Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

How Parents (and Other Busy People) Can Still Find Time to Train in the Climbing Gym

Everyone knows you can't truly climb hard unless you take your shirt off.

Everyone knows you can’t truly climb hard unless you take your shirt off.

I often get questions from other families regarding time management and climbing.  How do you find time to train?  How do you balance climbing time and family time?  What are some quick and easy ways to squeeze in a climbing workout?  While the answer obviously varies from family to family, the common theme usually involves a lot of efficiency and a little bit of creativity.  Gone are the days when my hubby and I can meet each other at the gym after work and climb for hours on end until our fingers feel like their going to fall off.  Nowadays we each have approximately one hour of time two days a week (and occasionally an extra day on the stray weekends we aren’t climbing outdoors). Since time is at a premium, it’s imperative that we get down to business right away and stay on task – otherwise the hour is up and all we’ve managed to do is climb 2 routes (in between getting water, shuffling pads around, and standing around talking).  Here’s a handful of the ways we manage to keep our training on track with the limited time we have.  Since it’s always good to keep your body guessing, we tend to rotate through each in cycles, depending on the season and what trips we’ve got coming up and/or projects we’re working on. 

1.  ROPED/BOULDERING CIRCUITS – This is the most organic option, for those of you who hate keeping up with a written training log.  The concept is simple – just pick something specific to work on, do it, then rest for a bit before doing it again (and maybe even again and again.)  For roped climbing, I wrote a while back about some specific intervals that could be done with 3 people (or just two if you don’t need an extra person on kid duty!)  You can find that post here.   If most of your training is done solo, roped climbing is out of the question (unless you are one of those rare people that don’t die of boredom after 5 minutes on an auto-belay).  No big deal – the sky’s the limit with bouldering and interval training.  Besides, I’ve found that I actually stay more focused and get more out of my workout time on the days I’m flying solo.  Recently I tried to beef up my power endurance with a “5 in 5” interval.  (I adapted it from a recent Climbing Magazine article).  Basically I gave myself 5 minutes to climb 5 boulder problems that were challenging, but I thought I’d still have a fair shot at when tired (ie familiar problems devoid of tweaky moves).  At the 5 minute mark I would stop and rest, regardless of whether I’d completed 5 problems or not.  Another 5 minutes and I’d do another interval – 5 intervals (plus a solid warm-up) put me right at the 1 hour mark.  I measured my progress by adding up the grades – so an interval with a V2, a V4, and three V3’s would be worth 15 points, as would an interval with 5 successful V3’s (unsuccessful attempts are worth zero points.)  It might not sound like much, but 5 minutes leaves NO room for rests or mistakes, and I was shocked at how exhausting of a workout this was.  But in 3 weeks time I was able to increase my “score” by 16 points!

Caution: Cragbaby at Work!

Caution: Cragbaby at Work!

2.  UP AND DOWN – The ability to reverse moves is a very valuable skill to have in your arsenal when pushing your limits on new routes outdoors.  It’s also a great way to throw in as much pump as possible out of a 30 foot wall.  Make it a point to down climb every route you can – and don’t hesitate to take multiple laps on the same route or routes that share the same rope – you’ll build some endurance and all the while saving time, since you’ll be eliminating the amount of times you and your partner spend in transition tying  in and out of the rope.

3.  HIT STRIPS/CAMPUS BOARD/HANGBOARD – All of these nifty little training inventions could easily have been invented with the busy family in mind.  When done correctly, they provide a very quick but highly effective and specific workout.  Do them incorrectly and you’re gonna get hurt.  Don’t hop on any of these pieces of equipment without a thorough warm-up (ie more than a set or two of push-ups).  Also, most experts recommend that this sort of higher level training only be attempted by climbers in the 5.10 and up arena.  If that’s not you (yet 😉 ), you’re actually in a great place because that means you can still see plenty of gains from just plain old climbing!  If that IS you, then you’ve got a whole arsenal of time-saving (albeit sometimes monotonous) equipment at your disposal.  Choose any one of these torture devices and you are guaranteed an exhaustive workout in under an hour.  HIT Strips are the least boring and MOST like actual climbing.  I experimented with them this past summer in prep for a trip to Ten Sleep, and was pleasantly surprised at the results (more specifics here).  I’m not a huge fan of the campus board (mostly just because I suck at it…), but I know a lot of folks that have benefited immensely from it.  The hangboard and I became intimately close last year when I was stuck in an ankle boot, and since then, I like to intersperse a short cycle of hangboarding every 2 or 3 months or so.  And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably read my review of the DRCC v5.12 hangboard from earlier this week (if you didn’t, click here – there’s a discount code at the bottom of the post!)

