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Mountain Athlete: Weight Training for Climbing
Will Wetzel squatting at Mountain Athlete. Wetzel has been training with Rob Shaul's program since summer 2007.
Does it Work?
Early on I understood transferability is key. Training in the gym, which doesn't increase performance or durability on the mountain, is a waste of time.
Eric Horst, author of Training for Climbing and How To Climb 5.12 does not believe in general fitness training for climbers. His training is all sport specific.
Black Diamond-sponsored climber Rob Miller disagrees. Rob is an avid follower of CrossFit and a coach himself. He argues that an intense, general fitness program transfers well to climbing.
The fact that the Exum Guides who stuck with the program also happen to be among the most accomplished and senior guides demonstrates some value in our programming and in the idea that hybrid training can improve climbing performance.
But the most direct feedback came from my non-guide climbers. Andy Bardon reported climbing at a much higher level in Yosemite after several months of training at Mountain Athlete without any additional training. He has since climbed at Yosemite a second time, and wrote me after returning, "I can say without ego or emotion that I am stronger than I have ever been."
Connie Sciolino reports that the training at Mountain Athlete has made her stronger, but more importantly given her the confidence to begin lead climbing.
Our partnership with Exum Mountain guides continues into this new season, and several of the guides, who live somewhere else during the winter, will be rolling back into town and the gym this month to begin the guiding season, and training in the gym.
I don't advertise, but through word of mouth in Jackson, our website, and local and national press coverage, Mountain Athlete is developing a strong reputation for effective, intense mountain training. More and more non-guide climbers are knocking on the door or e-mailing questions and comments.
We also have branched to train outdoors athletes in non-mountaineering sports. Bikers and kayakers have joined our ranks.
Will Wetzel leading View To A Thrill (WI5), South Fork, Cody, Wyoming. [Photo] Andrew Bardon
Through the website we have also drawn interest from military, first responder, police, and other tactical athletes. I've received e-mails and questions from Navy SEALs, soildiers deployed overseas, and Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. In our gym we've trained members of the U.S. Secret Service and local law enforcement members.
I am constantly tweaking and improving my programming and exercise selection. One area we'll be moving into is long, slow, endurance training. This type of training has to be completed outside the gym. I am currently researching how to combine endurance training like long runs and bike rides most effectively with the gym training.
Though our doors have been open just sixteen months now, I believe the hard training we are doing at Mountain Athlete is working to change the attitude and belief among many climbers, mountaineers, skiers, kayakers and all mountain athletes that training inside a gym is a waste of time.
I've always questioned the dogma that serious outdoors athletes shouldn't lift weights and train hard in a gym when serious athletes in mainstream sports long ago embraced gym training as essential to reaching full potential in sport. Football players don't just "play football" and sprinters don't just "run fast" to train for their sports. They bust their asses in the gym and deploy that strength on the gridiron and track.
My athletes will prove this point for me. Propelled by hard-earned strength and conditioning in our gym, they are stronger longer, faster farther, and mentally tougher than those who "just climb" to train.
I'll tell them to say "hello" and smile sweetly as they pass you on the way to the summit.
Mountain Athlete Tina Flowers at the Ruth Gorge in May 2008. [Photo] Nat Patridge