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5 Exercises for Your Ice Climbing Endurance   

Tagged in: Ice Climbing, Training
by Amanda Fox
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You’ve felt it countless times: the slow-burning, inevitable sensation that creeps up your forearms into your hands, affecting your grip and throwing you off the wall—the dreaded pump. In ice climbing, this affects the hold you have on your ice tools and your ability to swing for solid placements, and on vertical ice, that pump comes sooner rather than later.

Connie Sciolino, certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner and head coach at the Alpine Training Center in Boulder (, focuses on building stamina and strength in all kinds of athletes, including Sam Elias (below), who’s climbed multiple WI6 ice climbs and up to 5.14c. We asked Sciolino to share her top ice climbing exercises.

Dead hang on ice tools 

Rock Climbing Photo: Dead hang on ice tools by Julie Ellison

Dead hang on ice tools
by Julie Ellison
Improve staying power in the forearms

Place your ice tools on a sturdy surface, such as a hangboard or exposed beam, that can hold your body weight. Hold the grip on each tool, and hang as you would similar to a hangboard: arms slightly bent, shoulders relaxed and back. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, and repeat for five to six sets. Do this two to three times a week, but not on consecutive days. As this gets easier, gradually add five seconds to each set.

Variation: As the hang gets easier, add weight for more difficulty. Start with 10 to 15 pounds (weight belt, ankle weights, loaded backpack, etc.), and go back to your starting time of 10 to 15 seconds. Gradually progress with more time as needed.

Dead hang on tools with core workout 

A stronger core means better performance.

Hang on your ice tools, same as in exercise 1. With arms slightly bent, pull your knees up to each elbow. Do six to eight reps over three to four sets, once per week. Keep the movement as static as possible; swinging will make the movements feel easier, but will not benefit you as much.

Variation: Squeeze a medicine ball between your feet, or use ankle weights.

Weighted step-ups 

Rock Climbing Photo: Dumbell push press by Julie Ellison

Dumbell push press
by Julie Ellison
Boost power in your legs and stability in your core.

This exercise strengthens each leg individually— instead of as a unit, like when you do squats—building equal muscle on each leg; it also works core muscles because it requires balance and control. Select a bench or step that’s 14 to 18 inches tall. Load a pack with 15 to 25 pounds, and step up on the bench, alternating legs; start with three sets of 50 step-ups per leg, three times a week.

Variation: Do step-ups in 10-minute blocks (nonstop for 10 minutes), or aim for 250 step-ups (both legs), whichever comes first.

Dumbbell push press 

Balance pulling exercises with pushing movements to prevent overuse and injury.

Dumbbell push pressStand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a pair of dumbbells. Raise dumbbells to shoulder height with palms facing each other. Drop into a semi-squat, then explosively stand back up as you simultaneously press the weights above your shoulders. Lower (in a controlled manner) the dumbbells to the starting position and repeat. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps; start with 12 to 15 pounds. Do this exercise every time you do any pulling-specific workouts.

Kettlebell swings 

Rock Climbing Photo: Kettlebell swings by Julie Ellison

Kettlebell swings
by Julie Ellison
Develop lower-body power and increase grip strength.

Kettlebell SwingsGrip a kettlebell with both hands, feet shoulder- width apart. Sink back into a semi-squat with arms straight and kettlebell hanging, back slightly arched. Explode upward and swing the kettlebell forward and upward. Your legs, hips, and lower back muscles should be doing all the work; your arms should remain loose and straight. Squat as the kettlebell comes down—try to control the movement. Let the kettlebell swing between your legs, and repeat. Aim for 12 to 15 swings in 30 seconds; start with 26 to 35 kilograms. Do this once a week.

Variation: Perform kettlebell swings in conjunction with dead hangs: Do 30 seconds of dead hangs, and then 30 seconds of swings. Repeat for three sets each with no rest in between.

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Comments on 5 Exercises for Your Ice Climbing Endurance Add Comment
By JohnnyG
Jan 29, 2015
This is good stuff-- I did a lot of dead hangs to get ready for the last couple seasons and it really paid off.

A comment and a question:

comment: I found that I wasn't as strong (endurance wise) as I wanted to be to be locked off with one arm...a position I am in a lot as I'm placing the higher tool. So I added some single-arm locked off hangs, taking some weight off by putting my feet on a chair.

question: From and exercise physiology standpoint, is it better to add weight and keep workouts to ~ 3-5 minutes as you suggest, or better to add time to simulate the length of time it takes to climb a pitch? I learned about the dead hangs in Will Gadd's ice and mixed climbing book. He suggests 20 seconds on 20 seconds off for up to 20 minutes to get in shape for WI6 ice.

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