Sick of Your Training Regime? Climbing Gym Too Crowded? Then Try These Alternates.

You’re on your way to the gym all set for a rematch on his main wall project. Psyche levels peak as he beeps, keeps executing the moves in his head, and then disaster strikes. The lead wall is packed with people and there’s no way you’re going to climb it tonight. You need a plan B, but don’t despair: training switches are to the rescue!

There are countless times when we need to switch to alternative forms of training. It’s not just about busy nights at the gym, sometimes we’re on the road with limited access to the facilities. Other times, we simply need to freshen things up and avoid failing on the same set pieces in order to avoid plateaus and losing motivation. Part of the experience of learning and growing as a climber is being able to adapt pre-planned training routines to different facilities and make adjustments as you go. We could talk forever about training swaps: “this for that and that for this”, but we are going to cut to the chase and highlight the training swaps that are the most useful and beneficial. So if you’re interested in applying a more versatile and fluid approach to your training, let’s get down to business.


Hangboarding for bouldering

For most climbers, bouldering is the main form of strength training. This is because it is a lot of fun and involves real climbing, and also because it develops strength, technique and tactics simultaneously. But what about those nights when you don’t have the time or energy to hit the gym or when you arrive and the bouldering walls are packed? Then substitute hangboarding for bouldering. You can hangboard at home and it provides a great opportunity to work on your weaknesses. For example, most climbers are weaker in certain holds (slants, pockets, or curls), and if you’re prone to avoiding these holds when climbing, then you can focus on these hold types on the hangboard. And of course, if you’re on the go, you can hang that handy “portaboard” from a beam, a tree, or anywhere you can find to ensure your success. Fingerboarding is such a powerful training change that you should make the change regularly, and not because you have to.

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Ring push-ups (Photo: Mike Mills)


TRX suspension for weights

It’s easy to preset TRX suspension training from weights. You have a multi-gym at work and many gyms have free weights, or you have old free weights in the garage. He knows roughly how to use weights and they have always served him well enough for an occasional support session. But there is a small problem: you hate them. And no surprise. Weight training feels soulless compared to climbing, the benefits are limited and can have a negative effect if you use them too often or incorrectly. Sure, there are some climbers who need regular weight training, usually those with a very light build or uneven posture. But for most, weights will come into play more occasionally, perhaps to target a specific weakness, like biceps for pushups, shoulders for gaston presses, or chest strength for wide movements.

However, for most climbers looking for a tasty alternative to weights for their regular strength conditioning sessions, there’s no doubt that it exists: “suspension training” (also known as TRX). These rigs are a mutation of gymnastic rings, which you can place at different heights. With TRX suspension you can train virtually any muscle group and calibrate the resistance by simply lowering or raising the handles, or doing planks with your knees (to make them easier) or your toes (to make them harder). The crucial difference with suspension training is that you’ll train the chain of small stabilizer muscles and get a big hit to your core, which directly translates to climbing. In short, they help prevent injuries and make you a better climber. You can buy these kits cheaply and hang them anywhere, even anchoring them to a door if you can’t hang them. Better yet, they take up no more space than a pair of shoes in your bag, making them ideal for work trips, vacations, or long climbing trips, when you need to do some supportive training. This is not to say that suspension trainers are better than weights, just that they both offer different benefits and are worth switching from one to the other.

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Circuits for routes

The lead wall is a popular staple for resistance training and a session on the ropes will improve your skills such as clipping and potentially hone a stronger mindset (less fear of falling). But what happens when the lead wall is out of bounds or maybe you don’t have a security partner or just need an alternative? Then switch to the circuit board, a rock wall that allows you to climb for longer periods, following pre-set routes, usually in circular or figure-eight patterns. Circuit boards really allow you to push yourself to the limit while focusing on key techniques like precise footwork and fluid movement when desperately pumped. Circuit boards certainly allowed French competition to gain an advantage over the rest of the world in the 1990s until the rest of the world caught on. Now some bouldering gyms provide these dynamite facilities and some don’t, but with a bit of cleverness, you can apply the same methodology to any bouldering wall, as long as it’s not too difficult or crowded. Just go up a medium level rock, do a couple of traverse moves if you need to, then go down an easy rock, then back up the first rock and keep going until the bomb destroys you. There is great opportunity to apply different protocols to target specific power systems and as such circuits provide the perfect alternative and complement to leadership.

“Perfect pull-up workout”

Deadhang repeaters for routes

If you’re on the road, short on time, or can’t face the crowd at the gym, then a quick burst of “dead repeaters” on the fretboard will hit the spot. Simply use larger hand grips than you would for strength training and/or stand on a rope and pulley platform or use a resistance band to lose weight. Hang using a timing sequence (eg, 6 seconds on, 4 seconds off or 7 on, 3 off) for blocks of time (such as 1-6 minutes) and prepare your forearms for the finish. Half an hour is usually all that is needed, including a warm-up. There is no technical element, but this session will certainly test your mental toughness and amplify the physical aspects of training like nothing else.

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These examples are just a snapshot of the possibilities, and the take-home message is that it pays to apply the mindset of change to all aspects of your training to maximize the facilities or resources available to you.

All terrain and British trainer, Neil Gresham has climbed 8c+ (14c) and trad E11 (14a XX). He has written team training articles for Climbing magazine on a regular basis since 1997.

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