Training for Climbing: Four Cornerstone Texts


If you’re like us, winter had you dreaming of belaying in a T-shirt and your toes have developed amnesia about how much more comfortable rock shoes are than ice climbing boots. It’s about this time each year the weather gives us a peek of spring and we get stoked on rock projects for the summer… and then we got the order to stay home. We’ve read a lot of books related to training, not all specific to climbing. We thought now might be a good time to share those we consider cornerstone texts for everything from alpinism to sport climbing:

  1. Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House and Scott Johnson
  1. The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Mike Anderson and Mark Anderson
  1. Advances in Functional Training by Michael Boyle
  1. The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner

Reading books is only a compliment to motivation and spending some time with a professional. As a cautionary note, it seems sometimes people confuse someone they know who is a “strong climber” with someone who has insight on a good training regimen. Remember, each individual’s story is an anecdote; you’ll benefit most from harnessing information from sources who study the training, results, AND injuries of a number of successful athletes.

In Training for the New Alpinism, Scott and Steve translate a huge body of knowledge about endurance training into a textbook for climbing long alpine routes. Certainly, this book reads a bit more like a textbook than some of the others, but the authors have done a great job of inserting relatable stories from notable athletes. This is THE training reference for routes where carrying a backpack uphill for hours to days is involved.

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual is largely a memoir of two brothers’ methods they’ve refined over the years through their own experience and from other, relatively limited, sources of information on rock climbing training. This is a very specific training book in so far as it’s strictly a resource improve rock climbing performance. However, regardless of where you are in your climbing, this book contains insightful information on how to get stronger without hurting yourself. I would consider this my primary reference for my own “program” as more of a technical climber versus alpinist.

If you’re wondering why we’ve included a book about weight lifting for football players, let us convince you Advances in Functional Training is one of the most important books on the list. Training is about getting stronger, yes, but we also train to keep from getting injured. Mike Boyle is leading a philosophical change in the big five sports regarding evidence based strength training and it’s impact on the reduction of on field injuries and performance. Whether you’re an endurance athlete or 5.15 sport climber, Boyle offers a lot of insight on complementary strength training.

In The Rock Warrior’s Way, Arno Ilgner has without a doubt fostered a revolution in the way we think about climbing. Honestly, training our brain and listening to our motivations will result in more gains than physical training for most people. How many times have you said ‘take’ then realized you knew how to do the moves? How many times have you been witness to your own internal dialog working in limiting ways: ‘I can’t do this’, ‘these moves are too hard’? In the same way experts can formulate programs to do more pullups, Arno’s book gives you the insight and practical steps to keep your attention in the present moment and be comfortable there, regardless of how stressful and chaotic the situation.

We’d urge anyone interested in more dedicated training to pay close attention to the cautions of all these authors: if you get hurt training it defeats the point! These books inform the exercises we do and have made our workouts less random and more intentional. As guides, we certainly believe in the value of formalized training for climbing even though we’re the lucky ones who gets to climb outside on rock and ice less than 30 minutes from home year-round. However, even if you only have a woody in the garage and the local fitness center there’s a lot of preparation you can do for climbing trips (trust me I starting climbing in Oklahoma). Be safe, have fun out there, and climb well!


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