About Tom and Neil

Tom – When not running courses, Tom works as a stuntman and has a background as a Fitness Instructor and former Royal Marine Commando. Over the years, Tom has put his body through its paces, and generally broken it!

Neil – Company director of Blackbrook Strength, a former Royal Marine Commando, Fitness and Crossfit Instructor. What Neil doesn’t know about fitness and training isn’t worth knowing.

While both have a huge love of sport and training, they also have a love of life and enjoy the balanced side to things including a few beers! This article is not for elite athletes, but is aimed at giving those interested a basic understanding of how to improve their fitness for climbing.

Part 2

Training and conditioning for outdoor rock climbing.

In last month’s blog we looked at the basic theory behind physical fitness and how to structure a training session.

This month we look at the actual session, weekly and monthly training progression.

To recap on last month, a training session (for any sport) should consist of:

Warm Up
-Warm Up

Main Activity
-Either Cardiovascular or Muscular Resistance

Cool Down
-Cool Down
-Post Stretch

Below are a couple of session plans, these are by no means the only way to train, and must be adapted to your own ability and needs.

As we mentioned in last months issue it is important to change your routine after while as the body will quickly adapt, and the program will no longer be improving you but will just be maintaining you. The other big factor is climbing walls vary dramatically, so you’ll have to be creative!

Session Training Ideas

Using indoor climbing venues to help strength and conditioning for climbing.

Muscular Endurance

Objectives – To improve muscular endurance, used for long sport or trad climbs, where you need to be able to keep going without fatiguing before the end! Duration 2hrs+ 1-2 times per week to start, with a 1-2 day gap in-between sessions.

Session Plan – To build muscular endurance you need time, how much depends on your goal.

Warm Up – 5-10min Start by climbing up and down 2-3 easy routes ensuring that you don’t become pumped. Or by easy bouldering for 5min.

Pre-Stretch – 2-3min

Main Activity – 1-1.5hrs This should consist of either bottom roping or lead climbing; bouldering is possible depending on your climbing wall but probably best left for muscular strength training as the routes are too short to be of much benefit. Pick a number of climbs that will be of a reasonable level but that have no difficult or technical crux moves on them (this is important as you don’t want to be hanging around on one or two hard moves). You are aiming to climb 10-15 climbs for the session but would not expect to complete the last 2 (due to fatigue).

Set 1 – Start by climbing 2-3 climbs back to back that are at 70-80% of your max, with no rest in-between. Remember your first climb is also a re-warm climb. Rest for 4-5min in-between sets (while belaying your partner) but be strict on the rest times as its easy to chat for 5mins too!

Set 2-5 – Repeat Set 1, ensuring that you don’t change the grade you’re climbing at or add any difficult crux moves in, but do vary the climbs. You should not expect to complete your last 2 climbs if you have got the right grade (your first session will be a trial run).

Cool Down – 5-10min (1-2 climbs or some simple bouldering)

Post Stretch – 15min+ Ensure you stretch your major muscle groups.

Progression Ideas

Every 2-3 weeks try one or a mixture of:
– Increasing your grade by 1
– Increase the number of climbs per set
– Increase the number of sets

Muscular Strength

Objectives – To improve muscular strength, used for those short hard climbs or for the crux of a route, when you really need some power! Duration 1-1.5hrs max! 1-2 times per week to start, with a 2 day gap between sessions.

Session Plan – This is one of the hardest ones to adjust to for a number of reasons; it’s a relatively short duration and if you’ve travelled a distance or paid a lot for the entrance fee, you’ll be tempted to stay longer and drop the grade and quality of your climbing. Don’t! If you’ve trained hard you, you’ll feel the benefits in the long run even though you’ve only had a short session.

Warm Up – 5-10min Start by climbing up and down some easy routes ensuring that you don’t become pumped. Or by bouldering for 5min.

Pre-Stretch – 2-3min

Main Activity – 40min – 1hr 20min This should consist of either bouldering or bottom roping; avoid leading as we are purely interested in the strength factor! It might even be that you don’t climb all the way to the top but just half way (depending on the height of your climbing wall). As with all new training sessions, your first one will be a trial run.

