Maximize Your Training During Peak Gym Hours


If you’re a “9-5er” and live in the vicinity of a climbing gym, you know the frustration of attempting to train during busy hours. With two kids teams stealing a third of the routes for their after-school practice, their parents milling around, and all the other 9-5ers showing up at the same time, it’s hard to find space on the wall to warm-up, let alone get in enough burns on your project to feel like you got something our of your two-hour “session.” While chatting about weekend plans with your friends between attempts is fun, it doesn’t lead to great strength gains if it takes up 95 percent of your gym time.

Here is a routine to help you maximize your limited weekday training time in an overcrowded facility:

Warming up:

BEFORE attempting to fight your way to an easy problem, find a small open space to perform a dynamic stretching warm-up. See video below for example exercises and to watch Jonathan Siegrist crack up while demonstrating hip rotations:


You can try to navigate the crowds to sneak in a bouldering or roped warm-up, beginning with climbs well below your project grade and slowly–over 20 to 30 minutes depending on how often you’re able to find a free spot on the wall–work up to climbing problems just below your projecting grade.

TWO: If the main climbing area is too crowded for you to hop on easy problems every 2 to 3 minutes, continue your bodyweight warmup in the general fitness section of the gym.
Start with a “mini legs workout”*: 10 bodyweight squats, 10 lunges, 10 jumping lunges, and five jump squats with no rest between exercises. Rest for 30 seconds. Hold a forearm plank for one minute. Rest for 15 seconds. That is one set. Perform two to three sets total until you feel warm and energized.

Next: Further warm up your upper body with 3 to 7 pull-ups (or pull-up negatives) depending on your pull-up strength, followed by 5 single leg squats on each leg (yes, strong legs are important for climbers), and 10 to 20 elbows-in push-ups on either your knees or toes. Rest for 90 seconds. This is one set. Repeat for 2 to 4 sets total, or until you’re really warm and have worked hard, but aren’t so tired that you feel like you’ve completed your entire workout.

RELATED: Tips for Training in College

Working Out:

Either commit to standing in line to work on a project at your limit, where you’ll need several minutes of rest between attempts as others hop on the crowded wall OR accept that it’s a power, antagonists, and core day. Here’s how:

Develop a circuit that includes powerful exercises on the campus board or system board that train tendon strength–meaning you’ll need a MINIMUM of three to five minutes rest between sets, so time spent waiting in line for the campus board will be your built-in rest periods. You can perform functional core exercises and antagonist training during your “rests” to maximize your gym time and feel like you’re really getting a hard workout in.

Station One: Campus Training OR System Board

If you’re new to training or are recovering from finger injuries, stick to the system board. Do 20 to 30 moves without coming off the wall using holds that are challenging but still allow you to complete the set. Bumps don’t count. (If you do fall, pretend it didn’t happen, and jump back on.) OR work on max moves by making the biggest (controlled) movement possible to the worst hold you can grab, with the goal of maxing out your wingspan. Repeat the same move on the other side. (Ex. Start with both hands on jugs in the bottom center of the board and move your right hand up and right to the highest pinch you can grab. Repeat this same movement to the identical hold on the left side.) Try for three to four max moves on each side per set.

OR: Complete a set of matching or basic ladders, bump ladders, or another campus board exercise of your choice. For more information about campus training, exercises, and examples of correct form, watch this video by climbing coach and author Eric Horst:

Station 2: Functional Abs
I’d recommend using the TRX bands, rings, and/or a bar to do most of your core exercises, as these exercises will train your complete core (abs, lower back, obliques) and increase your ability to maintain body tension while climbing–sets of 100 crunches will not do this and are therefore a waste of your precious time. Pick one TRX exercise, such as the TRX Saw, planks, or Mountain Climbers, or another core exercise of your choice (front levers, ab rollouts, windshield wipers, etc.), and do as many reps as you can maintain proper form.

Here are some climbing-specific exercises for complete core training courtesy of Eric Horst:

Station 3: Antagonist Training

Pick one shoulder exercise, for example internal or external rotations with a dumbbell or resistance bands; a set of I’s, Y’s, and T’s; or lateral or frontal dumbbell raises, and do 20 reps. Pick two exercises (ex. one set of 20 lateral raises followed by one set of 20 frontal raises or internal then external rotations) if you need more rest between doing core and system board/campus training.

DO THREE TO SIX SETS OF THESE THREE STATIONS depending on your strength/time limitations. If you become too tired to perform any of the core or power exercises with perfect form, your time at that station is done. Make sure to pick a new core and antagonist exercise in each set to train a variety of muscles and avoid boredom.

RELATED: The Power of Doing Home Workouts in Your Underwear 

Cooling Down:

Take a few minutes at the end of your session to quiet your mind from the craziness of the gym and stretch out your tired muscles. Navigating all those eight-year-old crushers and fighting to snatch the 8-pound dumbbells the moment they’re free can be surprisingly stressful. Plug in headphones with soothing music, face a quiet corner, and/or close your eyes to help you relax and block out the chaos. Now stretch out your upper body (shoulders, triceps, the front and back of your forearms, sides, neck, and anything else that feels tight).

And don’t forget to eat a carb- and protein-rich snack within 30 minutes of training to replenish your depleted glycogen stores and promote muscle recovery before your next workout.

RELATED: 20-Minute At-Home Workouts for When You’re Rushed or Just Feeling Lazy

*I learned this warm-up from Alex Stiger, head coach at The Spot bouldering gym in Boulder, CO.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. plpstnr says:

    Great ideas i will include some of them during my next gym visit when it’s over crowded again 😐

    Liked by 1 person

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