Ice Climbing Workout – How to Train for Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing Workout

Winter is on its way and so is ice climbing season. So, here is your ice climbing workout!

Maybe you’re new to ice climbing, but you’ve decided to head to Ouray for one of our ice climbing clinics. Or, maybe the backcountry is your calling and you’re off to Cody, Wyoming. No matter your experience or where you’re headed, knowing how to train for ice climbing can make for a vastly better ice climbing experience.

I don’t jump into “specific training” for climbing unless I know that the athlete has a good foundation of fitness. All outcome-based training must be laid upon a solid fitness foundation.

Before Doing a specific Ice Climbing Workout, let’s check in:

  1. Do you have a well-developed cardiovascular system, good resting heart rate, and a rapid heart rate recovery from high output activities? I suggest a regular aerobic fitness program (4-5 days a week 30-90+ minutes).
  2. Do you have postural and mobility issues? Do your joints have a good range of motion? Have you taken steps to correct your posture if necessary, through yoga or other stretching routines?
  3. In order to avoid injury, do you have a well-rounded, balanced strength-base on which to build more difficult training? A fitness base could come from rock climbing, body weight workouts or gym strengthening classes.

If you said yes to all of the above, let’s dive in!

If you said no, you will benefit from managing these pieces first. You will benefit not only in your climbing but in your health, overall life and injury prevention to build a fitness base.

Ice climbing is unique. It requires overhead strength to swing an ice tool as well as core-strength to stabilize while you swing and move upward from single points of contact. Ice climbing also requires good leg strength and endurance, especially in your calves. Hanging out on front points to place gear or find a perfect tool placement can put your calves on fire.

Overhead Strength

Overhead strength requires overhead mobility.

Add some specific overhead mobility work into your routine. Here’s a suggestion: I call it the overhead reach.
Overhead Reach for ice climbing workout
Then Add:

  • Overhead Triceps Extensions
  • Pull Overs
  • Pull-ups (can be assisted) on 1” dowels or your ice tools. (Doing pull-ups on dowels, or your tools, will help orient your hands and forearms into ice climbing position.)

Do five sets of five reps (5 x 5) on all the above movements, making them heavy and hard, after proper warm up.

See videos below:

Core Strength

Core strength for climbers is very important and I’ve included many good exercises in the training tips along the way.

Add In:

  • KTE (knees to elbows)(3-4 x 10)
  • Heavy Strict Press (Although strict press is considered an arm/upper-body strength movement it’s also a good test of your “core.” Presses build your ability to stabilize mass overhead) (5 x 5))
  • GHD Situps or Anchored Leg Lowers if no GHD (3-4 x 10)
    See videos below:

Leg Strength and Calf Endurance

Lastly, a little tune-up for the legs. Effectively using your hips and legs to stand while climbing is affectionately known as “push- the-bush.”

To really work your entire system with “external object control”

Add In:

  • KB Swings
  • Ball Slams

These are both “hip, glute, leg” driven movements but are oh so much more: grip strength, core strength, and so complex that they become a great challenge for the cardiovascular system. (3-5 x 10)

Then those calves, always stretch, daily…if you hike, run, bike, your calves are tight.

Each season the first pitch of difficult ice climbing is always a wake-up call.  Standing on front points is a calf burner. There’s not a lot one can do to prepare other than getting out there, however, a few sets of 4x 30 secs work/30 secs holding of calf raises on a step won’t hurt. You can increase the challenge by doing multiple sets of 4x 30/30. Or increase the workload to 6x 30/30 or 8×30/30 and so on.
See videos below:

Ice Climbing Workout

10:00 warm up row, bike, run
2 × 8 shoulder openers
2 x 5 Cuban press
work on mobility
3 × 5 wall squats
3 x 6 goblet squats
5x Overhead Triceps Extension
10x KTE
10x Ball Slams
5 rounds – rest as necessary.
5x Pull Up on dowels
10x KB Swing
5x Strict Press
x 5 rounds
Finish with 4x 30/30 calf raise and hold.
Cool Down

If the volume is too much, this can be broken into two different workouts, .

Make sure this Ice Climbing Workout is in addition to your regular fitness routine and replaces only one or two workouts a week.

Most importantly have fun with this and your ice climbing season!

If you need information for a specific climb or trip of any nature you can contact me via email or 970-773-3317

Carolyn Parker
Founder Ripple Effect Training
Gym Jones, Fully Certified Instructor
AMGA Certified Rock Guide