Training: The Pre-Approach Approach

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Outside magazine, April 1996

Training: The Pre-Approach Approach
By Jim Rosenthal

To become a better climber, get out and climb: The sport is so specific that it’s difficult to simulate with weights. So for pre- and midseason training, hit the rock gym at least three times a week. “But you can’t just diddle around,” says The North Face Climbing Team’s Lisa Gnade. “You need a specific plan of attack.” Here’s hers.

Strength. Alternate between low-repetition/high-difficulty sessions and sessions in which you increase the reps and ease up on the difficulty. For the former, use a rough “ladder” of eight holds–four for each hand, about shoulder-width apart with an arm’s reach between “rungs.” Grasp the first hold with one hand, pull yourself up, and then grab
the opposite hold with your other hand to complete the pull-up, trying to use your legs as little as possible. Repeat with the next rung, until you can’t pull yourself up anymore. (If you find that you can do more than four rungs before your arms give out, move to a set of holds that requires a longer stretch.) On high-rep days, use a more tightly spaced ladder that will allow you
to complete between four and eight holds with each arm.

Flexibility. For your back, neck, and shoulders, sit on the floor with your right leg straight out in front of you and place your left foot to the right of your right knee. Brace your right elbow on the far side of your left knee and twist your whole body–“even your eyes,” says Gnade–as far to the left as you can manage. Hold for 30 seconds, and
then do the same thing on the other side. For your hands, push your fingers back toward the wrist until you feel strain in the muscles and tendons, and then manipulate each finger individually, holding for 20 seconds before releasing.

Endurance. “Aerobic cross-training provides a valuable base of fitness,” says Gnade, “but it’s important to work on the muscle endurance specific to climbing.” Start every workout by climbing continuously for at least 20 minutes, eventually working up to 40 minutes per session.

Balance. Get up on the wall, either belayed or a couple of feet off the floor, and start by letting go with just one hand or foot at a time. Play with body positions until you feel relaxed, and then try only two points of contact. When you feel comfortable, move to a new position and repeat.

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