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  • Writer's pictureMatt Carter

Training for Climbing

When I first got into climbing 16 years ago, I spent every day I could training. I loved being able to study the sport and continuously send harder routes, but eventually I plateaued and my climbing wasn't getting any better. I was doing the same things over and over, becoming frustrated with a lack of progress. One day while guiding, I dislocated my shoulder and the surgery I had to have stopped me from climbing for five months. To keep myself motivated / distracted from going stir-crazy, I dove into books about training. I started learning about training and injury prevention techniques, and how important these are to climbing. As soon as I was able to take my sling off, I was back in the gym, but no longer focused on just climbing.

Since my shoulder injury five years ago, I've focused on mixed training routines that provide me with the strength to send routes that I couldn't have previously attempted, allowing me to continue setting new goals and becoming an overall stronger climber. Each year since, I've set new goals and with them a new training plan. This blog lays out the three components I find most important to developing a training plan.

1. Set an achievable goal

Fitness goals/resolutions are incredibly common, especially around New Years, but 80% of us don't achieve our goals, because we're tired, bored, too busy, or discouraged by a lack of immediate results that were based on an already unrealistic goal. Most of these goals "fail" because we didn't plan to achieve them. You can't just spend 10,000 hours on a climbing wall, you need to train with a SMART goal(s) and your overall fitness in mind. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).

  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).

  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).

  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).

  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

If you want to climb 5.14 routes, you'll need to climb 5.4s, 5.5s, 5.6s, 5.7s etc. until it's realistic and responsible to attempt this goal, and how long will that take you? You don't want to set an unachievable goal that will ultimately be discouraging -- think about what's realistic for you at this time, what you have time to train for, and what could actually be achieved by a specific date. Once you have your goal, decide when you want to achieve it and work backwards from there, setting micro-goals that are also attached to periods in time, keeping you accountable along the way.

2. Create a Plan & Track Your Progress

In order to ensure your goal is achieved, you need a plan of action. If your goal requires a new routine, you need to plan out when and how often you'll work on achieving this goal. Any basic training plan should take into consideration your:

Transitional period

You'll need to transition into a training plan -- doing too much too soon will lead to overtraining and potentially an injury. Gradually, you'll be adding more load to your plan, and I find the 10% rule helpful -- adding 10% more intensity or volume to your plan each week or every other week (ex. lifting 50 pounds one week, and increasing by five pounds the following week). With this in mind, you should first work on establishing your base or general fitness and adding on from there.

General fitness

If you don't have overall general fitness, you can't move onto sport-specific exercises to improve your climbing. Important elements of general fitness include your aerobic fitness, balance, flexibility, mobility and immobility. If you're unable to complete simple exercises, it'll be your basic fitness that you need to focus on first. Climbers lacking in general fitness will see major gains in establishing their base alone; but after establishing an adequate general fitness, you won't see many gains without sport-specific training.

Sport-specific training

Sport-specific training for climbing is made up of exercises that mimic climbing. A bicep curl, even if strengthening the arms, won't aid in your climbing because it doesn't actually mimic a climbing movement, whereas a pull-up does. Executing exercises that follow the same movements in climbing will have you see significant improvements. Hangboarding that works specific grip strengths and inverted TRX rows are both great examples of sport-specific training for climbing.

Continuity and Adaptation

Once you're training, you need to make sure you don't stop training. Continuity is key to any training plan. Depending on your goal, you likely won't achieve it by working out just once or twice; you'll need to continue training and pushing your body through new activities. But keep in mind that your body adapts to an exercise within 3-6 weeks, at which point your progress stagnates. You'll need to change up your routine every few weeks by altering your workout or progressing to a new exercise (ex. starting with assisted pull-ups then bodyweight pull-ups and then weighted pull-ups).


To keep your plan interesting and effective, you'll want to break it up into periods. In the first training period, you can focus on improving your stamina with aerobic activities that will help you climb for longer periods of time. Then you can have a period of training that focuses on maximizing your strength, with exercises like hangboarding and pull-ups. Next, you can have a training period that improves your anaerobic endurance, so that you can climb high intensity moves over a sustained duration, this often involves intervals of hard climbs with short rest periods in between. All of these periods combined set you up to achieve your climbing goal.

But in order to ensure you stick to this plan, you'll need to track your progress. Tracking your progress, either in a journal or exercise app holds you accountable to your goal. Everyone has off-days, but you don't want to let those off-days turn into weeks or months, tracking your progress can help keep you motivated and help you progress in a balanced and calculated way.

3. Be Kind to Yourself

The third component of every training plan should be treating yourself well, both mentally and physically. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a session, just pick up where you left off and work on staying motivated for the days ahead. Conversely, don't over train to the point where your body can't recover in time for its next workout, you don't want to be in a constant state of fatigue when you're training. You need to focus on specific improvements that can help get you closer to your specific goal.

And while obvious, it must also be stated that what you put into your body will have an impact on your training -- food is fuel and ensuring that you eat healthy, and don't overindulge in things like sugar or alcohol, is a critical part of any training plan. For more information on recovery, you can visit my Recovery 101 blog.

If you'd like to develop a training plan for your climbing goal(s), send me an email at

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