Set 1- Start by climbing 2-3 climbs that are at 70-80% of your max, with 2min rest in-between climbs. Rest for 5min

Set 2 – Now climb 2-3 climbs that are at 80-90% of your max, increase the resistance by climbing a gentle overhang 10-15 degree or by increasing you grade. Rest for 5min

Set 3 – The big one, climb 1-2 climbs that are your absolute max! And take a 5min rest in-between climbs. You should not expect to complete all the moves or the last route.

Cool Down – 10-15min As for the warm up, and ensure you spend extra time stretching your arms and back to avoid stiff muscles.

Progression Ideas

Every 2-3 weeks try one or a mixture of:

– Increasing your grade by 1
– Increase the number of climbs per set (not too much as you would then start training for endurance).

Weekly Training Schedules

Cardiovascular fitness training for rock climbing.

How Often?

We often get asked “how often should I climb to be any good?” well the answer is of course “how good do you want to be?” The top climbers will climb at least 4 times a week if not more and will cross train with other sports to improve areas that climbing can’t.

That said they will also factor in rest days as the body needs time to adapt to these high demands. For the average climber, climbing twice a week should see some real improvements, and even better is to combine this with some cross training. So working on that theory here are some weekly suggestions:

Beginner 1-2 times a Week

Day 1 Climbing
Day 2 CV
Day 3 Rest Day
Day 4 Climbing
Day 5 Rest Day
Day 6 CV / Resistance
Day 7 Rest Day

Intermediate 2-3 times a Week

Day 1 Climbing
Day 2 CV
Day 3 Climbing
Day 4 Rest Day
Day 5 Climbing
Day 6 Resistance
Day 7 Rest Day

Advanced 3-4 times a Week

Day 1 Climbing
Day 2 CV
Day 3 Climbing
Day 4 Resistance
Day 5 Rest Day
Day 6 Climbing
Day 7 CV / Resistance

CV – Can be a number of activities that raise the heart rate such as: running, swimming, cycling etc.

Resistance – Body weight exercises (push up, sit ups, squats) or weight training.

Flexibility – Another important factor is your flexibility and one that is often over looked. Ideally this should be trained continually and not just once a week when you’re at the wall! To have any real noticeable improvements you should stretch twice a week but 3-5 times a week is recommended and hold the stretches for a minimum of 30sec as part of a post stretch.

Other Ideas

Blindfold Climbing!

“What’s the point in that” I hear you say? Well apart from being a fun challenge, it will help train your balance and body position making you think about every tiny movement. Secondly it makes you find your holds (which is handy when climbing outdoors as they maybe out of sight, round a corner or at the back of a crack). It also makes you find the best way to use the hold without looking at it and predicting how to hold it (this is very common with climbers who climb at their local wall, and who know how to use every hold just by looking at them from the ground) and so plan their tactics accordingly.


Try mixing up your sessions by adjusting the speed that you climb, for example: try spending a session climbing easy climbs as fast as you can. This will work your cardio vascular system a treat and should see you out of breath and building up a sweat in no time! Or try climbing everything as slowly and as deliberately as you can, this one is often much harder than speed climbing as it forces you not to rush through difficult moves and helps build muscle as if you were training with weight in a gym.

Experiment With Your Climbing Style

This can be a number of minor things, for example: if you know you struggle with balancy climbs and rely on brute strength, make sure you get on the slabs and really work on stretching out for holds and learn to trust your feet! If you’re tall and can easily reach holds or even miss some out (being 6ft 4″ I do this one a lot), imagine that you are short and don’t go for the easy hold, instead make a point of trying different methods of reaching the same holds.

Final Word

As I have said there are numerous ways in which to improve you climbing fitness, if you’re an advanced climber hopefully we have given you some food for thought, if you’re a beginner then why not follow one of the programs and see how it works for you. We’ll visit this subject again in the future, in the mean time please let us know how you get on or feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.

This Article is written by Tom Hatt and Neil Collins.