The Covid-19 outbreak has caused climbing gyms across the country to temporarily close their doors. This has left climbers everywhere wondering how they can balance being socially responsible with their motivation to keep climbing and training. The best answer from a social distancing perspective is obviously to train from home. For those of you with home walls or quality home training areas, this may not prove to be much of a change. For those of you, however, that have limited home equipment, this presents a bigger challenge.
Obviously, in the midst of a pandemic, there are bigger concerns out there other than climbing and training, but we know you’re motivated. What follows are some ways to think about training during these challenging times and some sample sessions to give you some ideas. Hopefully, this helps keep you motivated, strong, and ready to get back to crushing once it’s safe and responsible to do so.
Abandon the Idea of “Perfect”
Saying that the coronavirus is far from a perfect situation is pretty much the understatement of the century. That said, it has some important implications for how we should think about our training during this period. If you don’t have a dream home wall and training setup, you’re not going to have access to all the climbing terrain or training equipment that you want. This means you’re going to have to make compromises and the plan you come up with probably isn’t going to be “perfect.”
So instead of lamenting that you can’t follow your ideal training plan, remember that something is better than nothing. Make the best of the situation. Use what you have available. Be creative and be consistent. If you can do those things you’ll bridge the gap between being able to climb and train in your ideal setting and come out of this challenging period in a much better place than you would if you simply did nothing.
I know this sounds like common sense, but I think it’s an important point to spell out from a motivational perspective. Even in more normal times, I talk to climbers all the time who end up never training because they don’t know what the “perfect” training plan for them is. The irony here is that this desire to be on the best possible plan prevents them from doing the very things that would help them improve in the first place. We might not have all the choices we are accustomed to right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can get high quality training done if we don’t prevent ourselves from starting in the first place.
Climbing Training Ideas for Covid-19
What follows are some ideas and sessions for training at home. It’s always tricky giving specific sessions or blanket advice. Ideally, training is specific to the individual, their goals, and training history. Obviously, these example sessions aren’t going to be perfect or appropriate for everyone. But remember, we are abandoning the idea of “perfect” anyway. Pay more attention to the concepts here and don’t be afraid to modify the sessions so that they are the right intensity for you or so that they are more specific to your individual goals.
In general, the things I think you should focus on at home are the following, and I’ll go through each in detail:
- General Strength Training
- Circuits and Complexes
- Bodyweight, TRX, & Ring Exercises
The hangboard is the low hanging fruit here. Finger strength is important for climbing. We all know this and it’s probably why you’ve spent the money on a hangboard in the past. Equally likely, however, is that you either left that hangboard in the box or mounted it just to let it collect dust. Let’s face it: hangboarding isn’t very fun and it can be hard to commit to when you have a big commercial climbing gym full of new boulder problems to session. With that off the table for right now, see being stuck at home as a great time to invest in building finger strength.
How exactly should you go about it? Remember, this is going to be different for everyone, but here are some general concepts to keep in mind:
Continue your current program if possible.
This one should be pretty self-explanatory, but if you are already following some kind of structured finger training, stick with it. No need to jump to something new just for the sake of it. Stay the course and keep seeing progress.
Don’t increase the volume to “make up” for not climbing.
Not being able to actually climb can make us feel like we need to do more. The goal is to get strong, not to get hurt. Trying to make up all your normal climbing volume on the hangboard is a great way to hurt a finger and/or develop elbow or shoulder issues. Again, everyone is different, but 2-3 sessions a week is a safe place to be.
If you’ve never hangboarded before, start slow. A little bit goes a long way.
For many of you, this may be the first time you’ve ever tried to use a hangboard in a systematic way. Start slow and make sure you are listening to your body and not just blindly following a program. Make sure you warm up well and keep the sessions short. It may not feel like you are doing very much and that’s ok. You can always increase the volume or intensity of your training as you progress.
Before we get to the sample session, it’s important to note that many of you might not own a hangboard or have the ability to mount one in your home. Luckily, Tension Climbing is running a sale through the end of March (no affiliation). They make high-quality wooden hangboards and training products. Their hangboards need to be mounted, but tools like the Flash Board and the Tension Block can be used without having to drill holes in your wall. Invest in one of their products. You won’t regret it.
Sample Finger Session
There are a million different hangboard protocols out there, but the most important thing is that you are being systematic about following one. That said, in the interest of keeping things as simple as possible for at-home training, here are three different protocols taken from Dr. Tyler Nelson’s “The Simplest Finger Training Program” article. You can read all about them and the science behind them in the full article. I chose them, however, because they don’t need additional weights or pulley systems and they can be done on either a traditional hangboard or on a no-hang device like the Flash Board or Tension Block.
Density hangs are longer duration hangs where the aim is to create more robust connective tissue. This occurs because during the 30-40 second hang our tendons stretch disrupting the chemical bonds within them. Once we recover from these workouts, we create more bonds and denser tendons as a result.
Recruitment pulls are a little different than normal hangboarding in that you aren’t necessarily hanging from the board-just pulling against it as hard as you can. This is a max effort isometric and the goal is to recruit more muscle fibers which will, in turn, allow us to produce more force. Bring the force on slowly and remember the most important thing here is to pull with 110% effort.
Speed pulls are all about working on the rate of force development. Think contact strength or the speed at which you could produce force when moving dynamically to a hold. Definitely start with the density hangs and recruitment pulls. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to climbing before it’s time for you to move to a cycle of velocity pulls.
