Training for Climbing: Gimme Strength!

Since Jonty’s knee injury (at the beginning of our September performance phase), we haven’t been able to climb together, as his leg is still splinted and he can’t walk (or climb or belay!). As a result, we hadn’t talked very much about what our winter training schedule together would look like! After a month or so of bouldering in the gym, I was ready to start training again, with a focus in mind.

Last week, a notification popped up in our calendar, telling us we were due to start the Strength phase for our winter training block. Perfect timing! The whole premise of this 17-week training plan is to think about your climbing goals and to tailor your training to give you the best shot at conquering your “goal routes”. Since climbing outside in the winter on the “Wet Coast” is not possible for those that live some distance from the crags (climbing on soaking wet rock is not that fun!), our training usually focuses more on improving our general skills (finger and core strength, power movement patterns, etc.). | Jonty on the hangboard, large rungs

Normally, during this 4-week training block we focus on improving finger strength through exercises on the hangboard. We talked about that session here, if you’re interested in our set-up. We’ve had discussions over time about whether this is the best way to improve finger strength. The main issue we have with this style of training is that you’re hanging, statically, on small holds. But climbing is a dynamic process, and the forces generated through your fingers as you move off a hold are much different than if you’re just hanging on a hold. | Jonty on the hangboard, medium rungs

So I thought I would try something different this time around! A few years ago, we bought the Gimme Kraft training book, which includes tonnes of climbing-specific training exercises, developed in their training studio in Germany. Virtually all the exercises use body weight only and all have a rating from “Easy/Beginner” to “Very Hard/Pro” levels. We worked through some of the exercises in this book a few years ago and Jonty suggested I might want to look at some of them again. | Jonty on the hangboard, thin rungs

What I like about these exercises is that they are dynamic and require the strength of multiple muscle groups at the same time, which (I’m hoping!) will help me improve some of my weaknesses.

For this strength training round, I’ll be focusing on 3 general exercises, all done on the campus board. After a significant warm-up session on the auto-belay (climbing continuously for 20 – 30 minutes, warming up each of the finger groups like pinch, crimp, 2-finger, etc.), the finger-strength training can begin!


What to think about:

  • One set = 4 – 6 “square-dance rounds” without a break
  • Complete 4 – 6 sets, resting ~3 minutes in between a set
  • Body tension (stay close to the wall)
  • Contact strength (fingers latch to the rungs)

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Move to smaller/thinner rungs
  • Use higher feet (if possible)
  • Use a steeper-angled wall (if possible)


What to think about:

  • Hang 7 – 10 seconds on off-set holds, lifting one leg as high as possible; repeat with the other hand/leg combo.
  • Complete 12 sets of these hangs
  • Core tension, finger contact strength

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Move to thinner rungs, if you can hold the tension for more than 10 seconds
  • Starting at 6 sets, working up to 12 sets
  • Starting with 4 fingers on the holds, working my way down to 3 fingers


What to think about:

  • One set = 4 – 6 “lock-off” rounds, without resting
  • Complete 4 – 6 sets, resting ~3 minutes in between
  • Keep the body tension throughout the move
  • Try to touch your body to the wall as you lock-off (hips through nose)

How to improve/make more challenging:

  • Use thinner holds
  • Use higher feet (if possible) to get a deeper lock-off
  • Use a steeper wall (if possible)

For the last 7 weeks, Jonty has not had the luxury of two functional legs, so he has been working on improving his upper-body strength and finger strength, namely in the way of pull-ups. Lots of pull-ups. He’s now up to >130 per session, and generally stops due to boredom not fatigue!! On the weekend, when we are both at the climbing gym together and he has access to the campus board, he will work on his finger strength by doing off-set pull-ups and two-finger pull-ups. Over the last 7 weeks, he has really improved! He can now do off-set pull-ups on the thinnest campus rung:

And he has been working toward two-finger pull-ups on the medium and thin campus rungs:

He makes both look pretty easy, but I can assure you, it’s not!!! 🙂

This routine might get modified over the next few weeks, but this is my general plan.

Happy Training!!

Training for Climbing: Power Module

This past weekend we transitioned from the strength phase of our training schedule to the power phase. This phase focuses on improving our muscular power (being able to generate a large amount of force in a short period of time) and contact strength (being able to quickly latch onto a hold). It’s all about moving dynamically, in a controlled manner, which is not easy to do!

