Return to Climbing Training Plan

Posted by Belinda Fuller on 19/06/2020
GB Paraclimber Hannah Baldwin training from home

GB Paraclimbing Coach Belinda Fuller has put together a great guide giving climbing specific, fun ways to come back to climbing as strong, fit and connected as possible after this lockdown phase away from climbing walls.

During this unusual time away from climbing walls, one of the hardest things to maintain is the connection between our hands and our feet. This connection is essential for climbers and everyone alike, not only for performance but for injury-free, full-body stability. The aim of this type of training is to maintain and develop a strong connection between our hands and feet and to build ‘climbing specific’ strength and endurance. These exercises are accessible for anyone who wants to come back to climbing as prepared as possible to enjoy the sport they love. It will be particularly useful for those with only fingerboards to train on, but the methods are transferable to any training set up.
 
Disclaimer:
It would be impossible to write an article containing a comprehensive list of exercises that should be in an effective training plan, so this focuses on just a few important areas. It does not cover an initial full-body warm up that is essential before training. If you have never had a coach or trained like this before, please seek professional advice, as you may not know how to train safely and effectively.
 
WATCH: Be's instructional video guide for these exercises 
 
 

Key terms used in this article

To get the most out of this training the key is to understand how the training protocols should feel. Understanding the difference between pumped and powered out is key. 
 
Pumped: solid, swollen forearms – it’s so sore and burning you just can’t hold on anymore! Normally occurs after longer durations of sub-maximal efforts.
 
Powered out: little to no pain or swell in the forearms – you try your hardest but you just have nothing left! Normally occurs after higher intensity efforts before you even get a chance to get pumped.
 
 
Intensity: a gauge out of ten of your maximum strength/power output. To keep things simple, the intensities have been split into:
 
1. Max Intensity 10/10
2. High Intensity 9/10
3. Mid Intensity 8/10
4. Low Intensity 7/10
 
Intensity levels: to gain the correct intensity level, all of the following exercises can be made easier or harder by using better/worse holds and/or adjusting the distance of the foot support (further away = harder, closer = easier)
 
      
 
Adjusting difficulty: Left: harder Right: easier
 
Correct form: The main aim of these exercises is to develop a stronger full-body con-nection and training with ‘correct form’ is key to achieving this. To create a connection be-tween your hands and feet, engage your shoulders and push through your toes. To strengthen this connection, lift your hips by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core. Note: Refer to the images for a demonstration of ‘correct form’, but this is where a coach is very helpful if you’ve not been taught what this should feel like.

Begin Your Training

Training Specific Warm Up: Banana Boat Shrugs
 
How?
Engage and connect the shoulders, core, glutes and legs by squeezing the shoulder blades down and together (increase distance between your ears and shoulders, like a tor-toise popping its head out of its shell), tense glutes (imagine holding a coin between your buttocks), engage core (suck your belly button in) and point the toes (like a ballet dancer).
 
Reps: 
Three sets of six shrugs as part of your progressive warm up.
 
      
 
Banana boat shrugs: up and down
 
Lift Hips and Twist
 
How?
When reaching, twist into the move focusing on leading the movement from the hip. E.g. When reaching up with the right hand, twist the right hip in and up. This power comes form the same muscles engaged in the Banana Boat Shrugs, but starts from the toe push-ing against the support.
 
Reps:
Three sets of six reaches as part of a progressive warm up. (Maintain this form throughout all reaching exercises to reinforce efficient movement patterns.) 
 
                                        
 

WATCH: GB Climbing Training Tips on BMC TV

Exercises

Max Intensity
 
1.1 One Arm Tension Hold
The aim is to train your fingers, core, legs and feet to link, so this is designed to remind your brain that the harder you push and create tension, the longer you can hold on for.
 
How?
Using a fingerboard hung over doorframe, hang on a challenging edge and push the outside edge of your feet into the doorframe to create tension. Once you feel connected, gently release on to one arm, keeping shoulders, glutes and core engaged. Hold for sev-en seconds then swap to the other arm and repeat – this is one rep. Use as little contact surface area as you can with your feet to really challenge your maximum one-arm hang, but be careful you don’t slip and shock load your fingers. 
 

Time on

7 seconds

Time off

1 minute

Reps

4 p/arm

Sets

4

Rest between sets

4 minutes per set

Total work time

3 minutes 44 seconds

Intensity

10/10

                         



Feeling: Powered out, fighting for the last few seconds of each rep.
 