Again, make sure you read Tyler’s article about this hanging protocol or listen to the podcast episode he did with us on it. There are lots of photos and videos to explain what this is all about, but it really is quite simple and easy to do at home with any kind of board set-up.
2. General Strength Training
Strength work doesn’t have to look like climbing. This is an important point to remember during normal times, but it especially applies when you don’t have access to a climbing gym and all the equipment we are used to having at our disposal. The good news here is that you can work on general strength training right now, and it will give you a better foundation to return to climbing once it’s safe and responsible to do so.
Normally, I advocate that climbers stick to a classic strength training protocol consisting of high load, low reps, and plenty of rest. Unless you have a full weight room at home, chances are you probably don’t have enough weights to train like this. That doesn’t, however, mean we can’t still be productive. There are lots of other options.
Conditioning Circuits and Complexes
If you do have some dumbbells or kettlebells at home, conditioning circuits and complexes are a great way to work around not having heavy enough weights at your disposal. The idea here is that instead of training maximum strength by going heavy, we can work on things like work capacity and muscular endurance by doing higher volumes of work with restricted rest periods. These kinds of workouts may not develop strength as optimally, but you can get stronger doing them and they will certainly help you maintain your current strength levels.
When I say conditioning circuits, I mean doing a series of exercises in order with a restricted rest period (30 seconds to a minute is a good place to start) and then repeating this series for a certain number of rounds. Circuits are nice because you can combine different training modalities-like dumbbells and bodyweight exercises-and you can use different loads for different exercises. These are a great option for those of you that have more home training equipment at your disposal.
Complexes, on the other hand, are a series of exercises performed in order, with the same weight, and with no rest/without setting down the weight. If you have a single set of dumbells or even a single kettlebell, this is a great choice.
For both of these sessions, the restricted rest makes these workouts really time efficient so there’s no reason you can’t fit in two to four sessions per week.
In designing these sessions, you can pretty much be as creative as you want. The important thing is that you are covering the major movement patterns:
- Hip hinge
What follows are two examples of what these sessions could look like. Don’t be afraid to change out individual exercises for another exercise that covers that movement pattern. There’s no reason these sessions have to get stale or boring.
Sample Conditioning Circuit:
5 x 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off of the following exercises:
- A: Single-leg deadlift
- B: TRX 2-arm inverted row
- C: Suspension Pushups
- D: Goblet squat
Perform a 30-second set of Exercise A, rest 30 seconds, 30 seconds of Exercise B, and so on. A round is one time through all four exercises. Rest 2 minutes and repeat. At five rounds, this whole session will take 24 minutes.
As this session starts to feel easier and easier, you can intensify it by adding more rounds. Once you’ve reached 8 to 10 rounds, I’d either increase the weight or move to more challenging exercises.
5×5 reps per exercise per side. No Rest.
- A: One-arm kettlebell swing
- B: Lawnmower row
- C: Single-arm overhead press
- D: 1/2 rack squat
Perform 5 reps of Exercise A per side, 5 reps of Exercise B per side, and so on. One complex is one time through all four exercises. Repeat for five full complexes. This should take less than 20 minutes.
You can intensify this session by adding reps.
Bodyweight Training, TRX, and Gymnastics Rings
These options are great for home training because they require very minimal space and little to no equipment. As with the conditioning circuits and the complexes, there’s no reason you can’t get creative here. The most important thing to keep in mind is that with bodyweight/TRX/gymnastic ring training we adjust the intensity of each exercise not by adding or subtracting load, but by progressing or regressing the movement.
This video from the Anderson Brothers shows exactly how to do this for the ab rollout exercise by manipulating the height of the TRX/rings and your start position relative to them.
While the ab rollout is certainly a valuable exercise for climbers, the main takeaway here is that these same principles of how to progress/regress the movement can be applied to exercises like inverted rows, suspension pushups, ring flies, etc. Whether you are training on the TRX/rings or with bodyweight movements like plank variations, don’t fall into the trap of just doing more reps or holding positions for longer. Progress the movement as you improve so you are still getting a strength training stimulus.
Sample TRX/Ring Session:
3×7 of the following exercises. Rest as needed so each set is high quality. Progress each movement only when doing 7 reps per set with perfect form feels like a 6 or 7 out of 10 effort.
- Ring Flies
- Ab rollout
- Suspension pushups
- One or two arm inverted rows
Sample Bodyweight Session:
Bodyweight training obviously requires the least amount of equipment. All you need is a flat piece of floor. To help us all out, Zahan Billimoria of Samsara Mountain Training has made part of his Bodyweight Training Program free right now. This free 46-minute workout is part of Z’s comprehensive bodyweight training program which you can learn more about in Episode 142 of the TrainingBeta Podcast. To access the free workout, go to samsaramtntraining.com and use the password “c19free”.
Exactly how you structure your training is ultimately up to you. You can train fingers and general strength on the same day or on separate days. Unfortunately, there are no universal guidelines here. Figure out what works for you and make your decisions based on your training background and current strength levels. Remember, fewer quality sessions are going to be much more effective in the longrun than a greater number of tired or fatigued sessions. Just because you aren’t currently climbing doesn’t mean recovery is any less important.
For those of you who have no idea where to start, I’d suggest training your fingers 2x per week and general strength 3x.
Good luck, everyone. Train hard. Stay safe. Be responsible. I hope this helps.
Cover Photo by Jonathan Siegrist @jonathansiegrist
About The Author, Matt Pincus
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber from Jackson, Wyoming. He spends most of his time on the road living out of his van. Matt is responsible for most of the blog posts and social media posts for TrainingBeta and is our head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.
Train With Matt
Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.