Antagonist Muscle Training for (Intermediate) Climbers

Confession time: I can’t do a real push-up. Not even one! I’m a perfect example of the imbalance that many climbers have in their upper bodies–our pulling muscles are way stronger than our pushing muscles. Correcting or avoiding this imbalance is an important part of injury prevention.

Maggie is wondering why I can't do a real push up, and what on earth I was doing hovering a few inches off the ground with my arms shaking.

Maggie says: You really can’t do a push-up!? What are you doing in the dirt? Can I play too?

One of my training ‘projects’ is improving my the strength of my antagonist muscles to correct my own imbalance. You don’t need a fancy training program: you can fit pushing muscle exercises into whatever workout/climbing schedule you already have. Here are three suggestions…

#1 Stick, Meet Carrot

During your next bouldering or routes session, work in a light number of push-ups in between routes or problems. Decide on a specific ratio–for example–do 5 (or 10) push-ups for every two boulder problems. If your gym has free weights easily accessible, you can mix it up and do other antagonist exercises.

When I do this type of workout, what I’m usually doing is ‘rewarding’ myself for doing exercises I’m not good at by doing things I like to do. For example, I do push-up progression exercises in all of  my workouts: lifting or climbing. Sometimes, when I’ve done good work in a session, I’ll ‘reward’ myself by hopping up on the bar and doing a few pull-ups for fun.

You can work push-ups in between routes into your warm-up or cool down, or do them throughout a session. Don’t give yourself a break when you get outdoors–you may feel silly doing push-ups at the crag, but injuries are far worse than feeling silly. Ask yourself–if not now, when?

#2 Self-Assigned Homework

As Tony would say, I stole this idea from Tony Gentilcore, specifically from his pull-up progression series. Tony gives his clients ‘homework’ to do a certain number of reps per day, 25 or 50, for example.

Continue reading

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Intermediate Climbers

#1 Find Strength in Numbers

Community is one of the things (for me, the thing) that makes climbing so amazing. Make it your goal to reach out to somebody new in 2013. Include the person who’s looking for a partner in your group–even if it makes odd numbers. Help out the beginners in your gym or at the crag! Make sure the guy in his street shoes and a harness in the bouldering area gets a good spot–sometimes beginners aren’t as in control of where they land when they fall. Be warm, welcoming and supportive.

#2 Use Outdoor Time Wisely

You should have three modes:

  1. Onsighting 
  2. Working
  3. Redpointing

Most intermediate climbers spend too much time trying to onsight and redpoint, and little or no time at all working or projecting routes. If you’re trying to send the minute your feet leave the ground, every time, I’m talking to you! If a route is too hard for you to onsight, you should be working it! Test out beta, try tough sections multiple times, rest on the rope, and plan tactics for your redpoint go.

#3 Work on Your Footwork 

Let’s be honest guys–we’re never going to be done working on footwork. There is no final state of footwork nirvana in which no improvement is possible. Now that we’ve accepted that, resolve to work on footwork in some way in every training session. One way to do this is to play the silent feet game–find a friend to make sure you stay accountable!

Fancy footin' on the cigar in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY

Fancy footin’ on the cigar in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY

#4 Be a Beginner Again 

Once you’ve been climbing for a while, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what you’re good at. Trying things you’re bad at makes you look silly, it’s hard, and it often feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Do it anyway! Are slopers your nemesis? Replace a hold on a moderate (for you) route or problem with a sloper and see how it changes your beta? Technical masters, try something with a roof ! Jug haulers, try something balancy. Don’t spend any time telling everyone around you that you’re bad at whatever it is to lower expectations before you try it–just do it! You don’t judge other people when they fail, odds are, no one is judging you!

#5 Give Yourself a Break

When you have big dreams, it’s easy to fall short of your expectations. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep dreaming, and keep working! Someday you’ll get there, and in the meantime, there’s lots of fun to be had along the way.

What are your resolutions? What are you working on in the New Year? Want me to bother you about sticking to them in June? Post up in the comments!