Meghan Carney

From market farming to wilderness survival guide to forestry technician and climbing instructor, Meg has an eclectic work history. But the common factor across all her pursuits is the outdoors. With a formal education in writing, Meg can translate her outdoor experiences into accessible and relatable content for any reader. Meg is based in Phoenix, AZ where she splits her time between writing and new desert adventures

Best Workouts for Rock Climbing

Climbing is a sport full of diversity of muscle use, critical thinking, and experience. Whether you are just starting, an avid gym climber, or you enjoy weekend adventure outside, you may be looking for ways to improve your climbing. 

Finding workouts that not only strengthen critical muscles to push past grades is essential. Overuse is a common occurrence, especially amongst climbers just starting in the sport. We are going to take a look at a few workouts that will build up the necessary strength to improve your climbing but will prevent injury as well. 

Personalize Your Climbing Specific Exercise Plan

One of the best ways to improve your climbing is to climb more. Now, this should be done with some caution. If you are a beginner that is lacking in fitness overall, you will benefit most from integrating a workout routine that is not climbing based. Sticking to a base program of strength training, stretching, and cardio/aerobic exercise is the best way to prevent injury as you prepare your body for more climbing when it is ready.

A common misconception is that to be a better climber, you need to be stronger. That is not true at all. Climbing is a combination of strength and technique. Your overall strength and flexibility will only get you so far as you need to have the appropriate technique and mental stamina to push you further.

Jumping straight into hard physical training is a sure-fire way to get an injury. You have to give your tendons time to catch up to your muscles. You may be physically strong on a muscular level, but your tendons take much longer to build proper strength. If you already have a good base of strength in climbing-specific muscle groups and have built up connective tissues over time, then you will be ready to start a workout regime that is climbing-specific. 

Once you’ve begun to move past a base-level of fitness, you should then start to look at your climbing goals. Decide for yourself how much time you can devote each week to training and climbing. After that, think about the reasons behind wanting to improve your climbing ability. Are you trying to move from gym climbing to outdoor climbing? Are you planning a trip to a certain climbing destination? Will you be bouldering, trad climbing, sport climbing, alpine, etc.? These are a few questions that can help you determine the type of workouts you should focus on. For example, a boulderer will work more on power, while a multi-pitch crack climber may want to focus on technique and endurance. 

Workouts to do While Climbing 

The workout options listed below are most effective when you can stick to a routine and follow it. They can be completed in a climbing gym or outdoors, but they are most often done in a gym. Throw in some Mantas True Wireless Earbuds and get to it.

Warm-Up

It doesn’t matter the type of workout you are doing, spend a few minutes getting warmed up. Warm-ups become increasingly effective in preventing injury as you climb higher grades or pursue harder workouts. 

Some activities to include in your climbing warm-up include: 

  • 10 minutes of cardio to get the blood circulating. Biking, jump rope, jumping jacks, jogging, etc.
  • Choose dynamic stretching with plenty of rotational movement. Head rolls, windmills, walking lunges, side twists, shoulder, and hip circles, etc.
  • Pyramid Climbing. Starting with a few climbs below your grade limit and build your way up to that. For example, if you’re pushing 5.11 at your highest climbing grade, start with 5.9 or lower. Climb two of those routes, then move onto a low grade 10, then onto a higher grade 10. The key is to increase the difficulty without struggling. You shouldn’t be getting pumped or falling off of any of these routes. This progression will give your climbing-specific muscles a warm-up without making them tired. 

Endurance

Pushing your boundaries of endurance in climbing is among the best ways to improve your technique as well. As you begin to get tired while climbing, you should start to depend on your technique versus your physical strength. Do this by choosing a route of moderate difficulty to you and staying on the wall for specific periods (no hanging or one hand rests either). There should be a few technical movements on the route. 

You can choose the time period based on your current ability level. For some climbers, this may only be 10 minutes. Other climbers may push 30-minute stints. The goal here is not to do as many repetitions as possible, but to keep moving and be on the wall the entire time. Slow, precise movements and placements of hands/feet will help you hone in on technique. This focus on placement can be amplified by combining downclimbing into this time.

You can do this on the top rope, auto-belay, or traverse a bouldering wall. Be sure that you are doing these exercises within the restrictions of your gym rules and are respectful of other climbers around you. It is not recommended to do this during peak gym hours. 

As you progress in this endurance exercise, you should begin to notice that your focus on technique becomes natural, your body movement should flow more easily, and your body weight will be over your feet more often. 

Power

Power workouts can easily be done while bouldering. This is great because if you don’t have a rope partner one day, you can focus on a power movement exercise. These types of exercises will be short bursts of activity at your climbing limit, not above. Pushing power moves above your threshold over and over is an excellent way to get hurt. 

Usually, a 10-foot boulder problem will suffice here. You will want problems that vary in style. So, look for a problem or multiple problems with variations in movements like big reaches, small crimps, overhanging movements, pinches, etc. You don’t want to be making the same power move over and over in this workout. The more variation in your movement gives you more diversity in muscles worked. 

Also, keep in mind that you will need more recovery time in between sets here than during endurance. You should also give yourself more recovery time between workouts. Limit power specific workouts to once or twice a week. 

Power-Endurance Combo

A combination workout of power and endurance will come with time and as you progress in your climbing. This can be done by climbing challenging sport routes back to back or linking boulder problems at your limit. While this stage of training will take time to get to, it is easy to plateau here. It most closely simulates redpointing or an onsite on real rock. Don’t be afraid to take breaks from this workout and focus on just one or the other. Too much focus here can lead to injury. 

