According to U.S. News, a record-breaking 112 million Americans are expected to travel for the Holidays. If you are like me, Christmas means piling presents, a suitcase, and maybe some local drafts in the car and hitting the road to head back to wherever family is.
It also means trying to figure out how to squeeze a workout in between the family functions and the consumption of one or two or ten of Aunt Jenny’s cookies.
If I am driving to whatever family/friends I am visiting and I know they don’t have any home gym options, nothing beats a portable, door frame pull-up bar. So if you have access to that, great! If not, no worries there are other ways to get strong without it. I love to get a good workout in before the holiday family mayhem starts, so if you are like me, take a look some of these workout options!
Workout #1: requires pull-up bar
I like doing what is known as a superset. You pair two exercises together, do them immediately after each other and then rest for a period after you have done both exercises. The workout below has three supersets of exercises and a bonus round.
Additionally, before getting into it any physical activity, I always to a 5 minute dynamic warmup of some sort. (jumping jacks, high knees, shoulder swings, etc. After that, you are good to get into the workout. See circuit below.
Explanations and Modifications
If you can’t quite do a pull-up/chin up (which is totally fine, you will get there!), I used to modify by either putting a foot on the back of a chair or tying resistance bands to the pull-up bar and put one or more feet in the band.
If normal pull-ups are too easy, you can always go the extra mile by bringing weights, a weight pin, a carrabiner and your climbing harness with you (I managed to squeeze in some very hungover weighted pull-ups when I was a music festival this past May. My friends on the trip were amazed at the motivation.)
Side plank can be done either on your hand or on you elbow–whatever works for you!
Yes. a Burpee pull-up is actually jumping up, doing a pull-up, coming back down, jumping your feet back into a plank, doing a push-up and jumping back up to the pull-up bar. If it sounds awful it’s because it is. Here’s a video of it
Workout #2: No equipment
Part 1: Upper body (follow the fitness blender video)
Part 2: Legs (mini leg blasters)
If you want to hit the legs as well, do some mini leg blasters. I still hold fast to my love of leg blasters as a useful way to spend 15 minutes and DESTROY YOUR LEGS without any equipment. (Especially if you are interested in ways to train for skiing.)
Try to do 10 mini leg blasters (see the circuit below) with 30 seconds of rest in-between. Credit to backcountry.com for their article on this leg workout that always has me ready to go for ski season!
So there you have it. Two workouts requiring minimal or no equipment that can help you break a sweat and feel like you’re still contributing to your overall fitness, even if you aren’t at home training on your usual wall.
A couple of years back when I was still in school, a good friend who had just moved to Jackson Hole sent me a frantic text. Ahead of my upcoming trip to the world-renowned (and famously steep) resort, she warned me “Start working out your legs or you won’t be ready!”
Aware that Jackson Hole was a gnarly place and that my Ohio-based cardiovascular system was not yet prepared for the upcoming trip, I set to work finding a preseason ski training plan that would work with a climbing schedule (and still leave me free time to do my engineering homework and go to the bar with my friends).
Although this sounds pretty far-fetched, there is an effective preseason ski training plan presented by Backcountry.com that provides exactly what I describe above. Enter the leg blaster.
However if you’ve read anything about climbing training and you enjoy skiing, you can spot a pretty obvious issue. These sports demand your body to be conditioned for diverse physical outputs. The only things that overlap in these two sports are the necessity of some cardiovascular stamina, really intense core strength, and a healthy command of your mental game.
Fear not, though. For all you two sport enthusiasts, there are ways to optimize for both. I’ve been following this program for two ski seasons now. I have showed up to resorts from Jackson Hole to Revelstoke to Snowbird ready to slay without noticing significant impact to my climbing.
Geographically speaking, climbing season and ski season are not really concurrent for me. The outdoor climbing areas in the Northeast become mostly too cold, and ski season starts in Mid-November to December. After the end of the fall climbing season, I transition to indoor training for climbing and prepping my legs to hit the powder in the coming winter months.
Certainly refer to Backcountry for more details, but a leg blaster is essentially a series of eccentric body weight leg movements targeting the lower half. Below is an explanation of concentric vs. eccentric strength for skiing from Rob Shaul, who runs the Mountain Tactical Institute in Jackson, Wyoming (he is also the author of the Backcountry Article/the mastermind behind the leg blasting training protocol).
