Maximising Your Climbing Gym Workout

Something that comes up often in climbing’s big book of Frequently Asked Questions is “How do I climb better/harder?” The answer is obvious: “Climb more and train for climbing!” The problem is, everyone has different ideas on how to train for climbing. Some are good, while others are downright ineffective.

If you’re serious about improving, regular visits to the local climbing gym are often the way to go. But it’s what you do when you get there that matters. Why not think about employing some of these strategies…

Warm up
Start with a good warm up. A light stretch first, then two sets of sit ups, push ups and pull ups (alternate them) will get you nice and warm. Don’t think “I don’t want to warm up because I’ll get pumped early and won’t be able to climb”. You’re at the gym. Your aim is to get pumped! A good warm up is very important, especially to help prevent injury.

Easy routes
Once you’re warm, do some easy, steep routes. This will warm up your mind as much as your body. Before you can go hard, you have to get your climbing head screwed on, and some easy routes will help this happen.

If you top out successfully on a climb, you should then (without resting on the rope) try to downclimb the route – even hard ones. There’s many reasons for this. First, it makes the climbing last longer. You’ll get super wasted – hence your endurance will start to improve. Secondly, knowing you have to downclimb a route makes you focus more on the way up, you’ll climb better. Third – footwork. Downclimbing demands very good footwork, and this is an area that many climbers (especially gym climbers!) need to work on. At first downclimbing will feel awkward and painful, but stick to it! You’ll reap big gains if you persist and your friends will wonder why you can hang around all day not getting pumped!

Intensity – deciding which routes to climb
Aim to spend 50% of your time doing routes you can top out, and 50% of your time working projects, i.e. routes you can’t yet climb cleanly. If you only climb things within your limit, you’ll never push that limit higher, and if you spend all your time failing (flailing?) on routes that are too hard, you’ll become demoralised. Get the balance right.

Lapping routes – endurance builder
At the end of the session, pick a route to lap. This should be something that is steep and long, and well within your ability when fresh. It should also be something that you know you can get pumped on – don’t pick something too easy! Grab a patient belayer, and climb up and down the route without resting until you fall off. Get back on and continue. Continue doing this until you run out of belay credits, or you’re too tired to climb with an acceptable level of grace.

Warm down
Don’t forget to have a nice stretch at the end of the session. About 10 minutes’ worth is good.

So there you have it. There’s plenty more techniques that you can use to make the most of your time in the gym, but if you start with these – they’ll set you on the path. Good climbers around the country are using these same techniques in your local climbing gym. Become one of them!