Climbing Training Plan for 2009

by Tom Markiewicz on January 7, 2009

Over the years, I think I’ve read almost every book on training for climbing. Always looking for that missing element to my training plans or that hidden technique I never knew existed.

Obviously, there never has been a magic bullet, though many books would have you believe so (although I do recommend Training for Climbing). As a result, I began to re-evaluate my own goals and training plans and came to a few conclusions based on what I’ve read, discussed with various doctors and physical trainers, and my own background.

The short answer is there are no shortcuts. There is no magical plan that will make you climb 5.12 after reading a book.

And even worse, every climber’s body is different, thus making a single plan or set of techniques vary greatly in their effectiveness.

The good news is that I strongly believe there are a few simple steps climbers can take in order to make some rapid improvements in their climbing.

Many of these you may already be doing, but I know I have room to improve on each of these areas.

My overall plan is to simplify first with general goals and then built up to more specific ones as I make progress.

There’s no point in my having a goal of “do 3 10 second dead hangs on the micro-edge” when I don’t even use my hangboard on a regular basis. Instead, I’m going to start with “use my hangboard to supplement my gym climbing training X times per week”. Then once it becomes a habit, I can start to add more specificity.

So, without further ado, here is my personal training plan for the upcoming year in lieu of any New Year’s Resolutions I’d likely break or rationalize away anyway.

Food / Nutrition

  • Eat some green vegetables at least once per day. This is because I tend to avoid vegetables and load up on carbs. I eat bagels like normal people eat chocolate. Most studies show green vegetables have the most antioxidants and nutrition pound-for-pound.
  • Watch my carb intake. See above.
  • Eat natural and organic foods as often as possible. While my wife has been pregnant we’ve been watching this one closely for the little one’s benefit. The side effect is that I have been eating mostly organic and natural foods for the past few months and have never felt better. That’s enough evidence for me.
  • Decrease (or at least maintain) caffeine and alcohol consumption. I love coffee and beer. Neither one in large quantities are necessarily good for you. I’m aiming to slightly decrease coffee and maintain the level of beer consumption. Hey, I’m in Boulder now and there’s coffee shops and micro-breweries everywhere. I mean this literally – Time magazine called Colorado’s Front Range the Napa Valley of beer.
  • Drink more water daily. I’m shooting for two liters per day. Fill up a Nalgene and place it on your desk. My bottle taunts me all day until I drink it.

Cross-training / Exercise / Weights

  • Do more body weight training exercises several times per week (pushups, pull-ups, dips, etc.) to work antagonist muscle groups to prevent injuries (for me, it’s my loose shoulder).
  • Do crunches regularly to increase my core strength.
  • Use my hangboard regularly. I have a Metolius Slim Gym. Not the most variety in the holds, but it fits almost anywhere you want to mount it. Once I set a pattern of using it regularly, I’ll splurge on a better one.


  • Fully warm up before climbing. I’ve read and heard many strategies, but I think the book One Move Too Many recommended doing about 100 climbing moves to be warmed up. My personal strategy, that has been working well, is to climb about 8-10 easier boulder problems with good holds (i.e. no crimps). I’ve found that this amount gets the blood flowing for me and I’m usually good to go at this point. I honestly keep a running count in my head until I reach 8. Going back to my keep it simple theme, this little trick forces me to warm up. I don’t allow myself to work on anything hard until I get my 8-10 warmup problems in.
  • Don’t always climb to failure when training in the gym. This is good for muscles, but it does not work same way for tendons. I won’t go into detail here, but take a look at any of these for more info:, Training for Climbing, and Marvin Climbing.
  • Ice after each climbing session. I found my fingers recover from minor tweakage much quicker when I ice them. I’ve now had this habit for a while of icing my fingers after climbing. Simple, yet once again very effective.
  • Rest when needed. This sounds like the most obvious of them all, but as climbers we usually abhor resting unless we’re physically forced to. It’s probably a good thing to actively plan resting.

Your mileage may vary on all of these. None of this may work for you or maybe all of it will. Some of you may find all of the above simplistic, but for me that was the entire point. The key is that each of these components has shown some promise for me at different times of my climbing life.

My goal is to now put them all together and be consistent. Luckily, none of the above is radical, untested, or will kill you. Just a simple, common-sense way of getting fit for climbing.

I welcome all your suggestions in the comments. Are you using any common sense training concepts in your personal climbing fitness plan?

  • Tom

    You might want to read the chapter on nutrition in the new edition of Climbing: Training for Peak Performance. Don’t think crunches are all that effective for core training but better than nothing I suppose.

  • Tom Markiewicz

    Tom – Thanks, I’ll have to check it out. Also, could you explain more why you think a good routine of crunches will not help with core strength?

  • Climbing Narcissist

    Most excellent stuff. I too need to watch my carb intake. I eat pasta like it is the last food source on the planet. I also like your thoughts on beer consumption!

    As far as ab workouts go I have been doing them regularly with our climbing team since the fall and I think it has been a huge help. We usually do different forms of leg lifts as opposed to doing crunches because leg lifts just seem to work better.

    Overall I like the plan a lot. It is similar to some of the thoughts I’ve been having so it is good to see it in writing.

  • Tom Markiewicz

    Thanks Narc. I really think crunches or similar types of exercises help with climbing core strength. My opinion is that if you don’t think crunches are effective you are not doing them correctly and/or in the proper combination!

    The best ab workout I have ever done was Ab Ripper X as part of the P90x workout program. That 15 min ab workout literally made me want to vomit as it so completely worked your entire core.

  • Climbing Narcissist

    I have found that a tigher core goes a long way in compensating for my lack of strength as I have gotten back in to climbing. Makes the legs feel much lighter!

  • Sara

    Icing hands is a great idea. My fatigue area is my fingers — they’re way better/stronger/less injury prone than they used to be, but I’m also doing more sport specific training (hangboard, campus rungs) so need to give them a bit of extra TLC. What method do you use to ice your hands? ice bags don’t seem to do it for me; buckets of ice water hurt like heck!

  • Tom Markiewicz

    Sara, I have about six ice packs I bought at the drugstore that I rotate as needed. The blue fabric ones (made by ACE bandage I think) are ok, but they warm up too quick for my fingers so I use them when I need to ice my elbows.

    For fingers/hands I like the squishy kind that they tell you to fit inside a sleeve that’s provided with the ice pack. They are almost always a white plastic color. I get rid of the sleeve and just apply directly from the freezer and ice down my hands until the packs warm up.

    The nice part about them is that they are really soft and pliable so they work much better than other ways of icing for me. Hope that helps.

  • Nick

    As far as dedicated ab and core work i do two different things:

    Leglifts/bent knee holds to failure.

    another more intense exercise i do is i will hang from a long horizontal bar with both hands opposed so the i am looking straight down the length of the bar with one hand on either side of it. then elevate both feet to one side of the bar and hook my ankle up there – lower down to full hang and then go up on the other side for one full ‘rep’. ill do like 5-10 reps per set. do them slow without ‘swinging’

  • hosebeats

    Instead of icing your hands take a look at cold treatment.
    Dave MacLeod has some good info on cold treatment for finger injuries that goes against the common idea of rest the finger.
    I’m guessing that it could/would work for more than just pulley tears. It increases the blood flow dramatically to the hand–> speeding up any healing to be done.
    More info on his website here
    and here

    Hmm, the videos aren’t working for me at the moment. I’ve watched them before so maybe it’s something with his server.

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