Alpine skiing demands eccentric leg strength. Think of concentric strength as “positive’ strength. This is the strength you use to stand up from the bottom of a squat, or hike up a steep hill. Eccentric strength is “negative’ strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force. Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength.
So there you have it. Train your ability to absorb impact and get better at skiing. See below for an explanation of both “mini” and a “full” leg blaster.
Mini Leg Blaster
10 bodyweight squats
5 lunges each side (10 total)
5 jump lunges each side (10 total)
5 jump squats
Full Leg Blaster
20 bodyweight squats
10 lunges each side (20 total)
10 jump lunges each side (20 total)
10 jump squats
As you work through the program, you improve from 10 mini leg blasters to 5 full ones. The exercises should be done as quickly as possible without compromising form, 30s rest in between. I recommend keeping a stop watch on your phone and tallying on a piece of paper as you go.
Train for Skiing After Climbing
So how do you work in leg blasters on a daily/weekly basis?
It’s pretty simple actually. It takes about 15 minutes to complete your leg blasting workout and no equipment is required. I tack it onto the end of a climbing session 2-3 times a week with 1-2 days of rest in between.
Note that I don’t do leg blasters before training/climbing. I only do them at the end of a session. I love both sports, but I’m not compromising a limit bouldering session because I just wrecked myself doing 50 jump squats.
For obvious reasons, excess leg muscle is sub-optimal for high performance climbing. According to the Anderson Brothers in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual,
“[Leg] Muscles ‘in training’ can store up to 5 lbs of useless (to climbing) glucose and water alone.”
Doing the volume of low weight high rep leg exercise as prescribed for pre-season ski conditioning (and skiing itself) is likely going to lead to some hypertrophy; however, I like to think this is advantageous in the outdoor climbing off-season.
Think of this additional leg muscle is “training weight”. As you train for climbing you’ll be training with the weight of your beefy, shred-ready thighs, preparing your upper body and your fingers to climb at a heavier weight (and then you will presumably drop this excess weight at the start of climbing season.
According to the Anderson Brothers, “At the end of each season’s peak, it is acceptable (and even desirable), to relax dietary restrictions and bulk up five to ten pounds…It is very difficult to add muscle and effectively build strength with restricted caloric intake.”
So eat well, get comfortable with putting on some training weight. It takes time to completely lose muscle gained during the ski season, so don’t expect your legs to shrink overnight. Muscle will begin receding after about one month. Once three months of not skiing in the summer have passed, your legs should be nice and scrawny for fall send season. If you want to read all about the effects of detraining on your muscle, I found an extremely well-researched article on muscleforlife.com. Check out an excerpt from the article below:
Sure, in a perfect world you never have to climb with excess leg muscle weighing you down. But to be a two sport athlete, sacrifices must be made. Personally, I love skiing waist-deep powder. So let the gains begin.
Training Cardio for Ski Season
Another physical adaptation that may need to be increased for ski season is your cardiovascular capacity. As someone that does not live at a high altitude, I am not naturally prepared to be hiking uphill with skis on my back at 10,000 ft.
So cardio for ski season is necessary, for me at least.
Last year was the first year I included cardio training in my pre-season program. I am pretty cardio averse so I had to enlist the help of the good people of Orange Theory to get myself to do it. I personally do not enjoy cardio so going to a class where I was forced to run and row (all out sprints included) was a good choice for me.
This year, in order to save my sweet sweet moola for a new pair of skis, I’m forgoing the Orange Theory membership and trading it in for some quality time on the rower and the treadmill.
Although it would be nice to have the time for a long run a few times a week, I am opting to train my cardio systems with High Intensity Interval Training twice per week instead. This is a less time consuming cardio regimen and has been proven to be very effective as well.
This article on HIIT from BodyBuilding.com explains the concept pretty simply. I will either do my HIIT training on the rower or the treadmill and I won’t do HIIT more than twice a week. Leg blasters are pretty intense cardio anyway, and honestly I don’t have the time to do more than two HIIT sessions per week in addition to climbing training.
Weekly Training Overview
So what does this look like on a weekly basis?
