Notes from the end of eight-week ice and mixed strength training program

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    Some time ago, I posted some notes from the middle of the 8 week ice and mixed training plan. I have now essentially finished the plan, so I thought I would add some concluding thoughts and questions.

    To review, here is a link to the original post:

    That should give you some idea of my starting point. It also might be worthwhile to re-state my overall goals. As I wrote in my first post, my goal is not to climb harder, but to climb with more confidence and control. I want to be stronger than I need to be for any climb I might do. I want to know how know how it feels to climb steep ice and rock when I actually have some core and upper body strength. I hope it will make climbing safer, more relaxed, and more enjoyable.

    So, with that in mind, how did the training program evolve for me? Here are some basic facts:

    I did the program for 16 weeks. I did two workouts per week. I took two rest weeks, at week 8 and at week 12. By the end of the program, I reached the same level of intensity in the specified program, with some additional exercises, that I will explain below. Therefore, I did the program for longer than specified (16 weeks vs. 8 weeks), but with a more gradual progression, and with some additional exercises.

    Other workout programs
    In my first post, I talked about the difficulty I faced combining this program with a rock climbing progression. For the general strength portion of this program, it was possible to climb relatively hard in the gym, but, later, when I started the specific strength training portion, I had to stop training hard in the gym: it was too difficult to do both. For the later weeks, my gym sessions became easy, gentle, base climbing.

    Rest weeks
    A pattern that I noticed is that I would progressively get stronger for about three weeks, and then my strength begin to decline—the number of reps I could complete, or the amount of time I could hold a particular position, would go down. I think that means that for me building for three weeks and then taking a rest week in the fourth week make sense. This is probably highly individual, and also probably varies for the same person, depending on the kind of work they are doing, but I think it’s important to pay attention: if you start to get weaker, it might be time to take a rest week.

    Ice tool hangs
    In my first post I talked about how hard it was to find an effective way to do ice tool hangs effectively. Because I did not have a place to hang vertically in my house, I was forced to bring my feet and knees forward, and engage my core, which changed the exercise significantly (it made it more of a core exercise, and less of a forearm isolating exercise). In some ways, this was good for me because, 1) I need more core strength, and 2) I have a shoulder injury that made it impossible for me to hang from truly straight arms, even with my shoulder muscles engaged. Interestingly, by somewhere in the middle of the specific strength portion, I found that I could hand from straight arms; my shoulders had become stronger, and the position was pain free. I really saw gains: I started hanging with both arms for 30 to 45 seconds. Then I was hanging from both arms for 10 to 15 seconds with 25 kg of weight, split between a backpack and a weight belt. By the end I was hanging for 5 -10 seconds with one arm and no added weight. I can only imagine that this will help my strength for climbing, not just my grip strength, but my strength all the way through the chain of muscles in my arm, shoulder, and core.

    Ice tool swings
    In the middle of the specific strength portion, I started doing ice tool swings. This is not specified in the program, but I felt it was an important part of ice climbing. The times I get most tired ice climbing are often when I am struggling to get a good placement, clearing old ice, swinging repeatedly, and so on. It took some experimentation to find a good method. Here is the system I developed. Starting from the ground up, I placed a wooden block on the floor that I could stand on with my feet shoulder width apart on the toes of my mountain boots. Above the block of wood I placed a pull up bar, a wooden dowel hanging from some webbing, so it was mobile. I hooked that dowel with one ice tool, and adjusted the position so that tool was in a lock off position with my elbow bent. In my other hand I held another ice tool with added weight (wrist weights taped around the head of the tool). Finally, above the pull up bar, I mounted a target that I could actually strike with force (using blunted picks). This set up allowed me to simulate standing in a balanced position on ice, with one arm locked off, swinging hard and hitting a target. It was actually more or a core exercise than I anticipated; because the pull up bar was mobile, it was not easy to stay in balance, and I had to hold my body in tension, and remind myself (like ice climbing) to stay centered, keep my heels down, and so on. With weight on the ice tool, striking a target for 10 to 15 accurate controlled reps were not easy. I worked my way up 4 X 15 reps with 4 kg of added weight. It was also possible to adjust the difficulty by moving the wooden block forward or back to change the “steepness” of the position. Overall, I think it was a good exercise to incorporate, but there are two caveats: 1) You could make this more specific—you could isolate the swinging muscles more, or you could do what I did, and keep this an integrative core exercise with some swinging stimulus, and 2) Adding another exercise to the program makes the workouts longer and harder. Especially toward the end of the program, the workouts were long, close to two hours. They were not easy. I think I was able to complete these workouts only because I extended the program for so long and progressed gradually.

    I have not had the chance to get on the ice yet (hopefully this will happen in the coming weeks), but I can say that, at the gym, feel real strength gains. At the gym, I am not going to failure, or anywhere near failure, but I can feel a strength reserve, or ease, in my hands, arms, shoulders, and core. Essentially, I feel like I have become stronger. It’s too soon to see how this will translate into climbing on ice or rock, but, as I said, I can only imagine that it will help.

    Perhaps more important, the knowledge that I have down this work for 16 weeks, and this feeling of added strength, gives me confidence. I feel much more relaxed and motivated to climb. So, in some ways, I have already met my goals.

    I am just about to start the winter/early spring season. Usually this involves as much skiing and ice climbing as possible given the (significant) demands of my normal life. I accumulate lots of hours skiing and climbing (which is the whole point) but few hours training. Most weeks are just recovery days or light recovery exercises. Nonetheless, I do want to try to maintain some strength. I don’t know the best strategy for maintenance; should I try to do one core/general strength workout per week? Should I maintain specific strength exercises? Should I adjust each week relative to what I have done on the weekend? I am leaning toward the latter, but I am still thinking about this. Any ideas about how to maintain general and specific strength during a busy period of activity would be appreciated!

    Overall, this has been a real learning experience, and powerful journey.

    Now it’s time to climb!

    All the best, and have a great season,


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