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Training On the Go: Here’s Your Holiday Workout

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Long holidays, extended business trips, bad weather, with nothing to do apart from slouch around and pile on the pounds. It’s a familiar dilemma. Many rock climbers struggle to know what to do during downtime, especially on vacations when they’re away from their usual training facilities or shut down by storms. Sometimes there’s no point in trying to maintain peak fitness and you might as well enjoy yourself and play catch-up later—especially if you were due some rest anyway. But sometimes an enforced break will sabotage your momentum, and you do need to improvise in order to keep the ball rolling.

Here’s what to do:

Make a Portable Hangboard

This is a three-hour job that will make a ton of difference for your climbing, especially if you spend a lot of time on the move and away from decent climbing gyms. A porta-board is no more hassle to lug around than a laptop and should fit easily into hand luggage. All you need is a small piece of 3⁄4-inch plywood, approximately 20 inches x 6 inches, and a campus rung. Order a rung or make one yourself from a wood dowel or a strip of pine. Intermediates (5.10 to 5.12) should use a 1-inch rung. Advanced (5.12 and up) use a 3/4–inch rung. Beginners shouldn’t train on a hangboard.

Simply screw or glue the rung to the base of the board and drill holes in the top corners so you can thread 5mm cord loops to secure the board in place. I’ve tied my rig to the pull-up bars in gyms, swing-sets in children’s playgrounds, wooden beams at hotels, trees and so on. Drill holes in the bottom corners of the board to attach cords or bungee loops to use for assisted training (i.e. off weighting with a hand or foot).

Keep in mind that you’re much better off training this way than settling for the easy option of going for a run or using weights. Building finger strength is the priority for climbing and a hangboard can deliver it as effectively as any bouldering session. In fact, using a porta-board can be a really positive step for your climbing. Back home, we all tend to favor climbing over hangboard training, so a portable board will provide you with an opportunity for some dedicated, measured training.

Hangboard Strength-Training Routine

Here is a standard hangboard session for intermediate climbers. Elites may choose to add extra sets and exercises. Beginners are not advised to use hangboards.

Take two minutes rest between all sets.

  1. Warm-up
  2. 3 x 10 Burpees
  3. Assisted fingertip pull-ups: (e.g. with foot on chair) – 8 reps x 2 sets
  4. Fingertip pull-ups (unassisted): warm-up set (not to failure, e.g., 70 percent capability) x 2 sets
  5. Fingertip pull-ups: [ TO FAILURE X 2 SETS ]
  6. Deadhang: half crimp – one-arm – assisted [ 2 SETS TO FAILURE ] each arm – with free hand pinching a hanging rope/cord for assistance – calibrate to hit failure between 5 and 8 seconds
  7. Deadhang: half crimp – 2 arms [ 2 SETS TO FAILURE ] – calibrate to hit failure between 5 and 8 seconds, e.g. remove little fingers, use smaller hold or add weight
  8. Deadhang: open/hang grip – 2 arms [ 2 SETS TO FAILURE ] – calibrate as above
  9. Deadhang: fingers – half crimp – 2 arms – assisted [ 2 SETS TO FAILURE ] calibrate as above. Use foot on a chair for assistance.
  10. One-arm alternating lock offs on jug: [ 2 SETS ] Lock off on one arm at 90 degrees, hold until just before failure and then switch to the other arm without touching the ground. Repeat until total failure. Use a foot on a chair for assistance if necessary.
  11. Front lever: [ 4 ATTEMPTS TO FAILURE ] Calibrate as required (e.g., bend one or both legs to make it easier). Aim to hold the position for 4 to 8 seconds.

Hangboard Endurance-Training Routine

There are many different options here, but the classic “quick-hit” workout is to perform sets of fingertip pull-ups with a fixed-rest interval. You’ll need to determine the exact number of reps and rest time yourself, but a good generic formula is to do each set “on the minute.” In other words, rest one minute between sets. A rule of thumb is for intermediates to do 5 or 6 pull ups, advanced to do 8 to 10 and elites to do 12 to 14. Do 5 or 6 sets continuously, with 5 or 6 minutes rest between each block, and aim to complete between 3 and 6 blocks total. You can follow this up by doing the same thing with straight-leg raises hanging from a bar to train power endurance for your core muscles.

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