See sample schedule below (for an explanation of the climbing portion of this training schedule, click here and here):
Monday: Limit bouldering
Tuesday: Strength, HIIT
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Power Endurance, leg blasters
Friday: Endurance, HIIT
Saturday: Climb indoors/ski outside/rest (depends on the weather/life obligations)
Sunday: Leg blasters
Things to keep in mind
1. Intense cardio can wreck your climbing recovery. If possible, it’s best to give yourself full and complete rest days instead of doing some sort of training everyday.
2. Leg blasters can and will destroy your legs, especially if you haven’t worked out the old gams in a while. When I get back to doing them each season I take it easy, starting with 7-8 mini leg blasters and working my way up (although 10 minis is the recommended starting point). As soon as my thighs start feeling “pumped” I call it quits and cool down. Being sore and walking like you have a stick up your ass for 3 days straight sucks (and it will make climbing suck too). Don’t overdo it.
3. Make sure you have good form for these exercises! Don’t hurt your knees before ski season even starts.
4. Warm up before leg blasting. You probably will be warmed up from climbing, but make sure you at least do some walking/dynamic warmups before you start your leg blasting/HIIT workouts.
With that, happy skiing and happy climbing. Shoot me an email if you have any questions!
It was fall in the Red River Gorge. For those that have never been, it is famous (and infamous) for its overhanging walls of wonderful sandstone jugs, pockets, and plates. I was working on a 10d in Miller Fork–an overhanging jug haul. Great fun with wonderful movement. All of my friends absolutely cruised it. Then me, pumped out and scared, bit it by bolt #3. I couldn’t finish the route at all. I was pumped out of my mind in a very short span of time and I felt like garbage.
Fast forward a little over year and a couple of 6 week cycles of focused endurance training later, I sidled up to Tesseract, once more. Armed with slightly bigger forearms, more confidence, and a veracious fear of failure, I SLAYED IT. I sent it with shocking ease and felt like a different climber.
There are many facets of training that go into this, but I can definitely attribute much of my improvement to focused endurance training–more specifically, ARC Training.
What is ARC Training?
ARC Training is a form of endurance training for climbers in which the focus is to increase the number of capillarization in the forearms. This thereby raises your maximum steady-state (MSS) when you are climbing. Essentially, if you raise your MSS (e.g. ” I used to be able to climb 5.10 forever, then I ARC trained, and now I can climb 5.11 forever.”), it means that you will be able to climb longer on more difficult terrain without getting pumped as quickly. See equation below:
MORE FOREARM CAPILLARIZATION = HIGHER MSS =
LESS FOREARM PUMP = MORE SENDING AND LESS FALLING
The main idea behind ARC training is that you want to maintain a slight pump for 20-45 minutes. In general you will want to stay on the wall for this amount of time. As stated by the Anderson Brothers: “This is best performed by climbing on vertical to slightly overhanging terrain that places a steady load on the forearms so that a moderate, but sustainable pump ensues for upwards of 30 minutes.” (Mark and Mike Anderson, Link here: Base Fitness )
If you would like to read more about ARC training, head on over to the Base Fitness page of the Anderson Brothers website. You can also read all about ARC training and other topics in their book, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. The book is a holy grail of training information and I highly recommend it.
High Skill, Moderate intensity
An important thing to note is that ARCing should still involve high-skill climbing and it should simulate the outdoors as much as possible (e.g. you want to climb with good technique and ideally you are using small footholds that simulate features in outdoor climbing.)
… I’m a huge advocate of keeping it high-skill climbing. ARCing, aerobic restoration capillary training, some people will just traverse along or climb open feet on the treadwall and we dumb down our skills there.
So, ARC all you want. But don’t spend your time climbing like garbage on a 5.6. ARCing should increase your endurance and your skills.
How to ARC.
Method 1: ARCing on a bouldering wall
This method works well if you can go to the gym when it is quiet.
What I like to do when ARCing on a boulder is half traversing and half up-climbing and down-climbing routes 1-2 grades below my limit.
I traverse to the start of a problem, usually sticking with v0-v3 routes so as not to get too pumped, then I’ll climb up and back down and then crawl over to the next problem (grade that serves the proper pump will vary from person to person)
Generally this method is nice because bouldering walls have tons of holds. With this, you can optimize your ARCing and temper the “pump” by simply decreasing/increasing the difficulty of the holds as needed.
