Matt on Zabba (5.13a)

My name is Matt McCormick and I am a teacher, climber, guide, and trainer from Burlington, VT. My climbing career started at the BRG while growing up in nearby Sudbury, MA. and quickly spread to locations all over the world.

With a degree in Physical Education, I’ve focused my knowledge of exercise physiology on my own training for climbing and have seen some tremendous gains. I offer personalized coaching and training consultations through my site at Check it out! Feel free to email me with any questions or feedback at

This is the first in a series of blog entries on my training ideas and concepts. I hope that you can take a bit of each entry and apply it toward your own climbing goals. My goal is to present an overarching concept each week and then give some examples of exercises and workouts to apply that concept in your training.

I will be offering a series of training workshops at the BRG in the near future that will go into greater detail and provide a hands on opportunity to learn more ideas on how to improve your own climbing fitness. These will include a personalized training plan that I will write and email to each participant after the workshop based on their goals, ability, and motivation. Keep your eye out for these workshops!

This first entry provides THE foundation for effective training and is an important starting point for future entries.

Principles of Training

When planning workouts for athletes, exercise physiologists form their plan based around a set of core principles referred to as the Principles of Training. Here they are… When reading these, think about what you do to try and improve your climbing fitness and whether or not it meets these principles. Below each principle I’ve briefly outlined how this applies to climbing-specific training.

Overload: In order to see gains in muscular strength, endurance and any component of

fitness for that matter this principle must be applied. Our bodies are

extremely adaptive will adapt to the demands placed on them. Only if we load muscles to a a point not previously encountered will they gain strength, endurance, and or power.

Do you purposefully keep track of your progress by writing down your workouts or at least keeping mental note and then increasing the intensity in following workouts? Do you find ways to specifically overload certain muscle groups, movements, grips,  and fitness components such as power or strength?

Progression: While it is crucial to overload the muscles in order to see the gains we

strive for, it is equally important to follow a logical and planned progression

of resistance. Effective training is not reactive but pre-planned and


The closest that most climbers come to meeting this principle is that they try harder and harder routes and problems in the gym and outside. This is most often done in a rather haphazard manner rather than being pre-planned. Many climbers do not build a solid foundation of routes at say a V5 level before spending infinite sessions projecting V7. Additionally logically pre-planning your workout and sticking to that plan is at the core of this principle.

Specificity: It is important to realize that fitness for climbing should be viewed as several different components that must be targeted specifically in order to be improved. I’ll go into each of these in greater detail in a later post but the major components are strength, endurance, power, and anaerobic endurance. Exercises must be specifically chosen to target the components which you want to improve.

Do you plan your workouts with specific exercises to target specific things such as crimp strength, power, anaerobic endurance? In order to practice this principle you must have a pre-set goal for each session and pick specific exercises to target that goal.

Individuality: Each individual has unique and ever-changing needs and goals in their

training. It is crucial to honestly assess your needs fitness wise and set goals in

line with those needs. It is also key to keep in mind that some exercises that may

work great for one person will not work well for you. This is something I always

keep in mind when coaching and training.

Be flexible to try a variety of methods of training as long as they meet the above principles. Honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses and target those weaknesses. If a certain method of training does not work well for you, be willing to try something else!

Lastly… Keep these three in mind to pull together your overall plan.

Frequency: How often do you come into the gym or hit the crag? How many days a week do you have available to train?

Intensity: In weight lifting intensity is judged by the weight. In climbing it is vastly more complex (more on this in the future…) Intensity can be judged by difficulty of moves, # of moves, rest time between burns, number of problems/routes climbed, and a variety of other ways which I’ll discuss in the future.

Time: How much time will you spend during each session training. Some people spend several hours in the gym accomplishing the same amount that could be accomplished in  one hour. Are you making the best use of time?

These principles are the foundation of any effective training plan. I encourage you to take the time to reflect on them and whether or not you’re applying them to your own goals!

Next I’ll be talking about aerobic strength vs. anaerobic strength and will share the training I’ve been doing for an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge…

1 Comment

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One response to “TRAINING STRONGER

  1. Hi, I recently started reading this blog – thank you for the good work. I wanted to inform you that it’s not displaying properly on the BlackBerry Browser (I have a Pearl). Either way, I’m now on your RSS feed on my laptop, so thanks!

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