Cool Down

Just as you warm-up before your workout, cool down is essential as well. Most cooldowns will help to lower your heart rate and give your muscles time to stretch. Many warm-up exercises can be used to cool down as well. 

Cross-Training Exercises

Doing exercises outside of the act of climbing is often overlooked. However, it is the key to staving off injury and keeping overall health in check. Cross-training for climbing will help you isolate muscles that oppose the ones your use often while climbing. It will also improve your flexibility and endurance. 

Some great cross-training exercises include:

  • Yoga
  • Swimming, running, biking, basically any cardio 
  • Push-Ups (of all varieties)
  • Dips
  • Core exercises like planks, Russian twists, leg raises, etc
  • Wrist Curls
  • Thereaband Exercises

This is not an all-inclusive list. The main take away from these examples is that you should focus on variation and antagonistic exercises. Antagonistic exercises are the ones that focus on muscles opposite of those used when climbing to prevent injury and to correct and muscular imbalances. Primary areas to focus on include your shoulders, fingers, and knees as these get used intensely when climbing. 

Finger strength workouts are just as important. However, we did not cover these here as this article is best for beginners and intermediate climbers. As you become more advanced and your tendons are stronger, you can start to isolate exercises to your fingers.

Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Hiking

Going out for a hike can span the time of a few hours, an entire day, or even days, weeks, and months. While hiking and backpacking are two different disciplines to prepare for, they do have many similarities. Getting off crowded metropolitan hikes and popular AllTrails picks can be both scary and extremely rewarding. Venturing into the backcountry should be built up to and takes a bit more planning than hikes you may be used to. 

As a beginner’s guide to backcountry hiking, we will be focusing specifically on hikes that can be completed in one day and require no overnights on the trail. Our goal is to give you the knowledge and reference points you need to feel confident, safe, and prepared on your upcoming backcountry hike. 

Take a Hike

Have Proper Hiking Equipment

Since you are only planning for a day hike, you will not need too much in the way of gear. While it may not seem like you need all of these things, keep in mind that you will be miles away from any roads and even further from any cities. You may not even have cell phone service for the majority of the day. So, you will need to be prepared and bring the necessary supplies. 

The most important things to bring with you when you are hiking in the backcountry include: 

  • Lightweight Daypack → If you don’t already have one, you will want to invest in a daypack that is intended for hiking. These packs are designed to be comfortable and have easy access compartments for organization of supplies. Many daypacks also come equipped with a hydration system. 
  • Hydration System and Snacks → Water is of the most essential things you will need in the backcountry. Water will also be the heaviest thing you carry, but that doesn’t mean to skimp out. Bring more than you think you need the first time you head into the backcountry. Don’t forget to pack a few trail snacks and maybe lunch if it is a long hike. 
  • Reliable Hiking Boots → The style of hiking shoes you wear will be up to you. Some hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes, while others like to have the classic ankle support high tops. Just be sure that your hiking shoes are broken in properly and have little chance of giving you blisters. Comfortable footwear is the key to an enjoyable hike! 
  • Map of Area, Guidebook, or GPS → Most hiking areas will have hard copies of maps and guidebooks, but you can also opt to download maps onto your phone. Better yet, you can take a backcountry GPS with you. If you go the digital route, keep in mind that your battery will not last forever. So, if you download maps on your phone, consider bringing a portable power bank as well. 
  • First Aid Kit → You may think that this is an unnecessary weight to carry, but better safe than sorry in the backcountry. This kit doesn’t need to be extreme, but it is good to have a few standard first aid supplies in case of an emergency on the trail. 

It can be tempting to kind of skimp on your first round of hiking gear and buy the cheapest options. While a limited budget may be a factor here, consider purchasing higher quality gear second hand or scoping out some discounts at retailers like REI to get higher quality, longer-lasting gear at a lower cost. 

Do Area Trail Research

Make sure you take time to get to know the area before you wander into the woods to get lost! This can be done in a variety of ways. You can go to old school techniques and talk to people from the area that may know the trail systems well. This can also include consulting park rangers and BLM land managers. Oftentimes, this is the most reliable way to go about things, because they will have access to the most recent trail conditions. 

Another common way of researching backcountry trails is to check out websites like All Trails, Hiking Project, and Summit Post. AllTrails can be especially helpful as you can download the app on your phone to have access to downloaded area maps when you’re hiking. 

If those maps aren’t detailed enough, you should invest in a digital or hard copy topographic map of the area. You can find these online and at many outdoor retail stores. 

Beyond knowing where you are going, you should be researching the area’s climate, wildlife, and plants. Look into the weather ahead of time to be sure that you pack accordingly. If you are hiking in a mountainous area, check for afternoon storms. Being aware of area wildlife and plant life will let you know if there are any dangerous animals or poisonous plants to avoid.

Prepare Physically for the Hike

If you are an avid hiker on familiar city trails or low key hiking trails close to town, then you are likely already in relatively good physical condition. Part of researching the area you will be hiking will include knowing the terrain to expect. 

If you are going to be hiking in a notoriously hilly area or a drastically different altitude than you are accustomed to, then you should prepare before attempting the hike. While you may be mentally ready, not being physically fit in the backcountry can be a serious danger. 

As you ramp up to your first backcountry hike, try to fit extra cardio and hiking time into your schedule. Get your legs ready at the gym by utilizing the stair stepper and doing squats. Building up your stamina and strength, will make a difference in safety, as well as how much you enjoy the hike overall. 

Leave No Trace

As you go out into the wilderness to enjoy the solitude and beauty, remember that we are sharing this Earth with other living plants and animals as well. One of the most important things you can take away from this article is to learn the Leave No Trace principles. Keep our wild places wild as we protect our outdoor spaces together!