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When it comes to training, rock climbers have it easy. Look online for countless articles on different ways to get stronger, and then work hard in the gym (and there seems to be a new one popping up on every corner) to get better on the rock. (See our favorite workouts at climbing.com/skill/training.) But ice and mixed climbers don’t get the same benefit from pulling on plastic, and training resources are harder to find. With an upcoming mixed-climbing showcase in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, we reached out to participant Aaron Montgomery and his trainers at the Alpine Training Center in Boulder, Colorado, to figure out their plan of attack. The following program will get you plenty of mileage on your gear, build unique fitness, and increase trust in your tools. Most of these exercises can be done at the rock gym (ask if there is an area approved for ice tools), on homemade woodies, or even using a secured ladder.
***Mixed climbing will debut in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but athletes like Montgomery won’t be competing for medals. Organizers are calling it a “cultural event,” an opportunity for athletes to wow crowds with their skills. The main goal is to present the possibility for people to discover and practice ice and mixed climbing with the support of top climbers. There will be 80 athletes, with six from North America. For more information, check out theuiaa.org.
You’ll work in two blocks of four to six weeks each. Both sections include two to three tool-specific sessions (plus a few days of cardio) a week, and the second includes less focused, endurance-building climbing with tools. Block 1 should be considered pre-season training that focuses on building a core foundation and grip endurance. Montgomery says the first block is especially important for developing body control and being able to hold on for bigger and better movements. The second block sharpens your skill set with climbing-specific training, which is a big piece of the ice puzzle for those who are already rock climbers. Montgomery says it’s all about technique—with your feet and with tool management. Improve these, and you’ll improve as an ice and mixed climber.
Do the following exercises two to three times per week, along with three or four days of aerobic activity (hiking, running, rowing, etc.). One cardio session should be high intensity (challenging enough to where you can’t maintain it for prolonged periods) or intervals; one moderate (working hard but can maintain for 40 to 45 minutes); and one long and slow (lasting 60 to 90 minutes or more)—preferably with a pack. The optional fourth day of cardio should be moderate to high intensity. A sample week might look like this:
Sunday: Block 1 exercises; two-hour hike with pack (long and slow cardio) Monday: 35 minutes of hill sprints (intervals/high-intensity cardio) Tuesday: Rest day Wednesday: Block 1 exercises Thursday: One-hour bike ride, keeping heart rate at 65% max (moderate cardio) Friday: Block 1 exercises; one-hour job (moderate cardio) Saturday: Rest day
Dead Hangs Hook tools high on a secure surface, like a hangboard or pull-up bar. Hold each tool and hang with shoulders engaged (think of squeezing shoulder blades together) and arms slightly bent at the elbow. Hang for 10 seconds and then rest 10 seconds; do 10 rounds for one set. Do three sets total with a few minutes of rest between each. Add five to 10 seconds to each hang every week.
Weighted Sit-Ups Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor in a standard sit-up position. Hold a weighted plate above your head with both arms straight. Pick a weight that feels challenging but doable. Engage abs and sit up, keeping the weight directly above, moving your head to between your arms. Roll back down slowly until your spine is flat on the floor. Complete 30 reps.
Overhead Weighted Lunges Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bent, holding a weighted plate above your head—again picking a weight that is challenging but doable. Step forward into a low lunge. Make sure your lunging knee doesn’t extend beyond your toes, your arms don’t bend, and your chest is open and level. Complete 15 reps on each leg for four to five sets, resting a few minutes between each set.
Tool Pull-Ups Start with a max pull-up test: Do as many pull-ups as you can on tools without stopping—this is your max. For week one, do 80 percent of your max for four rounds, resting one to two minutes between each round. Each week, add one more pull-up to the set.
Once you’ve built your core strength, grip, and endurance, it’s time to incorporate more tool-specific exercises to improve power and performance on the ice. Add the following movements to the previous block’s exercises, so you’re doing all of them two to three days per week. Decrease aerobic days to one high-intensity session and one long and slow session with a pack. Lastly, add one to two days of climbing with tools, a few hours at a time, to build endurance, either outside or at a gym that allows dry-tooling. A sample week:
Sunday: Three-hour hike with heavy pack (long and slow cardio) Monday: Block 1 and Block 2 exercises Tuesday: Rest day Wednesday: Two hours of climbing with tools in the gym Thursday: Block 1 and Block 2 exercises Friday: 45 minutes of hill sprints (intervals/high-intensity cardio) Saturday: Four hours of climbing outside on mixed terrain
Tool Lunges Start low on a vertical wall in a neutral position, hooking your left tool on a hold. Hang from it in a rest position with left arm straight, legs bent, and right arm free. Pushing with your right leg and using the left arm to pull your body into the wall, lunge your right arm high and hook a hold for one second, and then return to rest. Complete five to 10 reps, and then switch arms and repeat. “This creates the explosiveness to move high, but it also helps if you miss a hold. You can come back down and recover,” Montgomery says. ➔ Make it more challenging: As the movement becomes easier, try lunging on overhangs. Or add a weighted kettlebell to the lunging arm by clipping it to the tool handle.
Leg Lifts Building on the grip strength and endurance from dead hangs, hang from tools (or suspended handles; see “Build Your Own Training Tools” below) with arms slightly bent. While hanging, bend knees in a resting position. With knees still bent, raise legs, bringing knees to your left elbow. Keep body static and core engaged—no swinging. Return to resting position, and then raise knees to the right elbow. Return to resting, and then raise to center, near your chest. Complete up to 10 rounds for three sets, with a few minutes of rest between each set. ➔ Make it more challenging: Instead of knees to elbows, complete the same exercise but keep your legs straight and raise your ankles above your head to the left, right, and center.
Tool Rows Hang from tools (or handles), keeping elbows and body straight, with feet up on a milk crate. Your body should be parallel to the floor and arms perpendicular to your body. Pull down and in with one arm while reaching up and across your body with the other arm, using your core to keep you balanced. Alternate sides. Figure out your max (like with tool pull-ups), and do 80 percent of your max for four rounds. Add reps over the block of training.
Hanging Moves Suspend four tool handles from quickdraws so they can be clipped to bolts. Engage your core and raise your legs (knees bent for easier, straight for more difficult), and then swing your body to move from handle to handle. Start by moving for 15 seconds at a time, several times a session. Add five seconds of hang time per round as you build endurance. ➔ Make it more challenging: Do a pull-up between each move from handle to handle.
Build Your Own Training Tools
To prevent tearing up holds at the gym or dulling his picks, Montgomery makes suspended tool handles that can hang from draws. He uses the Cassin X-Dream tools ($280 each, camp-usa.com), which have removable handles (easily detach by unscrewing one bolt). Run a 3/16-inch stainless steel anchor (about $16 for six, available at most hardware stores), and use it to connect a carabiner and sling. A cheaper alternative to pricey ice-tool handles is to use a sanded wooden handle (pictured at left) or a metal pipe. Drill a hole through the top for the same biner-sling setup, but make sure to wrap them with tape to keep your digits splinter- and flapper-free.
Aaron Montgomery: As one of three U.S. athletes chosen to demonstrate mixed climbing at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, Montgomery stood out because of his accomplishments (e.g., participation in two World Cups and sending the massive Usine Cave in France) and his proven dedication as an ambassador for the sport.