Fit For Fall In 4 Weeks

posted by dpm on 09/03/2012


Fall is coming and as soon as that cool air begins magically transforming impossible slopers and indefinable edges into possibilities, you’re going to wish you’d trained harder. But if you’re one of those who let summer’s heat lure you out of the gym, don’t despair. Here’s a training program to have you back to sending shape in just one month.

The Logic

There are a lot of factors you can work on to improve at climbing but it’s too late to address them all. Instead, we’ll focus on what can be changed most effectively: strength to weight ratio, hand and forearm muscular efficiency, and mobility.  Assuming that you already know how to climb, these are the areas that will improve your climbing the quickest.

The Science

This quick tutorial in exercise phys will help you understand the logic. The best way to train for a sport is periodizationally. This basically means that you train in blocks timed according to something called the Specificity of Adaptation, which generally lasts 3-8 weeks. Each block is designed to improve one area of your physiology, like hypertrophy (muscle growth), recruitment (power), and anaerobic endurance (power-endurance). Strength gained during the blocks must then be integrated into real world movement.

Following periodizational principles, a solid training program would take between 12- 32 weeks. However, because we only have time for one block, (according to the laws of adaptation) we’re going to combine them, tossing aside factors that are hard to improve in favor of what our experience shows will adapt quickly. The trick is to do all this without overtraining.


Workouts will be categorized as high intensity (A), moderate intensity (B), or low intensity/recovery (C). Your body has only so much energy it can focus on peak training. Scheduling this way keeps you on track so that you don’t waste your valuable fuel on things that won’t increase your chances of climbing better.


More than any other one factor, hard climbing is about strength to weight ratio. It’s far easier to shed pounds than it is to gain muscle. An 11th hour training program should do both. You need to eat in order to recover from your workouts, but only enough to fuel your body. Every extra beer, piece of cake, or plate of fries you eat diminishes your chance of success.

One of the simplest ways to get your diet in order is to simply cut things out that you probably already know you shouldn’t eat. Do this in small increments, and you’ll hardly know you’re dieting.

Week 1 – Drink a gallon of water every day. Most people are chronically dehydrated, which has a side effect of making you retain water. Drinking water until your cells are saturated reverses this, so you lose weight. It also curbs food cravings that happen when we’re dehydrated.

Week 2 – Eliminate junk foods. I’ll let you decide whether or not this includes beer but stuff like fries, chips, and ice cream are things that aren’t too hard to ditch with a little psyche.

Week 3 – Eat a liquid breakfast and lunch. This can be your own smoothies, veggie juices (made from veggies and fruits, not sugar and concentrates), protein shake, etc.  This is a little tough to get used to but eliminates habitual eating schedule rituals as well as probably saving you some calories.

Week 4 – Eat based on performance. Don’t worry too much about what’s supposed to be good and bad but how you feel. The bottom line of your diet is that you want to feel both light and strong. If you feel heavy you’re probably overeating and weak you’re probably undereating. Basing your diet on continual performance improvements is the simplest way to ensure your diet is working in your favor.

"I eat because I can't send, and I can't send because I eat. It's a vicious cycle." -Fat Bastard. Photo:


This plan will lead to great strength gains and provide approximately a four-week peak period. Spend off days doing C workouts and add the stability and mobility exercise outlined in issue 17, One Workout Every Climber Should Do,1-2 times per week.



A hangboard, or fingerboard, is the oldest climbing training apparatus and probably still the most useful. Making recommendations for boards is beyond our scope. Find one you like and make sure it’s clean. For best results you want one in a place you won’t be interrupted.  You’ll also need a stop watch.


You’re going to need some weight and, hopefully, a gym. If necessary, buy a punch pass or a month membership to a climbing gym that hopefully has free weights and, if you’re lucky, a clean hangboard.


If you don’t know how to do yoga yourself consider paying for a few sessions or investing in some videos.


The following chart describes your exercises for each day over the four week period. For example: week one, day one would include warming up, hangs (described in the A1 section), a 9-minute rice bucket exercise and a cool down followed by some cardio exercises (CA). 



Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Week 1








Week 2









Week 3








Week 4









A Workouts


Boulder or equivalent until you feel as though you’d be ready to attempt a hard redpoint. Take your time (30 minutes to 1 hour). When you begin your first set be ready for an “a muerte” effort. It’s easy to slag off on the board. The more you put into this, the more you’ll get out of it. Try and focus 100% on each set and don’t think ahead to the next, even when pumped out of your mind.


