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

Training Tips for Chicks: Let’s Get Serious

If you are new to the Chicks Training Tips take a few minutes to read the previous newsletters, there’s a lot of great information in there!

It’s incredibly beneficial for all the Chicks to be introduced to new movements and concepts for training, implementing these in a regular workout in almost any fashion will create positive change. So re-read the first 11 installments to get a look at all the great movements, VIDEOS have been included:

This is a huge training resource for you all!

Now on to the meat of the matter…

I’ve overhead many of my male climbing friends say to women:  “It’s always better to be a good climber than a strong climber,” usually in response to a gal wishing she had a little more upper body strength. And, they are correct, technique and skill will get you much further on a route than any amount of brawn. However, let’s get serious. It’s fun to be a good and strong climber.

Personal story:

Twenty five years ago, when I discovered the world of climbing I was a “legs and lungs” athlete. I raced both road and mountain bikes and did a ton of backcountry telemark skiing in the off season. Incredibly well developed cardio vascular systems are awesome, however… I could barely do a pull up, couldn’t hold my legs out straight in an l-seat, was okay at push ups sort of, couldn’t do a dip to save my life. I think you get the picture. I was not “strong”, except on a bike –  I’d never done gymnastics, dance, or any other sport that would predispose me to any advantage towards being a climber.

I had a lot of tenacity and I’d work hard to get better, I’m stubborn, driven, and don’t like to suck at things. Sometimes I’d get frustrated at being scared on lead, or just NOT being able to do a move even though I knew how it was supposed to be done.

After deciding my technique was not my number one limiting factor I went about getting strong.

I tell you all of this so you understand not only where I came from but that it is possible for all women to get stronger, and a little extra strength goes a long way in feeling more confident climbing! I can guarantee that.

So here we go:

How to go about getting stronger at core and upper body strength movements for gals. Just because you can’t do something now doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to learn and gain strength and skill! Never say “I can’t” learn to say “Ok! I’ll try!”

To make it easier, we’ve included videos for each movement as links in the movement list below. Be sure to watch these videos as they also include options and progressions for all movements. You can and will get stronger.



Test your ability as appropriate on all the following movements, videos have been included. Videos not only show proper technique, they include options for assistance and progression. This list is by no means even close to being exhaustive it’s a place to start.

A test is an all out max rep or weight for each movement after you have warmed up.

Pulling Movements:

Pushing Movements:

Core Movements:

Static holds should be included as supplemental for every workout, we need strong shoulders! See previous Chicks Newsletter Training Tips Videos for these. Hand Stands, Ring Support, & FLR are all done for time 30-60 seconds with rest between.

Write down how many of what you can do so you have a record of where your strength started, so you can track gains, this is super motivating, You can make big gains in just 6 – 8 weeks.

For example:

June 16th, 2016

-Pull Ups 2 unassisted

-Pull Over 25#

-Body Row 5 feet on ground 

Do this for all movements, that way you know where to begin in your workouts and you can test yourself again after six weeks and see how you do! You should complete a strength workout 2x a week for 6 – 8 weeks. In addition to your weekly climbing training. Do strength workouts after climbing (if training indoors) or climb in the morning/strength in the evening. These are ideals. After 6 – 8 weeks of two additional strength workouts it’s time to test your strength again and compare it to when you began. You’ll be surprised!

Then take a break and go climbing! SO FUN!



Put together your program?! It’s not as hard as it seems:

Depending on time and stamina pick 1 or 2 of the movements from each category, Pulling, Pushing, Core, Static Holds. Change these movements for each workout.

For the Push and Pull, make these movements HARD. To where you can do no more than 5 repetitions of the movement. Hard is relative to you and your strength level at the time, no one else. As soon as you can do more than 5 reps you’ve got to make it harder.

Then: Pick 1 – 2 core movements, muscles in the core are a tiny bit different and we use our core constantly climbing so 5 to 10 reps of these movements then make them harder.

Your program should look something like this:

Warm up:

  • 10:00min light cardio
  • 2 x 8 shoulder openers
  • 2 x 5 cuban press
  • 3 x 5 wall squats
  • 2 x 5 push ups
  • 2 x 5 pull up assisted


  • 6 x 3 Body Row
  • 6 – 1 HSPU Ladder
  • 6 x 3 Ring Push Up


  • 60 sec FLR
  • 10x Floor Wiper

In the above workout, sets comes first, then reps. You will not complete more than 12 – 25 reps of a strength movement once warmed up. This is how we gain strength and not size. As climbers we want to be strong and light. For more information on this see newsletter #2

Here’s another example.

Warm up

  • 10:00min light cardio
  • 2 x 8 shoulder openers
  • 2 x 5 cuban press
  • 3 x 5 wall squats
  • 2 x 5 push ups
  • 2 x 5 pull up assisted if necessary


  • 6 x 3 Pull Ups – assisted if necessary
  • 8 – 10x Anchored leg raise / lower


  • 5 x 5 Bent Over Row with lock off in three positions, in between complete 10x KTE.
  • Finish with Handstand holds, 60 secs and Ring Support 30 secs Rest 60 secs between complete two to three sets.

Here’s to a stronger you! Remember if I can do it you can too!

As always – for questions, help, or for more detailed information regarding training you can contact me at or e-mail me.

I’ll be happy to connect with you and write programming for you.

All my best and happy training!
Carolyn Parker
Founder Ripple Effect Training