Training for Alpine, Winter and Trad Climbing | Uisdean Hawthorn

Training for Alpine, Winter and Trad Climbing | Uisdean Hawthorn

Words by Uisdean Hawthorn

As someone who is mostly focused on winter, trad and alpine climbing, I and many of my friends who are into similar types of climbing, are generally bad at training inside.

The obvious reason being we are mostly interested in climbing for the adventure over athletic ability. Instead of training inside we’ll always find reasons to climb outside, run for longer or try to go climbing when the weather is bad . However, the positive of all this downtime in lockdown is that for once, we have the time and energy to train well.

Right now I generally do the strength & core workout below two or three times a week, max hang fingerboard three times a week and run five or six times a week.

Running

Running is a fun and efficient way to make sure your cardiovascular endurance is maintained to a high standard. Most of my running i do in 'Zone 2' of my Aerobic threshold which for me is 135-149bpm or a speed at which you can maintain conversation. This allows you to consistently run most days without risking over training or injury whilst still being just as effective for long term fitness. At first it will feel slow and boring but the benefits really start to pay off after a few weeks of consistent training. 

It also makes a lot of sense to do this currently as running is one of the few reasons we have to leave the house. This way you can get out everyday without overtraining. 

However, once a week I will try to do a higher intensity workout either a weighted uphill carry or hill sprints. Given the current situation and restrictions the easiest one of these to do is hill sprints. 

The best way I find to do sprints is to go for a run for around 1 hour and spread  6 sprints into the run. Do your sprints on the steep uphill sections of your run for no more than 10 seconds, continue to run after the sprint but at a slow pace to recover for around 5 minutes. As with all the other exercises in this article, how many sprints you do and the exact amount of rest in between are not as important as trying really hard on the sprints.

Col de BalmeRunning near le Col de Balme before the lockdown, on the border between France and Switzerland. Preparing for days on the alpine peaks above.

If you are lucky enough to have hills close to your house, here is a basic description of a weighted hill carry, it's just as mad as it sounds. 
Fill a backpack with weight (I use soft water containers as they are more comfortable than rocks) and walk up the steepest and nearest hill for 45 mins to an hour. You want to be trying hard for this and by the end you should feel really worked, empty out the water and the top of the hill and wobble your way back down on your tired legs. I carry 25kg but to start with err on the side of caution start with 15kg max and build up slowly. I also wouldn't recommend carrying more than 25kg as the benefits become less and the chance of injury increases.

Strength and Core

If you haven't done much training like this before even doing this once a week will be really beneficial to all types of climbing. 

The most important thing about strength training is doing it to failure. Don’t focus too much on the number of reps, sets or the amount of rest in between. Focus on good form and trying really hard until you fail. 

Equipment

TRX or Rings - It's really easy to make a TRX or something similar with a few bits of rope, some carabiners and some handles literally anything will do. Examples: cut up an old broom handle or cut off the top of a spade handle and turn it upside down. You can buy a TRX really cheap, my one is from lidl.
Yoga mat
Large exercise ball 
Extra weights - Spare tyre, rocks, ropes, bricks anything you can think of. I mostly use 2 10L plastic water containers

Exercises

I've split the exercises into three types to make them easier to understand. 

Type one: I normally try to be able to do 5 reps but no more than 10, if you can do more than 10 add weight or resistance.

Type two: Try and work up to be able to do these exercises for one minute continuously, after this add weight.

Type three: Hold these exercises for 8-12 seconds and add weight or resistance so that you can only hold it for the correct amount of time. 

Remember the above timings are a rough guide if you end up doing more than 10 reps that's okay but keep going until you fail then next time increase the weight or resistance. Don't just stop at 10 reps. 

Type one: 
Tricep dips 
Strict sit ups 
Press ups
Hanging leg raises 
TRX Hanging rows 

Type two:
TRX crunches
TRX climbers 
TRX Side planks 

Type three: 
L-sit 
2 point plank 

Do all or a selection of the above exercises in any order with around 1 minute of rest in between each exercise. If you feel like you can, rest for 5 minutes and do another set. 

Rest for 5 minutes before doing these type one exercises. 
One legged box step 
Rest 3 minutes 
Pull ups 
Rest 3 minutes 
One legged box step 
Rest 3 minutes 
Pull ups 
Rest 3 minutes 

One final thing I do every other day is some work on an exercise ball to improve my balance, core and glute strength. I have it in the house somewhere it's easy just to do a few minutes every now and again. Doing this will significantly reduce the chance of knee injuries whilst running or walking with a heavy bag. I mostly do it whilst watching TV for 10 minutes. If you do it every day you should be able to stand on the ball in 2 weeks.

  1. Sitting on the ball with your hands not touching the ball and your feet off the floor.
  2. Kneeling on the ball with hands by your side
  3. Kneeling on the ball whilst throwing a ball back and forth.
  4. Stand on the ball and start by doing this near a couch or bouldering mat.


One extra point on my training is I don’t do repeaters or endurance training on a fingerboard only max hangs, this is for a few different reason:

  1. It's incredibly boring.
  2. I find it quite bad for my elbows and injury.
  3. I like many people who prefer Trad, Winter and Alpine climbing tend to have good endurance and the ability to get endurance back quickly, but have very poor finger strength. Therefore it makes more sense to focus on max hangs and improve this weakness.
  4. It's just so boring. But maybe that's just me.

*If you want to calculate your own heart rate zones or see lots of other good information on this style of training I would highly recommend using the Uphill Athlete website they have loads of great free content. 

Please build up your training slowly, don't just jump for 5 hours of training a week to 15 and remember to have an easier week every 3 or 4 weeks.

If you have any other questions or queries about how or why I do the above feel free to contact me.


Recommended Clothing

Aerofoil Full Zip Jacket

An incredibly light double woven soft shell that provides essential windproof protection for mountain rock routes and stripped back Alpine sprints.

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Dynamo Short

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Find more of our top clothing picks for training and preparing for big mountain days in our training collections.


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