Train Anywhere: Strength
Updated: Mar 22
By George Bieker
Initially, I wrote this piece as a #vanlife training piece, which included workouts that could be done anywhere, anytime, with minimal or no equipment. With gyms around the country closing due to this new COVID-19 pandemic, the tenants of this post couldn't be more applicable. "Train Anywhere" will be articles focused on getting more fit in a multitude of capacities using a variety of easy to find equipment or bodyweight exercises. This piece is focused on strength for climbers but look for more posts focusing on things like aerobic base building, climbing-specific training and more.
You don't need a gym to strength train
During my time as a guide, I’ve met countless people at the crag, in the mountains, or at the park who were determined to improve their fitness. They had the desire and the goals but staying motivated to train without access to a gym is hard! In fact, if you don't know what to do it seems down-right impossible!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a true dirtbag, a guide, or just the kind of person who can’t get into the “gym-life bruh”. Living transient for the past three years has taught me how to stay active no matter where I am. So the fact that gyms are closing all across the country isn't much different. So I thought I’d share how I've improved my strength while living out of my vehicle over these past years. With minimal equipment and these simple guidelines, you can vastly improve your ability to stick with your training and progress your fitness. Even while confined to your home.
Note: This is only an introduction to these concepts, if you would like to know more please leave your questions and comments below and I’ll try to address your queries in future posts! You can also reach us here!
Portable hangboard: This is very specific to climbers but nonetheless...I bought a Tension board to first train my fingers but quickly realized that just as a pull-up bar it makes the ab and pull up exercises much more difficult. This thing is also an easy way to warm up for your rock project by just hanging it on a tree or clipping it to the first bolt. ($60-$90)
Kettlebell: I decided on 40lb kettlebell last season. For weighted pull-ups, box step-ups, and split bench squat it was a good weight overall. Decide what would be best for you and remember you can always get a heavier one later. I find the split-bench squat is the most demanding exercise with the 40lb bell. ($30-$60)
Weight vest: With the ability to add and subtract weight in 2lb increments (I have a Mir weight vest from my Crossfit days) this can be worn during all the exercises. A nice way to make the routine more difficult in a nice slow progression is after 2 weeks try putting a 2-5 lb vest on and see how it goes. Sometimes I will put as much as 30 lbs in it for exercises, and coupled with the Kettlebell make a good weight for Box Step Ups. ($40-$150)
Portable Gymnastic Rings: I don’t have them yet but they are on my list. They make nearly every exercise harder and most climbing gyms have them so I definitely jump on them when I can. Muscle-ups, dips, and rollouts are just some of the fun that can be had. ($40-$90)
Yoga Mat/Thermarest: You are gonna want something to lay on. If I am working in a more remote location I will use my Thermarest (and probably still hike in the hangboard…). Yoga mat if I am just in a park or friends living room. ($-$$$, found very cheap at garage sales)
Most of the time I do a general workout routine that focuses on core, pull, and uphill propulsion muscles. Here is a list of some of my favorite exercises within the routine. There are plenty of resources online for the exercises but again just send us an email or set up a meeting with us to learn more.
Pull-Ups: Does this one even need an explanation? If you can’t do one pull-up, try jumping up over the bars and lower down as slow as you can, or loop a resistance band over the bar (or tree branch) and step your feet into the band to help lower the resistance. Horizontal pulls are also good for building climbing specific power.
Split Bench Squats: Very much like a lunge but with the rear leg elevated on a bench or box. A park bench, weight vest and/or kettlebell is really all you need.
Box Step Ups: Park benches work great for both of these leg exercises.
Push-Ups: Once you can easily do 15, add a weight vest, portable gymnastic rings are also nice, but not necessary.
Turkish Get Up: Full body exercise that requires focus, coordination, and some real try-hard. Always love dropping that kettlebell into the grass.
Hanging Leg Raises: With so many variations from knee-ups to toes to bar to front hand levers this core exercise is a good starting point to a wide range of skills and abilities.
3-Point, 2-Point: Think straight arm planks but harder. Easy way to get those muscles to fire together. Add a weight vest and, voilá, harder.
Each of the exercises begins with body weight. Even for the first couple weeks of regularly scheduled workouts. I do about 10 repetitions or 10-second hold of the exercises whichever is applicable. Once I can “comfortably” (and with good form) complete all 10 reps or 10 second-hold I will either throw on the weight vest (light to start) or do two rounds instead of one. The key to sticking with anything is making your progression slow and manageable. Not just for your routine but also for your body. Make sure you don’t rush yourself in building weight because the key is to make these exercises a regular part of your life. Do something like this for 6-8 weeks and don’t increase volume or weight until after the second week. Every three weeks take a rest. Go back to just bodyweight and only one round through the exercises.
That’s pretty much everything...Some of my go-to exercises for building strength and the equipment I have found most useful. Now all you have to do is find a park or garage, strap up the hangboard and, throw some iron.
Most important of all though? Have fun, progress slowly and stay consistent. As a bonus, the last place I did this routine is below. All I needed was the equipment listed above and my trusted stead, Esmerelda (the big white van on the right side of this picture).
P.S. I'm still sore.