The Value of Non-Climbing Training

climbing training

The pros doing some non-climbing “training”. Photo credit: Rock + Run

I used to think that climbing was enough training for climbing. And for a while, it was. A few years ago though, I reached a point where I decided that climbing alone was not enough to reach my climbing goals. I needed to change it up if I was going to get to “the next level”.

A friend of mine had mentioned that he started a new training program and asked if I wanted to join him. I decided to give it a try. The workout consisted of whatever diabolical list of activities he could come up with for us to do in his backyard. It involved a mix of strength, cardio, and endurance exercises that would take us about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. We would work our way through each task until his list was complete and we were totally exhausted.

climbing training

Box jumps. Photo credit: Train Eat Gain

Activities consisted of standard exercises like push ups and pull-ups alongside less traditional exercises that included pinching the center of cinder blocks while walking up and down the driveway or going up flights of stairs holding heavy kettlebells. He even managed to get his hands on a tractor tire that would somehow work it’s way into our sessions by either dragging it up and down the driveway with a jerry rigged body harness or we would be tasked with flipping it over multiple times with jumps in and out after each flip. The only part of these workouts that was enjoyable was after completion when I would lay on the ground waiting for the feeling of needing to vomit to dissipate. These workouts definitely fell into the “type II” kind of fun. You know, only fun after you’re done.

climbing training

Tire pulls. Photo credit: ITS Tactical

Aside from the muscle mass that I managed to put on my stringbean frame there were more important things to be gained. For one, I become much more mentally tough. I realized my body could endure so much more than my brain had been telling me. Like when your brain says you that you are too pumped to do the next move or that you can’t hang on long enough to make the clip? Instead of giving up, grabbing the draw or taking I would dig deep and try. Most times my brain was wrong, my self-doubt was trying to hold me back. Forcing my way through these hard workouts taught me how strong I could be. In addition to building up my ability to endure, these grueling workouts made me feel like a total badass! I was more confident on the rock and was more willing to try climbs that I had previously shied away from thinking they were too hard for me.

climbing training

Dumbbell bench press

These workouts also gave me power like I never experienced before. I’m not trying to speak for all women but I do think in general men have more muscle mass and can build muscle much easier than women. That’s why cross training can be such a useful tool for women looking to push their climbing. It’s about having more strength and power than a move requires so that harder climbing feels easier. Don’t be intimidated by heavy weights or exercises that have been traditionally seen as geared towards men. Go to to the gym and learn how to do a power clean or overhead dumbbell presses. If you’re like me and don’t have a traditional gym membership, there are plenty of exercises you can do in your backyard with some dumbbells (or nalgenes full of pennies) or some cinderblocks from a hardware store.

A few sites I have used for training inspiration are Strong Swift Durable,, Greatist, and

Climb (and non-climb) on!


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6 thoughts on “The Value of Non-Climbing Training

  1. Some really good advice here! I used to train a lot on aerial circus equipment, and that also really helped to develop confidence for climbing, although that’s obviously not the same thing as just training for the sake of training. I think mixing it up is just generally good for you psyche and your muscles, doing something different to the same old thing day in, day out.

  2. Julie says:

    I loved your description of the training program as a diabolical list of activities you guys came up with. I have trouble with training – partly because it’s tough!! but partly because it feels so routine and repetitive. Making into a ridiculous creative exercise sounds really appealing!

  3. Jess says:

    Anyone have any advice for combining climbing with gym workouts? I was climbing or power lifting 5 times a week (in addition to biking to work) for several months and I felt really tired all the time. I got injured in Jan I think due to over training. Any advice appreciated in timing workouts & rest days.

    • K says:

      I would also love that. I am trying to figure out how to combine climbing with XT with mountaineering cardio…

    • Caro says:

      Hey Jess, check out Steve House’s book Training for the New Alpinism, he has a good chapter on strength training, recovery, and fatigue. You must need to rest at least one day between strengths workouts, otherwise you don’t build up muscles but actually become weaker.

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