Traditionally, climbers have trained for the sport by simply climbing and bouldering often. However, the game has begun to change and the benefits of sport specific training are becoming evident as more and more climbers are pushing into harder grades that are no longer reserved for the world’s most elite climbers.
Jobs, climbing conditions, season, and location stop most of us from climbing whenever we want, so ‘off-ice’ training plays a large part in improving our sports performance. This training can help you maintain or improve general and climbing specific whole body fitness when you can’t get out to the real thing. It allows you to target any specific weakness, help protect yourself from injury, and ensures that you can make the most out of the opportunities to get out and climb for real.
Unconventional training methods offer fun, productive, and time-efficient ways to move towards success on the climbs you aspire to. This is a world of gymnastic rings, sandbags, and clubs, but for me, one of the best tools is the kettlebell. No other single tool does it better. Put a kettlebell or two into your training mix and reap the rewards.
This article is intended to share some ideas for using the kettlebell as part of your training for mixed climbing combined with some more traditional climbing training techniques. These are exercises and techniques over and above using the kettlebell for developing general work capacity, fat loss, or strength, they are particularly relevant to mixed climbing. These descriptions are not a substitute for proper tuition, so if you are new to kettlebells, I strongly recommend getting proper instruction before diving in.
Unconventional Training for Climbers: Top 10 Tips
1) Grip strength/endurance is one of the most obvious factors to train. Weighted hangs on your ice tools are great to build this ability and also to develop the feeling of how much grip you have got left in the tank; try using Tabata intervals of 20 seconds hang and 10 seconds rest.
2) Using chains as a suspension trainer allows you to use your ice tools for greater specificity (see picture).3) Another good grip-enhancement circuit involves supersetting two-handed heavy kettlebell swings with weighted hangs: 30 seconds of Kettlebell Swings, 30 second hangs for several rounds.
4) Heavy Kettlebell Round-the-Body passes hammer the grip and core then moving onto a figure 8 with a hold brings in the biceps as well.
5) Bottoms up kettlebell lifts, such as the Clean & Press, force you to stabilize and control an unsteady load, very similar to wielding an ice tool when your grip and arms are nearly spent. Keep your opposite hand free to guard your head! Another alternative is to swing hammers or clubs above your head in a similar way as you would on the ice. Try swinging with one arm while holding a kettlebell pressed overhead with the other.
6) The other obvious attribute is the ability to pull on your tools and hold a locked-off position. Again, chains make a great suspension trainer for pull ups, horizontal rows, and lock offs. Mix it up with offset pull ups (one hand higher than other) and travelling pull ups (pull up to the top position, then move your body so that your chin touches one hand then the other). Practice holding yourself in various arm positions to mimic placing protection (anchors) or searching for the next tool placement.
7) Kettlebell Renegade Rows feel similar to the movement needed to make high reaches when on the steep stuff – pulling with one arm, pushing with the other and maintaining the body tension needed to keep your feet on the rock (or ice). Hardstyle planks also challenge this full body tension and the ability to connect your points of contact when on steep terrain.
8) I use kettlebells to work shoulder mobility and stability, as well as prehab/ rehab. Every warm up includes kettlebell Halos and then light, slow Turkish Get Ups (TGU’s) performed by concentrating on a strict hardstyle form and pausing at each step. Supersetting them with strict pull ups gives an excellent time-efficient circuit. My favourite exercise that is very specific to hard mixed climbing is a development of the Shoulder Roll and Lock that Will Gadd describes in his excellent book “Ice and Mixed Climbing: Modern Techniques”:
“Using a chain as a suspension device, start by hanging from one tool in one hand with your feet supported on something so that your body is about horizontal. Hold a kettlebell bottoms-up/pistol grip in the other hand. Roll you chest to the hand holding the tool and pull into a lock off whilst pressing the KB as far up as you can. Hold this position then unwind and repeat.”
9) Kettlebells are usually handled with a crush grip that is very similar to holding onto a tool’s grip. High rep ballistic exercises (Swings, Snatches, etc.) require you to grip and re-grip a moving kettlebell. This constant motion makes for an extreme grip workout. Want it to be more difficult? Try soaping up your hands first – but make sure you are not going to hit anything if you can’t hold on!
10) The traditional strongman exercise of Farmers walks can be brutally effective. Try it with two kettlebells in each hand. Drop one from each hand when you tire and walk some more. You’ll feel this in more than just your forearms.
Hopefully this has given you a flavour of how to use Kettlebells to support your training. I always happy to chat about kettlebells, unconventional training or dry tooling so get in touch!
This article was featured in the Feb/Mar 2012 Issue of the My Mad Methods Magazine. “Rock & Ice: Training for Modern Mixed Climbing" was written by the Andrew Rutherford. Learn more about the My Mad Methods Magazine by Clicking Here
Andy Rutherford is a UK based HKC certified kettlebell instructor, has trained under Mike Mahler and holds a diploma in sports psychology. He is combing kettlebells and other unconventional tools to develop off-ice training for winter climbers. Find out more.
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