1.2 One Arm Tension Hold (No Frame)
 
How?
Use the same method as above, but instead of creating tension using the frame, create the connection from your big toe on the chosen foot support. Once you feel connected, gently release on to one arm, keeping shoulders, glutes and core engaged. Hold for sev-en seconds then swap to the other arm and repeat – this is one rep.
 

Time on

7 seconds

Time off

1 minute

Reps

4 p/arm

Sets

4

Rest between sets

4 minutes per set

Total work time

3 minutes 44 seconds

Intensity

10/10

                   

In this picture, GB paraclimber Hannah Baldwin, is using her one working foot against the wall - this is actually a really good challenging progression to this exercise even if you have two working legs but alternate the working leg if you can. 

Feeling: Powered out, fighting for the last few seconds of each rep.
 
2. High Intensity
 
2.1 Power Pulls
 
How?
Pick two challenging edges to move between. Place your feet on an edge in front of you. Alternate between the holds, locking off and reaching as high as you can for 15–20 sec-onds or around eight lock-offs, four on each hold. 
 

Time on

15 seconds

Time off

2 minutes

Reps

4

Sets

3

Rest between sets

15 minutes per set

Total work time

3 minutes

Intensity

9/10

                   
 
Feeling: Powered out – fighting for the last few pulls on holds near your limit.
 
2.2 One Arm Tension Holds 
 
How?
Pick a bigger edge than used for max strength, but apply the same tension-hang theory and maintain the tension for approximately 20 seconds, alternating hands every five seconds.
 

Time on

20 seconds

Time off

3 minutes

Reps

4

Sets

3

Rest between sets

15 minutes per set

Total work time

3 minutes

Intensity

9/10

             

Feeling: Powered out, fighting for the last few seconds of each set because of difficulty, not pump.
 
3. Mid Intensity
 
3.1 Twenty Power Pulls 
 
How?
Pick big hand and foot holds and quickly alternate between each hand pulling up, lock-ing off and reaching as high as you can consistently for 20 pulls. Maintain the connec-tion through your toes on a suitable edge in front of you for the duration. Apply the ‘Lift Hips and Twist’ method from the warm up. 
 

Time on

~40 seconds

Time off

5 minutes

Reps

5

Sets

3

Rest between sets

20 minutes per set

Total work time

15 minutes

Intensity

8/10

          
 
 
Feeling: Powered out and getting a little pumped by the end. Fighting for the last few pulls of each set, but more because of exhaustion than pump.
 
3.2 One Minute of Steady Pulls
 
How?
Pick two or three edges to move between at a steady pace for a minute, pulling up and reaching as high as you can. Maintain the connection through your toes on a suitable edge in front of you for the full minute. Apply the ‘Lift Hips and Twist’ method from the warm up. 
 

Time on

1 minute

Time off

5 minutes

Reps

4

Sets

3

Rest between sets

20 minutes p/set

Total work time

15 minutes

Intensity

8/10

     
 
Feeling: Powered out and getting pumped by the end of each set. Fighting for the last ~10 sec-onds of each rep, but more through difficulty than pump.
 
3.3 One Minute of Movement
 
How?
Pick two or three quite challenging holds to move between at a steady pace for a minute. Maintain the connection through your toes on a suitable edge in front of you for the full minute.
 

Time on

3 minutes

Time off

6 minutes

Reps

3

Sets

3

Rest between sets

30 minutes p/set

Total work time

27 minutes

Intensity

7/10

        
 
Feeling: Powered out and getting some pump by the end of each set. Fighting for the last ~10 sec-onds of each rep, but more through difficulty than pump.
 
4. Low Intensity
 
4.1 Three Minutes of Movement
 
How?
Pick three to five better/easier holds to move between at a steady pace for three minutes. Maintain the connection through your toes on a suitable edge in front of you for the duration. Quick chalk up allowed if necessary but avoid big shake outs. 
 

Time on

3 minutes

Time off

6 minutes

Reps

Sets

3

Rest between sets

30 minutes p/set

Total work time

27 minutes

Intensity

7/10

 
                                                                                                  
 
Feeling: Pumped by the end of each rep. Really fighting for the last ~30 seconds of each set through pumpy pain.
 
4.2 Three minutes: Five seconds hard, five seconds easy
 
How?
Pick a poor hold and a good recovery hold. Hold the poor hold for 5 seconds with both hands then move to the recovery hold for 5 seconds, repeat the process for 3 minutes. Maintain the connection through your toes on a suitable edge in front of you for the duration. You can briefly chalk up and shake out on the recovery hold. 
 

