Getting Fit for Climbing

Working Toward Peak Performance
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This would not work. I was peer pressured onto the route by an ambitious partner. I had never climbed 5.12 in my life, and I was in no shape to start now. I continued this motivational train of thought as I pulled through the first moves and clipped the lower bolts. So far so good; the crux must be farther up.

I craned up at the moves that would surely beat me back, then I was in the thick of it, my six-foot frame stuffed beneath a cracked roof with my fingers crimped over a micro-edge that shouldn't hold a foot on a slab route. Just keep moving. I brought my heel up and into the crack at face level, heard myself groan out loud, and stretched blindly for the jug I expected out over the roof. I found the sloping disappointment and desperately held on. A move later put me on 5.9 terrain, and I grinned in disbelief at my unexpected accomplishment. I'll just finish this up and celebrate.

On vertical terrain now, I moved quickly upward. The holds were huge. Then in one horror-filled second I felt the blood drain out of my hands as if someone had pulled the bath plug in my elbow. With it went every ounce of strength I could muster. Gone. No gradual fading, no recovery at my stance, nothing. I slapped a bucket-size hold in amazement but could not hold on. Abandoned by my once-dexterous digits, I dropped like a stone onto the last bolt, denied an achievement that seemed rightfully mine. All this for one simple reason—I was weak.

So Get Strong

Of course being strong is important to climbing, but not just because you want to avoid running out of gas the way I did. Being a fit climber will make you a safer climber—you'll have the calm and presence of mind to make sound decisions, conduct safe rope work, and simply fall less. Being a fit climber will also help you avoid all those career-pausing old-man overuse injuries that seem to plague climbers long before they're old. But what do you do? And where do you begin?

Don't Just Rock Climb

Start by getting fit. Cross train, and work your body into a generally strong state, without immediately concentrating on any single muscle group for climbing. Cardiovascular and muscular endurance are as important as any strength work, so work activities like trail running and cycling into your routine at least two days each week. Remember, you're not trying to win the 100 meter, just build a base level of fitness. You can do this by running just a handful of miles at a relatively casual pace. You'll notice an almost immediate difference the next time you don your heavy crag pack and start that grueling approach climb.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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