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Indoor Technique Training Drills – Part 1

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Photo courtesy of Stewart M. Green.

When I began climbing over 30 years ago, the climbing season ended with the hounds of winter, and the only “training for climbing” consisted of pull-ups, running, and some free-weight exercises. Fortunately, indoor walls have made climbing a year-round activity, allowing enthusiasts to improve–not regress–in strength and ability during the winter season.

Joining a commercial climbing gym or building a home bouldering wall is the single best investment you can make toward improving your climbing. However, effective indoor training requires you do more than just climb with some friends. There are highly effective practice strategies you can leverage while climbing indoors that will translate to greater economy of movement and climbing ability when you return outdoors in the spring.

Furthermore, use of these practice techniques enhance your learning of skills, improve your climber’s mindset, and increase your sport-specific strength. Here are two excellent drills to put to work:

Downclimbing routes
When leading or toproping indoors, it’s rare that I climb a route to the top and lower off without trying to downclimb as much of the route as possible. There are benefits to this practice beyond the obvious one of doubling the pump. First, in knowing that you plan to downclimb a route, you become a more observant and focused climber on the way up. What’s more, since poor footwork is a leading handicap for many climbers, there’s a lot to be gained from this practice that demands intense concentration on footwork.

Initially, you’ll find downclimbing to be difficult, awkward, and very pumpy.

But that’s the modus operandi when first attempting anything new that’s worthwhile (read “challenging”).

As your hold recognition improves and as you learn to relax and fluidly reverse the route, you’ll find downclimbing a route often feels easier than ascending it in the first place. This is because your eccentric (lowering) strength is greater than your concentric (pulling) strength, and due to the fact that by leading with the feet (while downclimbing), you learn to maximally weight them and conserve energy. All these factors make downclimbing a killer drill–one not to be overlooked by any serious climber!

Random Skill Training
The ability to on-sight a sequence of novel moves on “foreign” rock is the ultimate goal of your skill practice time. To this end, the best workout approach (after practicing new skills while fresh) is a randomized free-for-all of skill types. This highly effective method is widely used in other sports and should not be overlooked by climbers as top training for the “unknown.”

There are two approaches to random training of climbing skills. First, on an indoor wall attempt to link a sequence of very different bouldering moves. Put your right brain to work on contriving a bizarre (not hard) random sequence of moves. Take several tries at sending it. Better yet, team up with your most deranged friend on a round of the “stick game” (a.k.a. “send me”). Take turns pointing (with a broomstick) each other through a perverse sequence of movements. The ideal route is an unlikely, random selection of moderately difficult moves.

The second, more powerful method of randomization training is to climb a series of widely differing routes in rapid succession. A commercial gym with many different angles, a few cracks, and a roof or two is ideal. Team with a partner and toprope 5 to 10 routes of different character within an hour. The first route may be a vertical face, the next a slab, the third a fingercrack, the fourth an overhanging pumpfest, the fifth a handcrack, the sixth a roof route, etc. This rapid recall of a wide range of techniques is skill training at its best.

You can use both of these random practice methods outdoors as well. The advantage of real rock is a wider range of route and move types, with the downside of it taking longer to locate and setup appropriate routes.

Check back for more indoor technique-training drills!


Eric J. Horst. All Rights Reserved.