March 4, 2014 posted by

Climbing: A Different Look At Foundation Training

Climbing: A Different Look At Foundation Training

Here’s the recap of my foundation training. I covered what’s going on in this post, and this one, so read those if you haven’t and want to catch up. Otherwise you can just see what I did. To summarize, I think I’ve made more gains in this foundation period than ever before. Details at the end, let’s get to the workout(s).

While no two weeks were identical (my schedule varies a fair amount), each week was based around some variation of the workout below. The elements of this workout were done twice each week, though sometimes broken up for time/accessibility with the climbing-specific work one day and the big muscle work the next. One day per week climbing outside, which I’ll explain in the evaluation.

The New Foundation Workout

Warm-up – I would try and do some cardio stuff first, like a hike with the dogs, to get my body feeling warm and supple. In the gym I’d do the P90X2 Functional Warm-up and then some shoulder stabilization movements. I’d warm-up my fingers doing campusing movements on my board with my feet on.


6 – 10 sets of laddering (1,1,2,3,4,5,5,4,3,2,1,1) – 10 moves
4-8 sets of of skip 1, match, skip 1, match and reverse – 8 moves

a set done every 3 minutes on the largest rungs (1.75″)


12 seconds on/6 seconds off X 6 for each hold
2:00 between holds
5 different holds

– first digit crimp
– back two fingers
– front two fingers
– middle two fingers
– large slopey ball

Resistance Circuits

Lat pull-down 30 reps
Front narrow grip press downs ( a front pull but with resistance increasing as you go lower, like a reverse muscle up with a band) 30 reps
Hang/crimp – hang from a hold and then move into crimp position (foot on) 30 reps
Russian Twist w/ weight 30 reps (side/side = 1)

Done 2 to 4 times

Typewriters (take weight off) – This is holding a lock-off at the top and moving back and forth across the bar. No pull-up in between – 30 reps
Off-set push-ups – 15 each side
Lock-off pulses (on bar or ring, w/band to take weight off) 30 reps
Side plank w/ leg up, toe down – 30 seconds each side

Done 1 to 4 times

Triceps extension from lunge 30 reps
Chest flys from lunge 30 reps
Squat, curl, press 30 reps
Weighted crunches 30 reps

Done 1 to 4 times

“Power Forearms”

Wrist curls 30 reps
Reverse wrist curls 30 reps
Behind the back wrist curls 30 reps
Reverse curls 30 reps
Finger rolls 30 reps
(Next exercises use bar weighted on one end)
one-arm (straight) lifts flexor 30 reps
one-arm (straight) lifts extensor 30 reps
one-arm (bent) rotations, back and forth = 30 reps

Done 1 to 2 times

Rice bucket

Standard 9 minute routine

NIS stretch


There was some variation due to venues, mainly, and experimentation.  Progressed in volume over time for everything. When I broke it up (climbing specific one day, circuits the other, I added circuit volume and balance exercises, usually doing weighted movements on one leg when it made sense). For  intensity, as I always began campus sets with feet on (at 1-minute intervals) until I was sure fingers felt ready for the workout. 30 reps on body weight movements, like pull-ups and lock-offs, require a system to take weight off (if you’re me) in order to get all the reps in, which is paramount to this phase. A foot is on for hand/crimps to get 30 reps.

Phil Request has had success doing a very similar plan with much more volume. Phil handles 4 hour workout, three times per week, and one climbing day. Phil is near my age, which eliminates most people’s first guess for how he could handle this volume and progress. There are two other factors.

phil does some volume

This article discusses our body’s energy limits  . Phil does not do other sports, or much cardiovascular training. He therefore has more energy to spend on his climbing-specific workouts. Furthermore, and just as important, he is the archetypal red muscle-fiber body type. I’m mostly a white fiber type. Years of training has made me able to handle more endurance, and given Phil surprising explosiveness, but when it comes to volume, he can handle a lot of it. More than probably anyone I’ve ever trained with.



