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Five Training Choices That Could Make or Break Your Next Climbing Trip

Don't let these often underappreciated aspects of training hold back your performance outdoors

Going on a sport climbing, trad climbing, or bouldering trip soon? You’re likely training hard, perhaps building strength and power, or levelling up your endurance. It’s important to pay attention to the finer details of this training and how it directly relates to your performance on rock.

Here are five often overlooked and underappreciated indoor training considerations for outdoor climbing. These are especially important if your trip will be short and you’ll be packing in a lot of climbing over a small number of days. These five items are discussed in the context of route climbing, but most of them can be applied to bouldering as well.

1. Climbing Pace

In the gym, we often climb way faster than we do outside. This is especially true when repeating routes or boulders that we know well during exercises like bouldering 4x4s or lead route laps.

If you know the route well, you might spend a second or less on each hold. Outside, especially while onsighting or flashing, it’s common to grasp each hold for five seconds or more. Climbers also tend to chalk up more frequently outside than inside, slowing down their movement. These differences in the length of contraction require different fitnesses and should be trained as such.

Purposely climb slower inside on well-known routes to build the correct fitness for your typical outside pacing. This can be tough to monitor yourself, so have your climbing partner let you know when you are cruising too fast from plastic hold to plastic hold.

2. Length, Angle, and Hold Type

Before your trip, your training should be as specific as possible to the types of lines you’ll be climbing outside. You’ll want to match your endurance training to the route lengths that you’ll be climbing outdoors. You can find more on this topic here and here.

In addition to route length, you’ll also want to train on the wall angles and hold types that you’ll be experiencing outdoors. If you’ll be projecting 30-degree overhanging walls on pockets, try your best to mimic this in the gym. If you’ll be climbing vert crimpy lines, make sure you get some mileage in on these types of routes.

Train on routes that match the style of movement of your outdoor climbs as well. If the area you’re going to requires a lot of dynamic movement, train that. If instead it’s balancey and technical, pay extra attention to those skills.

Photo: Corey Rich


3. Skin Conditioning

It sucks when you have to take a rest day due to bad skin, especially on a short trip. The skin you build climbing on plastic is often insufficient for climbing hard on real rock, particularly if you’ll be climbing a lot on sharp pockets or crimps or finger cracks. Before your trip, you could consider experimenting with skin toughening agents like Rhino Skin Solutions Tip Juice or Performance cream. Also, be sure to keep your skin in tip-top shape in the immediate lead up to your trip.

If you’ll be finger crack climbing and don’t have access to crack trainers at home or your local gym, there is a somewhat strange hack you can use to build up skin quickly. Take the blunt edge of a butter knife or spoon and rub it vigorously across the parts of your fingers often compromised by finger cracks until it starts to feel uncomfortable. Do this a few times a day, and you’ll notice your skin surprisingly getting tougher over time.

4. Fear

For pretty much everyone, climbing outside is scarier than climbing inside. After a long training season, it’s possible that you haven’t taken a proper lead fall in months. You don’t want to be failing projects or onsight attempts due to fear (or unfamiliarity) with falling. It’s a great idea to get some fall practice in before going on your trip. Aim to take a few whips each training session. Take falls from positions that feel awkward or uncomfortable (that you logically know are safe) to fast track your fall therapy.

5. Aerobic Capacity

When on a short climbing trip, you want to get in as much climbing as possible. This might mean climbing as many routes as you can or working your project as much as possible in a day. To do this, you’ll need decent aerobic capacity, something that’s often ignored during training season. Aerobic capacity is important for long endurance routes, multi-pitch climbs, and all-day climbing fitness.

You can train it in many different ways. You could perform two to three hours of submaximal climbing, aiming for 1,000 to 1,200 feet of movement. You could do this on a rope (perhaps also incorporating your fall practice). Alternatively you could use a Treadwall or bouldering wall, aiming for 6 to 8 sets of 3 to 5 minutes of continuous climbing. Rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets. You should not be falling due to fatigue during this training. Regular cardio (running, cycling, etc.) is also helpful for building a strong aerobic capacity system.

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