The Rock Climber’s Training Manual: Review and Reflections

If you’re a climber, especially one psyched about training, there is a good chance you have heard about Mark and Mike Andersons’ The Rock Climber’s Traning Manual. rctm-cover-spread_finalThere is no shortage of positive reviews out there on the interwebs. However, only a few of the reviews are from people who in addition to reading the book also followed one of the training plan all the way through before writing the review.

Currently it seems like training for rock climbing is becoming much more popular for climbers of all levels. The amount of available information on training for climbing is increasing. I am certainly riding the wave of training excitement and was incredibly excited to get my hands on a copy of the Andersons’ book back in July.

Although I have been climbing for about 1o years at this point (seriously!?!), I had never really trained. Living in NC the climbing season is nearly year-round so, I never really developed a climbing season vs. training season mindset. I’ve always  been a climb outside as much as possible and go to the gym when you can’t climb outside sort of person. This set-up has allowed me to slowly progress over many years, develop decent movement, gain valuable rock reading abilities, and love the shit out of climbing. But it has also allowed me to develop some serious deficits and over the last 2 years I have really struggled to continue to improve. Hence a new plan: TRAINING!

Since I had never trained, I was really drawn to the Andersons’ book because it provides a fair bit of background information about the training methods, specific training plans for different climbing disciplines, and additional information for fine tuning your own training plan after developing experience using the pre-designed plans.

I eagerly read the entire book in about 2 sittings and quickly settled on starting to follow the 12-week Bouldering Training Plan. Like all of the plans in the book it is  a periodized training plan. With 3 Phases: Base Fitness, Strength, and Power. The Bouldering plan is the shortest in the book, because it does not include an endurance phase like all of the rope climbing plans. Before beginning, I was incredibly nervous. I was (foolishly) scared that sacrificing recreational climbing time in leu of training would make me weaker. But I told myself I would commit and stick to the plan even if I felt like it wasn’t working.

my training overview, with color coded workouts!

my training overview, with color coded workouts!

I was also nervous because a lot of the training activities would be new to me. The strength phase is primarily focused on gaining finger strength through hangboarding and I had never hangboarded before. Then the power phase involves a fair bit of campus board work, another training tool I had never used.  So with way more anxiety than training necessitates, I started my Base Fitness Phase on July 28.

Training logs!

Training logs!

Another terrific aspect of the Andersons’ training plans is the focus on documentation. With the books guidance/resources, I documented each individual workout (minus a few, since I’m not perfect) as well as kept an overall calendar of the plan. I have to say, this was critical for me. I learned a immense amount about myself as a climber by keeping records.

Without giving too much of the book away, here is a brief overview of my physical training:

Base fitness: ARCing (if you don’t know what it is look it up), and climbing mileage on moderate boulders. During this phase I learned a lot about how much I actually climb during a typical session if I don’t keep track (spoiler: not as much as I thought) and that I could actually gain endurance if I just did the work.

hb images

Hangboarding: better with taped wrists and no shirt

Strength: Hangboarding (my new secret love) and supplemental (non-climbing) strength training. During this phase I was convinced I was getting weaker, cried a little bit, and consoled myself by climbing moderates at the gym on what was supposed to be rest days. Then, all of a sudden, I realized the training was working and my fingers felt the strongest they have ever been.

Power: Campus boarding, trying hard on hard moves, and supplemental (non-climbing) strength training. Other than my fear of campusing I had assumed this would be the easiest phase for me, because I love powerful climbing, but this also made it the most challenging. I struggled to stay focused. Without diligence, power training sessions quickly became regular bouldering sessions. Also, the prescribed rest times were challenging for me to stick to; however, I learned that I do climb better when I actually do rest (is anyone surprised here?). Finally, I also learned that like hang boarding, campusing is tremendous fun and has so much to teach me.

deep down in my heart I love lifting weights

Lifting weight: also apparently better without a shirt…

Although the book is fairly prescriptive with the climbing specific workouts, the book lets you choose your own adventure with the supplemental strength training, only making a few suggestions with movements and set/rep schemes. For supplemental exercises I used a combination of  dumbbell shoulder press, bicep curls, push ups, and dips. I also tried to do 2 15-minute core workouts and 1 yoga session per week.

So… what about the big reveal? The payoff? Have I sent all my projects?

Short answer: actually, no.

Long answer: Holy shit, training works! By training for only 12 weeks, my climbing has markedly improved. Every time I go to the gym or climb outside I am able to do things that surprise me. I stick moves I have tried and failed on for years. Low percentage moves, have become moves I stick every time.  So what is holding me back? My brain and the weather. I’m a head case, and I put a lot of pressure on myself… It gets in the way and I know it. The current goal is to take my new strength and go have fun (and send some stuff). Also, I finished my training cycle a bit early. I definitely started peaking while it was still hot. But alas, good temps seem to have arrived now.


To wrap this up, the tl;dr version:

  • I am super psyched and proud of what I have learned and accomplished by following the Andersons’ training program.
  • If you are a climber who wants to train, but has little training background, this is the book to get.
  • If you are a climber experienced with training, this book would likely be a  great addition to your library.



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