Timy Fairfield - Training Advice

Monday, August 22, 2011

Training Advice

By Timy Fairfield 

Mental Components of Climbing Training:

The mind is the most powerful weapon in our approach to a climbing objective and it must therefore be forged through every aspect of our training.  Focus, decisiveness, adaptability, analysis, intuition, creativity, introspection, commitment, tenacity and perseverance are all favorable traits that we exhibit when we are climbing at our best – every aspect of our training must be structured around cultivating these attributes.  Keep a journal of your climbing experiences, performance and the emotions that you associate with your relationship with climbing and training and you will discover the answers within yourself.  Read The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner


Develop your own 15-20 minute general warm-up routine that prepares you mentally and physically for training or climbing that you can take with you wherever you go.  A solid warm-up routine builds and awakens agility, balance and coordination and insures injury prevention.  Emphasize active ranges of motion and mobility pre-workout/climbing rather than passive flexibility (static stretching) preferable for post workout.  Warm-up routines should start slower and more general and progress towards faster more specific movements.

Rock v. Wall:

The challenging question confronted by every climber wishing to increase their level through deliberate training is how much time to allocate to artificial walls versus natural rock.  Competition climbers must commit the majority of time to gyms and private walls (every wall is a different crag to the comp climber).  Rock is inspiration, conducive to travel and gives us purpose in our training.  Rock also builds specific techniques and route reading skills that can only be found outside.  Because many rock climbing areas are inconvenient, sharp, limited by weather and limited by a distinctly specific style inherent to each particular area, artificial walls are viable platform for every climber engaging in specific training. In addition to providing the ideal competition surface climbing walls are more convenient, time efficient and allow for specificity while offering diversity in terrain and movement style.  They are conducive to pushing limits and provide a choreographic medium unique and distinct from natural rock.  However, they can prove to be a distraction and often promote the tendency to over train.  Recommendation: embrace and benefit from both climbing mediums.


Cycle your training seasonally, monthly and throughout a given week to avoid over training injuries, stagnation and frustration.  Schedule regularly imposed rest periods (at least 1 week quarterly as well as a 3 day period monthly).  Take a one-month annual, “off-season” during witch time you can de-emphasize sport specific training.  During this time, focus on general fitness, flexibility or try something new to allow your body and mind to recover from injuries and recharge for the next phase of high intensity training.  For more details on periodization science read: Periodization – Theory and Methodology of Training by Tudor O, Bompa PhD.

Sport Specificity:

Train for your event.  If you are a boulderer, train like a gymnast or martial artist – short, high intensity workouts emphasizing technical adaptation and skills acquisition.  If you climb long rock routes, train like a middle distance runner, emphasizing movement refinement, power endurance circuits and recovery.  If you are a mountaineer, train cardio vascular fitness and muscular endurance emphasizing perseverance in adverse conditions.  Bouldering will be fun in base camp and great off-season cross training, but it won’t get you to the summit.  For more info on training for rock climbing read: The Self-Coached Climber by Dan Hague & Douglas Hunter.

Technical Training: 

Allocate time in your climbing sessions that focus on the qualitative aspects of skills acquisition through movement drills rather than the quantitative aspect of climbing difficulty grades.  Instead of judging your performance based on whether you are able to complete a climb, ask yourself how you could be more efficient in your movement or tactical approach.  Then repeat the moves again for technical refinement.  Regardless of your climbing ability, you will benefit from identifying and working on your weaknesses whether related to conditions, rock type, wall angle, route setting style, hold type, body position, length of route, or competition format. A commitment to qualitative analysis over quantitative judgment will cultivate the necessary attention to detail conducive to the mastery of movement and performance.

Strength & Conditioning: 

Develop strength and conditioning workout regimens that emphasizes sport specificity while addressing your individual needs and weaknesses as an athlete.   Select exercises that will directly relate to the ranges of motion encountered in climbing as well as those that work the opposite stresses required by our sport to balance your physique.  Select gymnastic strength exercises that will lead to the transference of more efficient climbing movement. Avoid the temptation of over-emphasizing the principle of progressive overload at the expense of introducing exercises that yield skills acquisition.  Do not neglect general fitness, cross training, flexibility and injury rehab to avoid further injury and promote positive climbing techniques.  The process of exercise selection is crucial. Document your training, progress and findings about yourself.  For more info on a myriad of body weight exercises read Training For Warriors by Martin Rooney

Training Nutrition:

Frequently eat small portions of high quality food to stimulate the metabolism, keep your body on edge to illicit the production of human growth hormone production.  Monitor the quality more than the quantity of your food   if you wish to maintain the energy to train at a high level.  Have your blood work done to know which supplements to take rather than “shot-gunning” them down which can be hard on your digestive tract.  Eat when you’re hungry - anorexia won’t get you to the finish line.  Read Eat, Drink & Be Healthy by Walter C. Willett, M.D.


Invest in sessions with a private coach/personal trainer, if not permanently, then at least in the short term to learn the fundamentals of proper biomechanics, workout structuring, and to identify your weaknesses with an objective 3rd party professional that has a fresh perspective on you as a person and your climbing.  Seek those who are more experienced, knowledgeable and proficient than you – not just stronger climbers. 

Training Partners:

The ideal training partners are reliable, supportive, challenging, give constructive criticism and possess the opposite strengths from those that you possess.  Join an adult fitness group or an adult climbing team.  Then form a private training group that meets regularly at the local climbing gym or on private climbing walls.

Climbing Training Infrastructure: 

Create the optimal psychological environment for training.  Build your own home gym, campus board or system wall or collaborate with other like-minded motivated individuals to form a climbing co-op.  Creating your own training environment that provides the proper ambiance conducive to achieving your training objectives is essential. Controlling elements of the psychological environment consisting of ambiance (music), social sphere, exercise equipment/apparatus and requisite wall design attributes. If you like your training environment, you will train!

Climbing Training Apparatus/Equipment:

Invest in your own functional training equipment that suits your training needs, inspires you to train and provides convenience in your home/private training facility.  Once again, form a coop to offset the price of acquiring this equipment.  The essentials include: Boom Box, heart rate monitor, pull-up bar, gymnastics rings, fat mooring rope, fingerboard, medicine balls, ankle weights, elastic bands, yoga mat, yoga strap, weighted juggling balls, grip stik, Forearm RX forearm roller, and of course the door jamb!


A ritual that addresses recovery from training and climbing will contribute greatly to injury prevention and increased performance – not to mention increased lifestyle.  Passive recovery techniques include: deep tissue massage, post workout icing, electro-stimulation, Active Release Technique, acupuncture, hot mineral baths.  Active recovery techniques include: stretching/yoga, low intensity cardio, low-intensity mobility/range of motion calisthenics, physical therapy exercises targeting weaknesses and chronic injuries, Muscle Activation Therapy (also used as a pre-hab technique to re-optimize muscles and joints).  Proper hydration, diet/nutrition and sufficient sleep are crucial components of recovery. 

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