Shimmying up offwidths is grueling, physical punishment that can tax your entire body, and like the routes themselves, training is a completely different beast from running laps in the gym. Brad Jackson, a prominent Vedauwoo, Wyoming, offwidth climber and physical trainer at Summit Strength Training (summitstrengthtraining.com) in Fort Collins, Colorado, says, “All athletic movement starts at the hips and core; strong hips equal a strong athlete. Plus, shoulders are the most sophisticated joints in the body; they have a crazy-wide range of motion and need to be strong at any and all weird angles for the extreme movements required in offwidths.”
The key is training hard and smart—with a specific plan—so you can see real gains instead of just fatigue. Jackson suggests three four-week cycles (12 weeks total): “Go hard for three weeks, and de-load during the fourth week—this means going through the same motions, but concentrating on muscle endurance for all exercises.” (The exercises for strength vs. endurance will be the same, but the sets, reps, and weight will differ.) Each training day, do one strength exercise, and then fill in the rest of the session with three muscular endurance exercises for the opposite part of the body (pick from the list of recommended exercises at right, or add your own à la carte). For example, choose one upper-body exercise and do that as your strength movement, and then perform three lower-body endurance exercises that allow your upper body to recover. Add two days a week of cardio conditioning as well; one day should be challenging but short, and one should be long and slow. Sprints, jogging, rowing, cycling, and swimming are good choices for both, as you can change the intensity based on your goal. Weight train four days a week; two of those days should include cardio conditioning. Rest one full day per week, and on the other two days you can climb, rest, or some combination of both.
How to Train
Strength: 3 sets of 1 to 5 reps at heavy load (85% of max for all reps) for each exercise; rest at least 3 minutes between sets; add 2.5 to 5 lbs. each week.
Endurance: 3 sets of 12 (or more) reps for each exercise (about 50 to 65% of max); rest 30 seconds to 3 minutes between sets; each rep should be fluid—2 seconds up, 2 seconds down, with zero rest at the bottom and top; only add weight if you can complete each rep at this pace.
Upper body: Standing press, dips, pull-ups, bent-over row, closed-grip pull-ups, push press, bench press, offset pull-ups, one-arm press
Lower body: Deadlift, one-leg deadlift, back squat, Cossack squat, front squat, weighted lunges, weighted step-ups, kettlebell swings, Bulgarian split squat
Have a coach at your local climbing gym teach you proper form while training and help you safely figure out your max for each lift.
Warm up and cool down with 10 minutes of active stretching and/or a few minutes of jogging.
A training partner will help keep you accountable and motivated.
Take at least one full rest day a week.
Start with a weight that’s about 85 percent of your max for strength, so you can make great gains but still recover.
The more muscles used in each movement, the better, because climbing requires coordinated efforts from multiple body parts for every move. I.e., avoid exercises that isolate specific muscles, like bicep curls.
Most exercises can be done unilaterally (using one side of the body at a time), which more closely mimics actual climbing
Sample Workout Week Repeat for three weeks; the fourth week is the same movements, but all endurance.
Monday: Standing press (upper-body strength); deadlift, kettlebell swings, weighted step-ups (lower-body endurance)
Tuesday: Rest or go climbing
Wednesday: Back squat (lower-body strength); standing press, dips, push press (upper-body endurance)
Thursday: Rest or go climbing
Friday: Bench press (upper-body strength); one-leg deadlift, Cossack squat, weighted lunges (lower-body endurance)
Saturday: Rest or go climbing
Sunday: Deadlift (lower-body strength); standing press, bent-over row, close-grip pullups (upper-body endurance)
Even though Brad Jackson wouldn’t go near offwidths 25 years ago, he gradually warmed up to them, grabbing ascents of Trench Warfare (5.12d) in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, and Belly Full of Bad Berries (5.13-) in Indian Creek. He’s a strength and conditioning coach at Summit Strength Training where the mantra is, “If you’re not strong, you’re f***ing weak.”