I’ve never done a full round of easy campusing and believe it’s extremely useful for building base. Even though the sets are very easy (an anathema to most campusers), and somewhat boring, my fingers got fatter and stronger without much risk. Phil Requist has now done two blocks of foundation campusing (and a very similar workout-more later) and found it very effective.


I’ve done a ton of this, but never after campusing and found that to make things much more interesting. I’ve also never done 12 on and 6 off. I often do 10 on 5 off and found the extra 2 seconds very difficult. Hard to say how effective it was. I found board training after campusing somewhat uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it’s in a good way, as the board workouts weren’t up to par. In my next phase I’m only going to campus one day and fingerboard two (because fingerboarding is vital for hypertrophy). I’ll have a better perspective after that phase.


I’ve been playing with these for a while and like them. I will use, more or less, the same circuits for hypertrophy. The goal is to focus on climbing specific movements and just train the other muscles enough to remain balanced (which is an issue with climbers in general). The decrease in volume will dictate that intensity increases on the exercises.

Power forearms

Phil has been doing this for years and I feel like an idiot for never doing it with him. All climbers should do this routine. I mean, forearms are our bread and butter. Why wouldn’t we train them as well as we could?

Rice bucket

Check the above link. Interesting, since this generally feels like rehab to me, how horribly hard it would be at the end of this workout.


A short session for upper, lower and, of course, forearms.

Climbing outside

Sucked. The Anderson brothers (I think on Rocklclimbing.com) have an interesting analysis of climbing while doing fingerboard training. They disagree on whether you should or not, but agree it ruins your climbing if you’re training properly. My outside climbing was awful, as expected, but I knew it would be. The point of climbing outside was to help keep skin in actual climbing shape (always a crux at some point) and to keep muscle integration sharp, so that there isn’t a lag getting back to climbing at the end of the training phase. I did a few ARC sets (30 minutes of continuous low-intensity climbing) but feel these are more useful as a recovery protocol, which I’ll discuss more later.

“Off” days were comprised of cardio (generally mountain hikes) and some stability training, either yoga or a stabilizer workout.

Final Thoughts

It’s very hard to quantify in this phase because you’re in too much transition to perform well, and would not want to take 100% effort performance tests at this point anyway, as effort should be measured when you’re in adapting state. The goal of this block is to prepare the body for the rigors of more specific climbing training, and just climbing. What is clear is that my fingers and forearms, particularly, are getting bigger and stronger. They feel ready for more intensity, which ramps up now.

I generally felt awful climbing. Stiff and lacking finger power, and continuously pumped due to training volume. However, during my longest (non-ARC) session (6 routes), after feeling horribly pumped and unable to do reasonably-hard movements for most of the session, I recovered and climbed a 12a, placing draws, on my last go. It felt like once I got through the mental block of having training breakdown and the body adapted to movement on rock, I had far more reserve than normal.

At the end of the block, I took a “recovery phase” of six days without hard training. During this time I tried my “lifetime” project (vid from when I was in climbing shape) and was able to do the moves without pulling so hard I felt I was risking injury because all off my joints and connective tissues feel very solid. This is much better than expected, since I usually can’t do the moves after a break, which I’ll call “proof” that the phase worked.


Is next. Since I don’t want to gain much weight it will be a short 3 week block, following similar structure but targeting shorter sets, 10/5 on the board and 12-15 reps on the exercises.


  • Russian Twist w/ weight 30 reps – Steve would you be so kind to share what weight do you personally using for this exercise.. this one is always puzzle for me: heavy or light? Just would be so educational to see what weight someone like you who is training for climbing is using bcs we both have same goals to be lightweight & fit… although I am just a girl who wants to loose weight and have a tight core! LOL – this comparison is so funny as we are light years away from each other in fitness level!

  • I started with 15lbs and got up to 25lbs by the fourth week. Don’t get too fixated on weight with this exercise. The goal is to provide resistance that you can control. This is not an exercise you ever want to fail at because you lost control because you’re spinning off of your spine.

    • Thank you, was very helpful! I think climbing is the toughest sport of all in any way – mentally and physically.

  • Phil’s training site is up. You’ll want to check this out, even if you’re not a climber and just someone who likes to geek out on climbing.


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