Training to Beat the Winter Climbing Blues (and Stay Strong for Spring)

Climbing in the winter in New England is a test of how many frigid approaches you can walk to icy, unclimbable top outs before you become discouraged. It can be difficult to stay psyched when it’s 15 degrees out and your project is under two feet of snow. All those approaches lugging crash pads and extra layers are great for your cardio, but doing three pull-ups for your warm-up and giving the lower half of one boulder problem four burns isn’t going to keep you in top climbing shape.

Alex Megos beats the winter blues by training inside with Café Kraft.

Here are a few ideas to help keep you motivated and strong for when spring finally arrives:

Don’t be afraid of the gym. Everyone knows you love to climb outside and climbing on plastic is “fake.” However, the strength you will build from running laps on 5.10s and 11s and crushing everything v5 and under in a session is quite real. Try to hit up the gym once a week (or more if you have a membership and/or the time). If you still want to climb outside or scout out projects for the spring, by all means do! But pick a day when it’s blizzarding or 5 degrees out to spend four or five hours playing around on plastic, so you have the strength to crush when the snow melts.

Now that you’re going to the gym at least once a week, make your gym sessions count. Don’t just play on the slackline and eat snacks on the mats: Climb. I like to warm up bouldering, then spend 30-45 minutes working several problems at my projecting level before trying to send everything V3 (or whatever grade you can onsight at least 50% of the time) and under in the gym. Then I grab a snack, my harness, and a nalgene and hit the ropes. This forces me to have good technique when I’m tired, which I’ll need for multi-pitch and long sport climbing days in May. I start out with some harder routes where I’ll likely fall a few times on the way up, trying at least one climb that’s above my sending ability level to work on some harder moves. Once I’m too exhausted to project harder routes, I try to flash 5.9s and easy 5.10s, working on my form to climb with the least amount of effort. Think legs. After 8-15 routes total (depending on how I’m feeling), I move to the hangboards and pull-up bars to finish the session off messing around and doing flips on the rings. It’s a fun way to burn yourself out at the end.

Do core three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. It’s great cross training and a perfect excuse to watch YouTube videos and listen to your favorite music to distract yourself from your burning abs. I like watching FitnessBlender YouTube videos for eight and 10-minute ab workouts and then end with a short lower back workout.

Become friends with your hangboard. Bookmark the Metolius training guide, max our your speakers, and tell yourself it’s 10 minutes to stronger tendons. Aim for two to three times a week.

Watch inspiring videos. It sounds corny, but whatever gets you psyched to climb, train, or simply dream about climbing, watch it. You’re not going to climb well if you aren’t excited about the route or problem you’re working on, and you’re not going to put down your bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and get off your couch to do pushups if you aren’t looking forward to climbing in the Red or Hueco Tanks over spring break.

Watch Alex Puccio and Nina Williams training for some initial inspiration:

Originally published February 3, 2015, on

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