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Pillar of Strength

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You’ve felt it countless times: the slow-burning, inevitable sensation that creeps up your forearms into your hands, affecting your grip and throwing you off the wall—the dreaded pump. In ice climbing, this affects the hold you have on your ice tools and your ability to swing for solid placements, and on vertical ice, that pump comes sooner rather than later.

Connie Sciolino, certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner and head coach at the Alpine Training Center in Boulder (, focuses on building stamina and strength in all kinds of athletes, including Sam Elias (below), who’s climbed multiple WI6 ice climbs and up to 5.14c. We asked Sciolino to share her top ice climbing exercises.

Dead hang on ice tools: Improve staying power in the forearms.

Place your ice tools on a sturdy surface, such as a hangboard or exposed beam, that can hold your body weight. Hold the grip on each tool, and hang as you would similar to a hangboard: arms slightly bent, shoulders relaxed and back. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, and repeat for five to six sets. Do this two to three times a week, but not on consecutive days. As this gets easier, gradually add five seconds to each set.

Variation: As the hang gets easier, add weight for more difficulty. Start with 10 to 15 pounds (weight belt, ankle weights, loaded backpack, etc.), and go back to your starting time of 10 to 15 seconds. Gradually progress with more time as needed.

Dead hang on tools with core workout: A stronger core means better performance.

Hang on your ice tools, same as in exercise 1. With arms slightly bent, pull your knees up to each elbow. Do six to eight reps over three to four sets, once per week. Keep the movement as static as possible; swinging will make the movements feel easier, but will not benefit you as much.


Variation: Squeeze a medicine ball between your feet, or use ankle weights.

Weighted step-ups: Boost power in your legs and stability in your core.

This exercise strengthens each leg individually— instead of as a unit, like when you do squats—building equal muscle on each leg; it also works core muscles because it requires balance and control. Select a bench or step that’s 14 to 18 inches tall. Load a pack with 15 to 25 pounds, and step up on the bench, alternating legs; start with three sets of 50 step-ups per leg, three times a week.

Variation: Do step-ups in 10-minute blocks (nonstop for 10 minutes), or aim for 250 step-ups (both legs), whichever comes first.

Dumbbell push press: Balance pulling exercises with pushing movements to prevent overuse and injury.

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a pair of dumbbells. Raise dumbbells to shoulder height with palms facing each other. Drop into a semi-squat, then explosively stand back up as you simultaneously press the weights above your shoulders. Lower (in a controlled manner) the dumbbells to the starting position and repeat. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps; start with 12 to 15 pounds. Do this exercise every time you do any pulling-specific workouts.

Dumbbell push press

Kettlebell swings: Develop lower-body power and increase grip strength.

Grip a kettlebell with both hands, feet shoulder- width apart. Sink back into a semi-squat with arms straight and kettlebell hanging, back slightly arched. Explode upward and swing the kettlebell forward and upward. Your legs, hips, and lower back muscles should be doing all the work; your arms should remain loose and straight. Squat as the kettlebell comes down—try to control the movement. Let the kettlebell swing between your legs, and repeat. Aim for 12 to 15 swings in 30 seconds; start with 26 to 35 kilograms. Do this once a week.

Kettlebell Swings

Variation: Perform kettlebell swings in conjunction with dead hangs: Do 30 seconds of dead hangs, and then 30 seconds of swings. Repeat for three sets each with no rest in between.

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