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“Training for Winter Climbing” – Part Two

Designing a Training Programme

Before we get to the actual exercises it is worth taking a few minutes to sit down and think through what you are training for and identify the specific energy systems you are looking to train. Pay attention to the concept of specificity when doing this and also the types of energy systems, you anticipate using in your activity, as described earlier. When putting together your training programme it might be worth considering building in a foundation period, especially if you are new to training. This will give your body time to adapt to the training process and also allow you to work on ‘good form’ – basically using good technique when lifting/pulling etc. It might be worth giving yourself a couple of weeks doing this foundation before you start really pushing things. If you are used to training or are very fit then you might choose to drop straight into your training programme.

If in doubt though check out what you plan on doing with a health/fitness professional. Potentially you can do a lot of damage to yourself if you go about this process incorrectly.


With these exercises you will have to work out which ones are specific to what you are training for, then adjust the reps (see under ENERGY SYSTEMS) according to what energy system you are training.


There are a variety of methods using ice tools, wooden handles or knotted rope. You can use bungees or a stool/chair to reduce the load you are pulling :

Ian Parnell's Tool hangers
Ian Parnell’s Tool hangers

Pull ups

Focus on good technique and avoid dropping down onto over extended arms

Lock Offs

At full lock; 90 degrees and 120 degrees – Hold for 2-6 seconds

Power Pulls

Similar to doing your pull ups but focus on pulling up as fast as you can.


Use a fairly wide grip. Pull up and travel from side to side, touching your chin on each hand.

Ball on Wall

Using a weighted ball bounce it off a wall repetitively using a straight-arm/wrist flick action to throw then catch the ball. Works your wrists and forearms. Good exercise for developing power in your wrist flick.

Triceps extensions on ball (this also works your lower core). This complements the above exercise as the tricep extension uses muscles associated with swinging your tools. Remember to add the wrist flick at the end of your tricep extension.


Squats – superb exercise but you do need to be shown how to do squats by a strength and conditioning coach. Great for both working your lower legs and your lower core.

Calf Raises


Knee Raises

Make harder as you improve.

Stage 1: with legs bent and knees to chest.

Stage 2: with legs straighter and out in front.

Stage 3: with legs straighter, out in front and then alternating from side to side.

Front Lever

Front levers

Keep arms straight and lift your entire body out in front of you so it is completely straight and horizontal. Bending one leg makes this slightly easier.

Go for 3 – 4 attempts at 2 – 4 seconds.






These exercise are good to help balance the mainly pulling actions climbers tend to train.

Press – ups are king here and you can vary them by doing them either just on the floor (classic) or use a physio ball or medicine ball to press up on.

Alternative: Bench Press


These exercises are only a small selection of what is possible. You can adapt the above principles to use on campus boards or bouldering walls and use your ice tools. Remember the more it looks and feels like the climbing you are going to do the more transferable any fitness gains will be to your activity.

I’ve included the masters of my own training programme. I would not use my values i.e. loads and reps as the start point – you will need to work out your own. What they will do is give you an idea of how to structure a programme and individualise it for yourself. Training ideas and concepts are continually evolving so it’s worth just hunting on the internet for any other ideas that may be worth trying out.

Whatever ideas you adopt and however you structure your training regime keep in mind the following key training principles as they will help you stay both motivated and healthy:

  • Warm up and cool down
  • Vary your climbing and training
  • Personalise your training
  • Train specifically
  • Increase your volume appropriately
  • Have a long term view regarding your training gains
  • Take time off
  • Develop a recovery instinct




If in doubt seek the advice of a suitably qualified coach.




About George McEwan:

George has been climbing and mountaineering for over twenty years. In that time he has put up numerous first ascents both in the UK, Europe and Nepal.

He has climbed mostly in the French Alps around Mount Blanc, both summer and winter. Also climbed in New Zealand Alps. Expedition to Langtang Valley, Nepal 1st ascent of the North Ridge North face Naya Kanga 1989. Second British Expedition to Tien Shan for attempt on South Face of Khan Tengri 1993. 1999 trip to Alaska to attempt Nettle – Quirk route on Mt Huntington, then West Ridge of Mt Hunter.

In the past few years his climbing has focussed primarily on waterfall ice climbing, with this passion taking him to Canada, Colorado, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.

His professional career has spanned fourteen years during which he has worked for Outward Bound, and for the past ten years with Scotland’s premier National Outdoor Training Glenmore Lodge where he currently works as a Senior Instructor.

Although actively involved in all forms of climbing from bouldering through to ice climbing, George’s primary passion is steep water ice.


NB: Illustration credit Mike Clelland – Climbing Magazine

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