Full Body Ice Climbing Workout

Winter is on its way and so is ice climbing season!

Maybe you’re new to ice climbing and you’ve decided to head to Ouray for “The Complete” in January, or possibly more advanced skills in the backcountry are your calling and you are off to Cody or bigger adventures still, Iceland. No matter where you are headed a little extra preparation will make for a vastly better experience.

Normally, I wouldn’t jump into “specific training” for ice climbing or rock climbing unless I knew that the athlete in question already had a good foundation to launch from. All outcome-based training must be laid up a solid foundation.

So let’s check in, ask yourself a few questions:

1) Do I have a well developed cardiovascular system, good resting heart rate, rapid heart rate recovery from high output activities? A regular aerobic fitness program, 4 – 5 days a week 30 – 90+ minutes.
2) Have I addressed my postural and mobility issues? Do my joints have a good range of motion? Have I taken steps to correct my posture if necessary, through yoga or other stretching routines?
3) Do I have a well rounded, balanced strength base on which to begin more difficult training to avoid injury? This could come from rock climbing, body weight workouts, or gym strengthening classes.

If you can say yes to all of the above, let’s dive in! If not, you will benefit, not only in your climbing but in your health, life and injury prevention, if you manage these pieces of your fitness first.

Ice climbing is a unique sport. It requires strength overhead to swing an ice tool, solid core strength to stabilize the body while swinging and while moving upward on single points of contact, and good leg strength and endurance, especially calves, to hang out on your front points while placing gear or finding the perfect tool placement.

Overhead Strength

Overhead strength requires overhead mobility. Add some specific overhead mobility work into your routine. Here’s a suggestion: I call it the overhead reach.
Overhead Reach
Add Overhead Triceps Extensions, Pull Overs, and Pull-ups (can be assisted) on 1” dowels or your ice tools to orient hands and forearms into the necessary alignment for ice climbing movements. Five sets of five reps (5 x 5) on all the above movements, making them heavy and hard, after proper warm up.

See videos below:

Core Strength

We talk about core strength for climbers often and I’ve included many good exercises in the training tips along the way. Add in KTE (knees to elbows)(3-4 x 10), heavy Strict Press, although this is considered arm upper body strength movement it’s a test of your “core” strength to stabilize mass overhead (5 x 5), and GHD situps or Anchored Leg Lowers if no GHD.(3 – 4 x 10).
See videos below:

Leg Strength and Calf Endurance

Lastly, a little tune-up for the legs. In order to “learn” to effectively use the hips and legs to stand while climbing or what is affectionately known as “push the bush” and to really work the entire system with “external object control” add in KB Swings and Ball Slams. These are both “hip, glute, leg” driven movements but are oh so much more: grip strength, core strength, and so complex that they become a great challenge for the cardiovascular system. (3 – 5 x 10)

Then those calves, always stretch, daily…if you hike, run, bike, they are tight. Each season the first pitch of difficult ice climbing is always a wake-up call, standing on front points can be a calf burner. There’s not a lot one can do to prepare other than getting out there, however, a few sets of 4x 30 secs work/30 secs holding of calf raises on a step won’t hurt. You can increase the challenge by doing multiple sets of 4x 30/30. Or increase the workload to 6x 30/30 or 8×30/30 and so on.
See videos below:

Let’s throw a workout together

10:00 warm up row, bike, run
2 × 8 shoulder openers
2 x 5 Cuban press
work on mobility
3 × 5 wall squats
3 x 6 goblet squats
5x Overhead Triceps Extension
10x KTE
10x Ball Slams
5 rounds – rest as necessary.
5x Pull Up on dowels
10x KB Swing
5x Strict Press
x 5 rounds
Finish with 4x 30/30 calf raise and hold.
Cool Down

This can be broken into two different workouts if the volume of work is too much for the athlete, you can supplement in the other movements I didn’t mention in the workout that is referenced above. Make sure this is in addition to your regular fitness routine and replaces only one or two workouts a week.

And most importantly have fun with this and your ice climbing season!

If you need information for a specific climb or trip of any nature you can contact me via email or 970-773-3317

Carolyn Parker
Founder Ripple Effect Training
Gym Jones, Fully Certified Instructor
AMGA Certified Rock Guide

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