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Sick of Your Training Regime? Climbing Gym Crowded? Try These Alternates.

Training can get boring, or you're on the road and don't have access to your usual workout. These exercises can keep you fresh and you can do them just about anywhere.

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You’re on your way to the gym, all set for a rematch on your project on the leading wall. Psyche levels are peaking as you bleep your pass, still running through the moves in your head and then disaster strikes. The lead wall is choked with people and there’s no way you’re going to be getting on it tonight. You need a plan B but don’t despair— it’s Training Switches to the rescue!

There are countless times when we need to switch to alternative forms of training. It’s not just about busy nights at the gym, sometimes we’re away on the road with limited access to facilities. Other times, we simply need to freshen things up and avoid defaulting to the same set-pieces in the interest to prevent plateaus and losing motivation. Part of the experience of learning and growing as a climber is being able to adapt pre-planned training routines to different facilities and to make the adjustments on-the-fly. We could talk forever about training swap-outs: “this for that and that for this,” but we’re going to cut to the chase and highlight the training switches that are the most useful and beneficial. So, if you’re keen to apply a more versatile and fluid approach to your training, let’s get down to it.


Hangboarding for bouldering

For most climbers, bouldering is the main form of strength training. This is because it’s such fun and involves actual climbing, and also because it develops strength, technique and tactics simultaneously. But what about those nights when you don’t have time or energy to go to the gym or when you get there and the bouldering walls are packed? Then, substitute hangboarding for bouldering. You can hangboard at home and it provides a great opportunity to work your weaknesses. For example, most climbers are weaker on certain holds (slopers, pockets, or crimps), and if you’re prone to avoiding these holds when you climb, then you can focus on these grip types on the hangboard. And, of course, if you’re away on the road, you can string up that oh-so-useful “portaboard” from a convenient beam, tree, or wherever you can find to make sure you get your hit. Fingerboarding is such a potent training switch that you should make the change regularly, and not because you’re forced to.

Push-ups on Rings (Photo: Mike Mills)


TRX Suspension for weights

It’s easy to default to TRX suspension training from weights. You have a multi-gym at work, and many climbing gyms have weights, or you have old weights lying around in the garage. You know roughly how to use weights and they’ve always served you well-enough for the occasional supportive session. But there’s one slight problem—you hate them. And no surprise. Weight training feels soul-less compared to climbing, the benefits are limited, and they can have a negative affect if you use them too frequently or incorrectly. Sure, there are some climbers who need regular weight-training—usually those with a very light build or a postural irregularity. But for most, weights will come into play more occasionally, perhaps to target a specific weakness such as the biceps for underculings, shoulders for gaston-presses, or chest strength for wide moves.

However, for most climbers who are looking for a tasty alternative to weights for their regular strength conditioning sessions, there’s no doubt that it exists: “Suspension training” (aka: TRX). These rigs are a mutation of gymnastic rings, which you dan set at different heights. With TRX suspension you can train virtually any muscle group and calibrate the resistance simply by lowering or raising the handles, or doing the plank-based exercises on your knees (to make them easier) or your toes (make them harder). The crucial difference with suspension training is that you will train the chain of small stabilizing muscles and you’ll get a huge hit for your core, both which translate directly to climbing. In short, they assist with injury prevention and make you a better climber. You can purchase these rigs cheaply and hang them anywhere, even anchoring them in a doorway if you can’t suspend them. Better still, they take up no more space than a pair of shoes in your bag, so they’re ideal to take on work trips, holidays, or on long climbing trips, when you need to do some supportive training. This is not to say that suspension trainers are hands-down better than weights, just that both offer different benefits and it pays to switch from one to the other.


Circuits for routes

The lead wall is a popular staple for endurance training and a session on the ropes will improve your skills such as clipping, and potentially, to hone a stronger mind-set (become less scared of falling). But what happens when the lead wall is off-limits or perhaps, you don’t have a belay partner or simply need an alternative? Then, switch to the circuit board, a bouldering wall that allows you to climb around for longer durations, following pre-set routes, usually in circular or figure-eight patterns. Circuit boards really let you push yourself to the limit while focusing on key techniques such as accurate footwork and fluid movement when you are desperately pumped. No doubt, circuit boards allowed the French competition to gain an advantage over the rest of the world in the 1990s until the rest of the world caught on. Now, some boulder gyms provide these dynamite facilities and others don’t, but with a bit of cunning, you can apply the same methodology to any bouldering wall, provided it’s not too difficult or busy. Simply climb up a mid-level boulder problem, make a couple of traversing moves if necessary, then climb down an easy boulder, then back up the first boulder and keep going until the pump destroys you. There is huge opportunity to apply different protocols to target specific energy systems and as such, circuits provide the perfect alternate and compliment to leading.

“Training Perfect Pullups”

Deadhang repeaters for routes

If you’re out on the road, short on time or can’t face battling the crowds at the gym then a quick blast of “deadhang repeaters” on the fingerboard will hit the spot. Simply use larger grips than you’d use for strength training and/or stand in a rope-and-pulley-rig or use a resistance band to off weight you. Hang using a timing sequence (e.g. 6-secs-on-4-secs-off or 7-on-3-off) for blocks of time (such as 1 to 6 mins.), and prepare your forearms for termination. Half an hour is usually all it takes, including a warm-up. There’s no technique element but this session will certainly test your mental fortitude and it amplifies the physical aspects of the training like nothing else.

These examples are just a snapshot of the possibilities, and the take-home is that it pays to apply the switching mentality to all aspects of your training to maximize whatever facilities or ack of are at your fingertips.

British all-rounder and coach, Neil Gresham has climbed 8c+ (14c) and trad E11 (14a XX). He’s written training articles for the Climbing magazine team periodically since 1997.

He offers personalised training plans at