Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

10 Pro Training Tips That Can Help Anyone Improve

At a glance, you’d think that these guys and girls might climb on a different planet than you do, yet a closer inspection may surprise you.


Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

Intro Offer
$2.49 / month*

Get the one subscription to fuel all your adventures.


  • Map your next adventure with our premium GPS apps: Gaia GPS Premium and Trailforks Pro.
  • Read unlimited digital content from 15+ brands, including Outside Magazine, Triathlete, Ski, Trail Runner, and VeloNews.
  • Watch 600+ hours of endurance challenges, cycling and skiing action, and travel documentaries.
  • Learn from the pros with expert-led online courses.
Join Outside+


*Outside memberships are billed annually. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

You’re a sport climber or boulderer operating in the strong middle grades. You have no desire to compete and simply want to send cool projects and go on cool climbing trips. You have familiar, set-piece training routines, yet things may have stagnated. If you’re seeking fresh ideas and inspiration to help bust you out of a plateau … look no further than the approach of an Olympic-team climber!

At a glance, you’d think that these guys and girls might climb on a different planet than you do, yet a closer inspection may surprise you. The exercises and drills they use are relevant to others for transforming performance and enhancing your enjoyment of regular crag and gym climbing.

Training and planning

1. Build to a peak.

Most climbers want to be on good form year-round, yet the Olympic climber sacrifices performance at certain times in order to be at peak performance for the competition season. This approach applies if you want to climb your very best on a particular trip or send a project. Start by taking some time out (eg 1 – 2 weeks), and then slowly and progressively escalate your training volume and intensity (over a period of, say, 4 – 12 weeks). Finally, come off the gas and allow some extra recovery, to reach a peak just before that planned trip or big send.

2. Phase your training.

There are a multitude of approaches for adding structure to your training, but a classic formula adopted by many Olympic teams is to split your overall plan into themed phases, such as: strength, strength endurance, speed and skills, aerobic endurance, and so on. Each phase follows the theme, although you still maintain other aspects by training them to a lesser degree. For example, if you want to focus on strength, make that 60 percent, then 20 percent on speed, and 20 percent on endurance. A popular strategy also used by Olympic climbers is to follow certain themes for longer phases such as 4-6 weeks, a strategy known as linear periodization, during the off-season; and for shorter phases or non-linear periodization, for something like 1-3 weeks during the performance season.

3. Rotate your training.

An Olympic climber juggles an enormous list of performance variables. If you try to work on everything at once, things get diluted, and you risk mental and physical burnout. Yet if you work on things individually, you may never tick off the list! A great system is to focus on, say, three things per session. For example, start with strength-based boulder problems, move onto slabs to give your arms a rest, and finish with some power-endurance laps on the circuit board. Athletes like Adam Ondra will usually do things this way.

4. Build supportive strength.

If you hit the hangboards and campus boards hard and regularly without doing much in the way of supportive strength conditioning, injury will probably strike before long. The Olympic climber is meticulous when it comes to supportive routines, which train the antagonist (opposition) muscles to help prevent injury. For most of us, the key is to change the way you see this type of training and to regard it as fun rather than a chore. Not only will supportive training make you climb harder in the long run, you will generally feel more robust and athletic as a climber. Watch climbers like Alex Megos in action and you’ll see what I mean!

5. Fix up your diet.

Thankfully, you don’t need to eat as strictly as an Olympic athlete, but you can certainly take inspiration from that approach. There’s so much mental, physical and emotional value in ditching the sugary snacks and junk calories and putting quality fuel in the machine. You can even take things to the next level by synching your nutrition with your training. This doesn’t have to be a big deal: Simply take more protein when training strength and more carbs to fuel endurance sessions.

Nutrition plans should always be personalized, meaning that you should experiment and learn from your own feedback, and adapt generic plans so that they work better for you. In the case of allergies and intolerances, consult a sports nutritionist or dietitian. Go on, do it now. You know it makes sense!

Julia Chanourdie (FRA) training on a sport route.
Julia Chanourdie (FRA) training. The exercises and drills top climbers use are relevant to others for transforming performance and enhancing enjoyment of crag and gym climbing. (Photo: Jan Novak)

Technique

1. Speed up!

You’re not aiming for the world speed record, so why train speed? Answer: In countless situations in sport climbing and bouldering, like dealing with hard, sustained crux sections, it pays to be able to climb more dynamically and turn the pace up. Older climbers, not to mention trad climbers, are prone to slowing down, so try picking up the pace at the gym. Use timed foot-on campus intervals, or time yourself on the circuit board (be sure to maintain proper form). Add dynamic exercises such as burpees, plyometric box jumps, and so on to your warm-up routine, and next time you go out on your regular aerobic plod, throw in some intervals and make like a sprinter.

2. Get coordinated!

Many climbers question whether they need to be good at coordination-style problems. Commonly encountered in competitions, these require momentum between large sloping holds. You certainly don’t need to be as good as French Olympic hopefulls Mickael and Bassa Mawen, as it is rare to encounter these kinds of extreme, stylized movements on rock; yet we may find minor variations, and often the best way to avoid using a bad hold is to get to the next one as quickly as possible!A small amount of practice can sharpen up our nervous systems and teach us to move more fluidly, but above all, practicing on coordination problems can teach us to surrender the high levels of control that we instinctively build into most moves. The gym is the best place to practice, so free your mind and let go!

3. Think outside the box.

Olympic climbers draw influence from a wide and eclectic range of sources, from ballet to contemporary dance, martial arts, gymnastics, parkour, callanetics (deep-muscle exercises) and so on—anything to add diversity to their training in search of that extra edge. Investigation into other disciplines can bring about a change of perspective or even a “Eureka” moment, as well as generally being fun! You won’t have time to try everything, so why not pick the thing that sounds most appealing? I took up ballet recently and have been amazed by how it has improved my flexibility and coordination. Adam Ondra has worked with a ballet coach as well.

Mickael Mawem lasers in during the final of Tout a Blocs 2020.
Focus on the task and not the outcome. Mickael Mawem lasers in during the final of Tout a Blocs 2020. He and his brother Bassa represented France at the Olympics. (Photo: Jan Novak)

Mindset 

1. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Top Olympic competitors don’t hope to win, they expect to win. They don’t actually believe that they can fail at a task, and that is because they’ve practiced it so many times. You may think you’ve got your project or a particular climbing skill dialed, but an Olympian develops supreme levels of self-confidence by drilling endlessly. Don’t be complacent. Practice the specific move or moves you are training for (whether to address a weakness or make progress on a project), then do it again—and again just to make sure! And when you’ve finished practicing the move at the gym, rehearse it in your head on rest days, and when walking to the grocery store, washing the dishes, and lying in bed.

2. Treat the performance environment like the training environment.

You may not be planning to step out in front of huge crowds and be seen on TV by millions, yet launching onto your redpoint project or a big onsight at the crag or gym can still be daunting. We know how max-level climbing performances are won or lost over our ability to stay calm and focused, so the burning question is: How do the Olympians hold it together? The answer is to trick yourself into believing that the performance environment is no different from normal training at the gym.

Easier said than done, but as Janja Garnbret has said, you do it by focusing on the task at hand and not on the outcome. Stay in the present moment, and concentrate on what you’re doing right now, which is executing your skills to the best of your ability. That advice benefits every one of us.

This article originally appeared in GymClimber 10.

Neil Gresham of the UK, a climbing coach, has been at the cutting edge of climbing for over two decades. See www.neilgresham.com