is efficient on time. A good solid door frame can work well and a hangboard isn't too hard to make either. A simple edge of wood is all that's required.

Photo: Duncan Campbell
Photo: Duncan Campbell

Very simplistically, finger strength is the main determinant of climbing ability. Essentially the stronger your fingers, the harder you can climb. Obviously there are a huge number of other factors involved, such as technique, power and endurance etc. Hangboarding is also satisfying in that it is easy to notice improvements as the weight goes up. The most useful way to use a hangboard is for strength and this is done though max hangs. Here I hang as much weight from my harness as I can manage for 7-10s. I do this till I can no longer sustain this weight (normally 4 or so reps). It is important to note that hanging large weights off your fingers can (unsurprisingly) lead to injury if not done properly. For this reason a proper warm up, a baisic background in climbing training and being able to listen to your body to know when something is wrong are all prerequisites.

The rules I go by are as follows:

7-10s deadhang

60-90s rest

Usually in a half crimp position. Although I will also use open hand (this position is less injury prone).

Warm up and slowly work the weight up, then sustain it for a few sets.

Half crimp position
3 finger drag position (open hand)

For a warm up, I will do a few pull ups and hangs on bigger rungs and then start adding weight incrementally. At home the limiting factor is likely to be the amount of weight you have lying around the house. Bottles of water can be put in a rucksack to improvise. Once you max out the weight you have, move to a smaller rung and start again. Next try single handed. For many people, body weight alone will be hard enough to start with, but in order to improve you need to be constantly increasing the strain on your muscles in a process called progressive overload. A whole workout will usually last about 30 mins.

For mountaineers

Not much of the above will matter if you are more interested in scrambling snowy ridges in winter with an axe. For a mountaineer long runs and bike rides will benefit you most as well as some weight training. Training must progress to emulate the end goal. For example if you are training for a trip to the Alps to climb a 4000m peak, this might take 2 days, both days 1500m altitude gain with a 10kg rucksack. So your training should over time progress to big days hill running with a weighted bag, obviously we can't replicate the effects of altitude. A good way to build up to this may be short runs around town/countryside, building to bigger runs, short hill runs, longer hills runs and then start adding weight. On a bike you could also build up to long hilly rides. What's important is you are getting a large volume of low intensity exercises that will replicate a day moving in the mountains.

My flatmates and I have also created some cross fit style workouts which we have been doing in the park. These have consisted of a few different exercises that we alternate around for approximately 20 - 45 mins . This fills in the gap between low intensity cardio and weight training. These have included hill sprints, skipping, push ups, squats, lunges plus whatever else you can come up with. The best thing about cross fit workouts is how diverse they can be, making them new and enjoyable each time. The format taken could be that you are aiming to complete a given number of movements in as little time as possible, trying to complete as many movements in a given time or changing exercise ever minute etc. They are fun to come up with and alter to what fits you.


Weights are a tool I have used for the past year since having stoped cross fit, which I did for a year prior. For a boulderer or sport climber these will be useful for some specific movements, but will be much more useful for a trad or winter climber. Again, like hang boarding, it is very easy to see improvements as the numbers go up.

All movements that the body can perform can be split into either push or pull. In the upper body, pull movements usually require biceps and back muscles for example pull ups, rows and variations of both. Push movements require triceps and chest muscles for example dips, bench press, shoulder press and all their variations. In the Lower body push (squat) and pull (deadlift) will activate most muscles in the leg and depend on whether the majority of the motion is from the knee (squat) activating more quads or from the hip (deadlift) activating more hamstring and glutes.

Weighted pull ups are something every climber can benefit from. Rows activate similar muscles and will benefit a climber. The muscles used in pushing are less relevant to climbing but can be important to prevent injury and I find are used a lot when winter climbing and mountaineering. The most basic exercises are the most important and while there are many variations and exercises that target specific muscle groups, focusing on a few key ones will bring you the majority of the benefits. Pull up, row, bench press, shoulder press, squat and deadlift. I recommend you watch a youtube video on how to perform these properly if unsure.

Accessory exercises that I find particularly useful to climbing are:

Calf raises - calfs are used a huge amount winter and alpine climbing when standing in crampons.

Weighted lock offs - useful for trad and especially winter, this emulates looking for axe placements or placing gear.

Pistol squats - these replicate a large part of a mountaineering day out.

How I perform these exercises are as follows:

Split into either an upper or lower body day

4-6 exercises per workout

10-15 reps

3-4 sets

1-4 mins rest between sets

What is import, as with hangboarding, is that there is a constant increase in demand from the muscles - progressive overload. This could look something like this:

Again while stuck at home you will be limited by the amount of weight you have. For example, I doubt anyone has enough weight to train deadlifts at home, unless they have a home gym. For this reason exercises such as pull ups and pistol squats, which are hard even without weight, are useful. Other ways to overload are: increasing the reps, increasing sets, shortening rest period, doing one limb at a time to use all the weight you have.

I find it really useful to keep track of every workout I have done in an excel spreadsheet so that I can remember how many reps and weight I did last time to add a bit more next time. Improvements will be seen on a monthly basis and not on a daily basis and there will certainly be days where you under perform for a multitude of outside factors, rest, sleep, food, stress.

Have fun and be careful not to injury yourself. Feel free to ask me any questions.


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