Method 2: Autobelays
The use of autobelays is my typical method for ARC training. I try to find an auto-belay with a 5.9 and 5.10. I keep the routes generally 1-2 grades below my onsight limit (5.11). Anything slightly overhanging is ideal. I then climb up and climb down for 20-30 minutes (duration is discussed later). I usually climb something easier first, and then toss in a more difficult route at about 5 minutes. This helps me get a good pump going. By about 7 minutes, I am a little pumped and sweating lightly.
For etiquette reasons, I do my best to keep an eye out for someone waiting around to use the autobelay. Or I will typically warn people that I am about to be on the routes for 20+ minutes and let people go in front of me. It is ideal to stay on the autobelay for 10-15 minutes. You can then leave the first autobelay and go to another one. Climb something hard before departing for the next autobelay and get there quickly. The goal is to keep the pump going!
The method of swapping autobelays usually works pretty well in a crowded gym and is usually what I do after work.
Method 3: Get into a training belay-tionship
Get a buddy and have them belay you for each arc set. This might be a little time consuming since your rest periods between sets will be 20+ minutes, but this method is nice because having friends is good and the same four routes on the same two autobelays will get extremely boring after a while.
How Much and How Often?
If I am going to make a day of it, I will ARC for a total of 60-90 minutes.
I try to fitone day of ARCing each week, currently. You can also toss it into other days of climbing/training/goofing around. A sample schedule of what I am currently doing is below.
ARC 20-30 min.
ARC 20-30 min.
ARC 20-30 min.
ARC 20-30 min.
ARC 20-30 min.
In general, I will tack 20-30 minutes of ARC training at the end of a session, depending on if time allows. Additionally, I like to dedicate one day a week to it if I have the time, which I do right now. Note that when doing multiple sets, I rest about 10 minutes between each set.
Also please note that I do not stick to a rigid schedule in terms of days on/rest days–I rest as much as I feel is needed. I will touch on this in a later post.
General ARCing Advice
PUMP UP THE JAMS! Music is everything. Get some wireless headphones, put on your favorite spotify playlist, set a timer, and get going!*
*DIRTBAG TIP: Before I owned wireless headphones, I had earbuds with a wire and the pants I wore usually didn’t have pockets. Keeping my jams attached to me while I climb proved to be challenging. BUT I have found that a pair of earbuds combined with a Velcro arm band phone case does just the trick. I would strap the phone case to my harness and rock out!
**Other dirtbag tip: If you have the funds, pull the trigger and spend $25 on these wireless headphones– Bluetooth Earbuds – TaoTronics They work very well and for a good price, too!
STARTING OUT. Work your way up if 20 minutes is too long! If you need to break your ARC sets up into 10 minute segments for the first few sessions, it is alright. However, it is better to try to climb for the the full 20 minutes instead of shorter sets. If you need to start on 5.6/5.7 to get up to 20 minutes when you are just starting out, do it, but climb with good technique–and use small feet. If your fingers are not up to it, climb the route that has larger holds for your hands and use open feet, carefully selecting the chips on the wall as opposed to big knobs. This will be better for outdoor training. In my experience, when I was a 5.9/5.10a redpoint climber, I started out on 5.6-5.8 to be able to get myself to 20 minutes, but I did my best to use small feet if they were available.
DOWNCLIMBING. I know that when I started ARCing one of the things that I found very challenging was downclimbing, especially on autobelays. In general, if I find it too awkward to climb down a specific route, I usually use open hands and feet, trying to keep myself in a good zone aerobically.
Another note about downclimbing is that it is useful from a technique perspective (Read more about this in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. ). Generally speaking, most of climbing is upward-centric. You look up and focus on where to put your hands. If you look down, you focus on where to put your feet–which is helpful in terms of developing your footwork. Don’t skip the downclimbing–it’s important!
TEMPERING THE PUMP. You want the pump to be manageable. At no point should you be about to pop off the wall. If you find yourself getting too pumped, rest a bit and scale back the difficulty until the pump feels manageable again. It takes a bit to figure out, but after a few sessions, you will have a feel for it. If you find that it has been 10 minutes and you are not yet sweating or feeling pumped, you can use smaller holds, try to move faster, or get on a harder route.
Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions! I am more than stoked to talk to you.