A large part of power training focuses on climbing-specific plyometric exercises: we want to train our muscles to exert maximum force very quickly and to extend/contract our muscles very quickly, as well. The climbing goal is to “power through” a tricky sequence on (often) small holds.

We’ll be using two popular plyometrics for our power recruitment, Campus Training and Limit Bouldering.


For the non-climbers, campus training is kind of like climbing a ladder without using your feet. The ladder rungs on a campus board come in 3 different depths (thick ~35 mm deep, thin ~ 20 mm deep) and will usually have different spacings between each rung. This training is a purely plyometric exercise that requires you to generate a lot of power for each move, and requires the fingers to quickly contract in order to catch each ladder rung. It’s difficult, requiring a lot of concentration, high energy levels and a good technique; it hurts when you miss a hold and fall!

Many people use strength to make their way up the campus board (they move very slowly), but the purpose here is to train power, so you want to move quickly (and smoothly!) up the board. I need to mentally prepare myself before each round, and set myself a metronome rhythm to follow, or else my body wants to naturally use strength, not power. So many things to think about!!

Jonty has been doing exercises on the campus board for a few years now, and is pretty great at it. I just started last year (and it shows!), so I’m still working on it 🙂 Our training phases are usually less than a month long, so we may see slight improvements from the beginning to the end of a given phase, but generally, big improvements take years (at least, from our experience)!

We keep track of our campus routine each session, to mark our improvement. We’ve been keeping track of our routines for a few years, so it’s always interesting to go back in time to see how much we’ve progressed. | Setup for campus training | Sample campus training log

Some of the exercises we do include:

  • Matching Ladders
  • Basic Ladders
  • Bumps, or Go-Agains (one hand bumps up the rungs until you can’t go any higher)
  • Dynos
  • Double-Dynos (skipping one or more rungs)

Each round on the campus board is followed by 3 minutes of rest, switching the leading hand for each round. So I will complete about 18 total rounds of campus exercises, Jonty will complete about 26 total rounds. The downside to campusing is that it’s not that specific to climbing, i.e. being great at it does not translate in to huge improvements in climbing ability. Still, it looks cool seeing someone do double-dynos 🙂


Limit bouldering (LB) is great for a few reasons: it’s completely sport-specific (because you’re actually climbing!), you can improve your power and contact strength, and you can focus on things like technique and body tension while climbing.

The main idea behind Limit Bouldering is to climb short problems that have one or two very difficult moves, right at your limit. If possible, the moves should mimic crux moves specific to your goal route, or work on holds/moves that are specific weaknesses. The more dynamic the moves the better, as this really helps to improve contact strength. Finding the right move(s) to try can be tricky, requiring a lot of self-knowledge to understand what your limit-moves are! When someone says “give 110% on trying one single move”, it sounds easy to do, but I find it takes practice to really push myself. It’s something I’m trying to work on 🙂

This part of the training session should:

  • Include 2 to 4 “problems”, each with one or two very powerful moves that cannot be mastered in a single training session
  • Try the move 4 or 5 times, waiting 2 – 5 minutes between attempts
  • Rest 5 – 10 minutes between each problem


For both campus and limit bouldering sessions, the warm-up looks the same:

  1. ARC traversing (10 – 15 minutes)
  2. Warm-up Boulder Ladder (25 minutes, start easy and go up in the grades)
  3. Hard Bouldering (25 – 30 minutes, problems just above flash level)

Limit Bouldering takes us around 60 minutes (which include rest times), and the Campus session takes 55 to 75 minutes, depending on the number of rounds we complete. So, in total, a training day takes us well over 2 hours. Not an insignificant amount of time, if you still work full-time!! This usually means a late dinner for us 🙂 | Jonty traversing at Cliffhanger Climbing Gym


The aim is to work on generating power through plyometric exercises, so it’s important to rest enough in between attempts, whether on the campus board or with the limit bouldering. We find it works best if we set a timer, so we don’t get distracted but also to make sure we rest enough. As soon as you feel your power starting to diminish and you feel you’re using more strength, trying to “muscle-through” an exercise, it’s probably time to stop the training.

Campus training, as fun as it looks, does not translate to rock climbing as specifically as limit bouldering does. Also, because campus training is extremely high-intensity and stressful on the joints, the program we follow recommends to keep the ratio of bouldering to campus board as 5:1 (so for every 5 minutes of bouldering done, complete 1 minute of campusing). This is easy enough to do, as we spend almost 60 minutes of “warm-up” climbing before a campus session.

This past weekend we completed our first campus session and will follow this rough schedule for the next few weeks: