Swing! Training for Ice Climbing

How to swing a tool? Carolyn Parker, founder Ripple Effect Training, teaching ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park. ©Carolyn Parker collection 

How to swing a tool? Carolyn Parker, founder Ripple Effect Training, teaching ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park. ©Carolyn Parker collection

All outcome-based training must be laid on a solid foundation.

So let’s check in first.

Ask yourself:

1) Do I have a well-developed cardio vascular system, good resting heart rate, rapid heart rate recovery? Do I have a regular aerobic fitness program, 4 – 5 days a week 30 – 90+ minutes?

2) Have I addressed my postural and mobility issues? Do my joints have good range of motion? Have I taken steps to correct my posture if necessary through yoga or other stretching routines?

3) Do I have a well-rounded, balanced strength base on which to begin more difficult training to avoid injury? This could come from rock climbing, body weight workouts, or gym strengthening classes, or best yet all of the above.

If you answered NO, you will benefit not only in your climbing but also in your health, life and injury prevention if you build foundational fitness first.

Please reach out to me directly if you are interested in an online coaching plan carolyn@rippleffectraining.com.

If you can say YES to all of the above let’s dive in!

Ice climbing is a unique sport. It requires strength overhead to swing an ice tool, solid core strength to stabilize the body while swinging and while moving upward on single points of contact, good leg strength and muscular endurance, especially calves, to hang out on front points while placing gear or finding the perfect tool placement.

Following are some strength exercises that will help you get fit for ice climbing.

Upper Body:

Overhead Triceps Extensions

Pull Overs

Pull Ups (can be assisted)

Pull Ups on 1” dowels or your ice tools to orient hands and forearms into the necessary alignment for ice climbing movements.

Strict Press, although this is considered an arm/upper body movement, it’s also a test of “core” strength to stabilize mass overhead.

Core Strength:

KTE (knees to elbows) arms locked off if possible, this will also help with grip strength. Do these on dowels as well.

Anchored Leg Lowers, legs weighted with light med ball or ankle weights if appropriate, mimics weight of boots on feet.

Leg Strength and Calf Endurance:

KB Swings and Ball Slams will help you “learn” to effectively use your hips and legs while climbing. Both are “hip, glute, leg” driven movements but also challenge grip strength, core strength, and are so complex that they become a great challenge for the cardio vascular system.

Calf Raises: Perform standard calf raise on a step or platform for 30 seconds. Complete as many reps as you can but don’t go crazy! This gets hard fast. Then hold a static position, feet parallel to floor for 30 seconds. Then go right back to 30 seconds of calf raises for the second set. Don’t rest until all rounds are complete. Begin with a few sets of 30 secs work/30 secs hold. Then increase the challenge by doing more sets. Walk around bit afterward and stretch.

Note: If you hike, run, bike, your calves are tight!

Now for a workout using the above movements:

Ice Climbing Workout

10 minute warm-up: row, bike, run


2 × 8 Shoulder Openers

2 x 5 Cuban Press

3 × 5 Wall Squats

3 x 6 Goblet Squats


5 x Overhead Triceps Extension

10 x KTE

10 x Ball Slams

5 rounds – rest as necessary


5 x Pull Up on dowels

10 x KB Swing

5 x Strict Press

5 rounds – rest as necessary


4 x 30/30 Calf Raise and Hold


Cool Down

This can be broken into two different workouts if the volume of work is too much. You can supplement with the other movements that are referenced above.

And 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 at:



Carolyn Parker

Founder Ripple Effect Training

Gym Jones, Fully Certified Instructor

AMGA Certified Rock Guide