Time on

3 minutes

Time off

6 minutes

Reps

Sets

3

Rest between sets

30 minutes p/set

Total work time

27 minutes

Intensity

7/10

 
                                                                                                        
 
Feeling: Pumped by the end of each rep. Really fighting for the last ~30 seconds of each set through pumpy pain.

Summary

I have completed eight weeks of training using one of these protocols every other day. I mixed up the intensities, getting more and more route-specific as lockdown eased, and I sent my 8a project, fourth try back on the rock. For me the proof was in the pudding, and I hope you enjoy playing around with these exercises and get the gains I did. Moving forward, hopefully most of us will soon have access to our favourite walls and training facilities, but these methods can still apply anywhere and everywhere within certain phases of our training plans. 
 

Some questions you may still have

What intensity should I train at?
When it comes down to really climbing-specific training and honing your fitness ready for your projects, the intensity at which you train is dependent on your strengths and weak-nesses, but even more importantly, your goals. For example, if you are a boulderer with a goal of a short five-move problem, your time won’t be best spent in the low intensity zone. However, a sport climber could benefit from all these sessions, especially if their project is cruxy and powerful. Fundamentally, the key to maximum gains is customisation – if you are unsure how to do this, please contact a professional climbing coach.
 
7/10 seems pretty high for ‘low intensity’ training, what can I do for really low intensity training like cardio?
7/10 is fairly high but this is because we are primarily addressing power endurance train-ing in this article, so the intensity is higher than if we were focusing on aerobic capacity training. Very low intensity aerobic training is possible on fingerboards if you can take enough weight off your fingers to continue for at least five minutes for at least three sets (equal work to rest ratio) and maintain little to no pump. Personally I am waiting for walls to reopen for this, because for me it is all about efficiency and fluid movement, which I can’t enjoy on a fingerboard. So, to keep physically and mentally fit, I’ve taken up running and cycling for my cardio during this lockdown. It’s clearly not as climbing specific, however, building this base aer-obic capacity may well help to increase my ability to recover when climbing, and funda-mentally it’s more a support for my mental health to get out the house every day and enjoy a new hobby!
 
Is this training just for lockdown? What about when walls reopen?
For those who now have facility to train at home big gains could be made to maximise your fun, sociable time spent at climbing walls or at the crag. The best way to get better at climbing is to climb, so I always recommend people to spend their time climbing and developing a large range of movement patterns while at a climbing facility. 
 
There are so many different training methods out there, how do I know which is right for me?
There is no right or wrong in climbing, or a definite answer as to how one should train. There are so many effective training protocols out there and it’s always worth mixing it up and finding something that motivates you to keep trying and ultimately reach your goals.
Getting the intensity levels right and understanding the sets and reps can be quite chal-lenging if you are new to training. If you have never had a coach or trained like this be-fore, please seek professional advice as you may not know how to train safely and effec-tively. Don’t try anything you are not comfortable with and always listen to your body.
 
The following coaches have recently shared some great online resources I highly recommend; including warm up ideas and ‘good form’ tuition:
 
GB Coaches and Athletes
Shauna Coxsey (YouTube channel)
Tim Cunningham (@PeakProFitness - Coffee Morning)
Jon Redshaw (@onsightcoaching)
 
Eva Lopez (Youtube - max hangs)
Steve McClure (‘Training for old Folk’ @ste_mcclure)
Tom Randall and Ollie Toor (Crimpd app & Lattice)
Neil Gresham (Coaching & Beastmaker app)
 
Physio and Rehab for Climbers
Nina Tappin (@climbingphysiotherapy) 
Olivia Ratcliffe (@o3_performance)
 
Yoga/Pilates
Adriene (Yoga with Adriene)
Adelaide May (Pilates)
 
For more information please contact:
 

WATCH: Introduction to fingerboarding with GB Coach Rachel Carr

Time on

3 minutes

Time off

6 minutes

Reps

Sets

3

Rest between sets

30 minutes p/set

Total work time

27 minutes

Intensity

7/10

 
                                                                                            

UPDATE on Coronavirus and BMC events

GB Climbing
 is supported by the BMC, Mountaineering Scotland and Secur-it
.

The GB Paraclimbing Team is supported by Oakwood Climbing Centre and Quay Climbing Centre. The GB Ice Climbing Team is supported by Montane. Many UK walls also support the GB Climbing through free or subsidised entry.

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HIGHLIGHTS: 2019 La Sportiva British Bouldering Championships


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