Hang 10 seconds on, 5 seconds off, for 6 repetitions (total time of 60 seconds hanging). Add weight to ensure that you’re as close to failure as possible, while still being able to complete the exercise, and treat each set as a route. Keep your shoulders bent and the weight on your musculature and not your skeleton/connective tissues. Keep a log of each set and each workout so you can see your progress. This is important since it often feels as though you’re regressing when you’re actually getting stronger.

Rest 2 minutes. Move to the next hold.

Complete six different grip positions.

Which holds should be used?

This depends on your own goals and your board. You’re going to be pumped after the first set so start with the hardest position and gradually make it easier. For example: small crimp, shallow 2-finger, small pinch, outside deep 2 finger (ring and pinky), inside 2-finger (index and middle), sloper.

Rest 2 minutes

Rice Bucket

Do the 9-minute rice bucket workout from issue 18. If you’ve done this before be prepared for a whole new experience following this board routine.

Click for video demonstrating the rice bucket workout.

Cool Down

Take some time to stretch your muscles back out, since they’ve been doing major contractions. A good technique is to use a band or belt as an aid. Use the band to resist the motion you want to stretch for 5 seconds, and then relax into the stretch for 10 seconds.


Workout Progression Schedule

A1 – complete 6 grip positions

A2 – complete 8 grip positions

A3 – complete 9 grip positions

A4 – complete 10 grip positions

A5 – complete 11 grip positions

A6 – complete 12 grip positions

A7 – complete each hang from a lock-off position. Start high fully locked, 90 degrees, 45 degrees. Reduce volume to 6 grip positions.

A8 – complete each hang from a lock-off position. Start high fully locked, 90 degrees, 45 degrees. Increase volume to 8 grip positions.

A9 – complete each hang from a lock-off position. Start high fully locked, 90 degrees, 45 degrees. Increase volume to 10 grip positions.

A10 – complete each hang from a lock-off position. Start high fully locked, 90 degrees, 45 degrees.. Increase volume to 12 grip positions.


B Workouts

There are a few goals of these workouts. Mainly it’s to enact hormonal production due to high intensity that will promote swift body composition change and aid recovery of the A Workouts. Essentially, you’ll want to choose a high-intensity circuit routine that’s around 30 minutes in length, total. There are many options to choose from and the following is one effective example.

This is an excellent example of a total body circuit training workout for climbers—notice lack of much leg work. It will stimulate hormonal production, including testosterone release which, as well as providing solid general conditioning, will aid recovery from your A workouts. There is also a post-activation potentiation element that will improve muscle cell motor unit recruitment, or power using a term you might recognize.


Do some functional exercises that awaken movement patterns in all directions. You should be sweaty and ready for 100% efforts when finished.

2 minute break

Workout (click the exercise for an example video demonstrating the movement)

Towel pull-ups – fast up, slow down 6- 10

Slam ball – 6-10

Squat, curl, press – 10-12

Side plank with leg extension – toe down


1 min break

Renegade Rows with protraction 8-10

Speed push-ups on med ball 8-10

Kettlebell swings 30

Bridge leg lift 1 min each leg


Cool down

Prior to the final week is a Bo workout, which is a moderate-level climbing day to help you begin integrating your new strength into sports-specific movement. Climb hard but don’t go full out. This is a good day to work short linkages on a project, between 3-8 moves at a time.

C Workouts

There are three C workouts, all very important.

Cy workouts are yoga days. Do any yoga that you like, from restorative to difficult—a mix based on how you feel is best. Yoga promotes recovery while increasing stabilizer and core muscle strength and improves range of motion in a functional manner. Flexibility is helpful to climbers but a useful range of motion is vital, the greater ROM that can be utilized the better.

Ca are aerobic days. Do 30 minutes to a couple of hours of easy aerobic work (heart rate between around 100 and 140). This both promotes recovery and burns calories, and helps improve fat mobilization efficiency (body’s use of fat as fuel).

Co are easy climbing days. Focus on movement and efficiency and do not, under any circumstances, get pumped or try moves that are difficult. These are for integration but if you can bring yourself to stay on the rock for 20 minutes or more you can increase capillarity, which has a myriad of positive effects.