How to Not Train for Climbing

Follow these five simple, experience-driven not-training tips and in just six weeks you will be no better of a climber than you are today—and possibly worse.

Photo: Claire Eckstrom

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Forearms so vascular they attract sharks. Back muscles so ripped you could map them topographically. Fingers so strong they could crush stone like wet spaghetti. In my seven years as a rock climber, I have not achieved any of these things. Follow my five simple, experience-driven not-training tips below, and I promise that in just six weeks you will be no better of a climber than you are today—and possibly worse.

1. Buy Books

Sure, you could follow a simple resistance-training program for reliable gains like 99 percent of athletes do in other sports, but you’re a rock climber. That’s not how we do. Some experts would suggest you read a climbing-training book and then design a plan based on that book. I’m here to tell you that you can get the same satisfaction with none of the results by just buying books.

Eric Horst’s Training for Climbing is a great place to start. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, listen to the Training Beta podcast. Hear the Anderson brothers explain their research-driven approach. Take Training for Climbing out of the Amazon box and put it directly on the shelf. Order The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Ah, better: This is clearly the only training book you’ll ever need. Though that Steve Bechtel guy has some interesting ideas. Hmm, OK: Anderson bros out, Bechtel’s Strength: Foundational Training for Rock Climbing in. Or maybe Training for the New Alpinism is what you need. Or How to Climb 5.12. Or The Self-Coached Climber.

I’ll let you in on a secret: It doesn’t matter which books you buy, as long as you don’t read them.

2. Change Programs Frequently

Having not read up on all the latest training lore, it’s now time to scrape together a plan based on what is probably in those books. Dumbbell rows. Planks. Hangboard repeaters at 9 seconds on, 2.27 seconds off. Go at it with enthusiasm for a week, and then start doubting yourself. You’ve planked twice, and you’re still slipping off jugs. There are probably better exercises. Start over. Squats. Deadlifts. Max-weight deadhangs. Hit the iron hard until you read an Internet forum on which a bunch of teenagers agree that climbing is the best way to train for climbing. Barbells out. Bouldering 4x4s in. Waffle early and often. The trick to not training is to never stick with any one exercise long enough for your body to adapt.

[Also Try Not Following this 6-weeks to Stronger Fingers Course, by Jonathan Siegrist]

3. Join a High-Intensity Workout Program*

It turns out designing and executing a training plan is hard. And boring. It’s easier to pay someone to tell you what to do. You’ve made fun of high-intensity training in the past, but people like it—even some normal people, though their pullups are suspicious. Eh, you might as well give it a shot.

Holy shit, that’s hard!

You’ll have to skip climbing tonight, but your new regimen is going to get you in shape fast. You should probably skip climbing tomorrow, too. You’re going to be sore. And then it’ll be time to train again. Lose interest in climbing and go all out at the box. Set a record for flipping a truck tire over the most times before projectile-vomiting. Celebrate with burpees and a trip to the ER for rhabdomyolysis-induced kidney failure.

*You can achieve similar results by running ultramarathons.

4. Get Hurt

It’s good to have you back in the climbing gym—you went off the rails there for a bit. To make up for lost time, go all in on the hangboard. One session per day, no rest days ever. Before the end of the first week, your ring finger will become achy, stiff, and tender to the touch. These are warning signs. Ignore them. Keep hangboarding until your A2 pulley explodes like a gunshot, prompting everyone in the gym to duck behind cover. Finger permanently damaged, spend the next two years doing nothing, afraid that you’ll reinjure yourself if you go near a rock.

5. Repeat

If you’ve followed the above steps correctly, you shouldn’t be fitter than ever; you should be weaker, poorer, and older. Repeat the routine for as long as you’d like to be stuck at 5.10, which you might as well, because climbing above that grade is impossible. Trust me. I’ve tried everything short of committing and sticking to a training plan.

Also Read:

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.