Inner Peaks Training area

Inner Peaks Training area

Although we used to meet at the gym at the same time and just alternate every 15 minutes or so for kid duty, we’ve found that C is in a better mood (and therefore everyone else is too) when there is less transition.  So our current m.o involves Steve going to the gym directly after work, which gives C plenty of time to wake up from his nap at his own pace before we all rendezvous at the gym around 5:30.  While it’s my turn to climb, C and his Daddy either hang out at the gym, socializing in between C’s “project burns,” or head home to play outside, depending on the day.  Dinner is always leftovers on climbing nights, ensuring that we still have plenty of family time after dinner before it’s time for C to hit the hay.  Our current strategy has been successful for the past 6 months or so, but my guess is that when C is older it’ll make sense to go back to the get-there-at-the-same-time-and-alternate-kid-duty schedule again. 

That’s what’s been successful for our family of late, but I’m sure everyone else’s miles may vary.  What strategies have (or have NOT) worked out for your family when it comes to workout/training days? 


6 Responses to “How Parents (and Other Busy People) Can Still Find Time to Train in the Climbing Gym”

  1. Looking forward to Abby getting older and buying a Family membership to our gym. Currently can’t justify paying $75 for just me to go once a week. Thankfully we have outdoor stuff in town, but haven’t been going much lately. Can’t wait until Abby is old enough to hit the gym, and even take outdoors! But I easily see how gym climbing would be best to get the time in.


  2. Sam

    Recently I’ve focused on endurance only, and have been doing that by solely staying on the wall steep routes with big holds as long as possible. This means I’ll climb up a route in the lead cave to the top, jump to another route and down climb it, and then possibly head back up without stepping on the ground. Or up and down the same route until failure.

    My next focus is getting my power back up with sort of bouldering circuit for a while, while maintaining endurance throughout the week. I like pyramids and just flat out hard bouldering during this time.

    Then I’ll combine the two and do a few moderate routes, a hard boulder problem or two and then another moderately hard route back to back with little resting. Or I’ll start off a route with a moderate to difficult boulder problem and transition to the route.

    Creativity is key and it’s what makes training fun for me. Sticking to a regiment is hard, but following a loose schedule and doing your own thing when climbs get old makes it better


  3. Mike B

    Oh how true this post is. I’ve been perfecting the hour long pumpfest lately. It’s segmented into running warmups on the Autobelay for 10-15 minutes with moderates then over to boulder routes up and down every two minutes for another 30-40 minutes then traversing until the clock runs out and I have to make it home before wee man wakes up and I swap out duty with my wife. Another tip is the playground workout. There are a ton of great ones out there and it combines kiddo time and workout time in an outdoor setting.


  4. We do the tag team thing. I climb regularly with my friend 2evenings a week – once our 4 kiddos (4 -11yo) are down. Our gym is open 24 hours so this lets me go from 830-11pm those evenings. Hubby likes to boulder during his lunch hour some days. And most Mondays he is off work so we climb together those days at the gym since all the kids are in school. Then we’ll do a saturday and go out to the burbs where the big climbing gym is and all of us hit the ropes and my 4yo will boulder a bit and color or snack. Since we are in Chicago we are super grateful for our climbing gym!! Someday it would be great to move and be close to beautiful outdoor climbing!! 🙂 Thanks for all your tips and ventures Erica!! Really love reading your blog! Xoxo


  5. Erica

    Caleb – Yeah the gym memberships are only worth it if it works with your schedule enough that you’ll actually go!

    Sam – Yeah the “loose schedule” idea works well for me. Structured enough to accomplish something, but not so regimented it takes all the fun out of it. And by the way I’ve found some good enduro up-downs outside the cave too – there is a section of wall by the party area that has several lines on one rope, with a 5.7 in the middle that works out great for down-climbing any of them. My goal last week was to see how many times I could go up the .10d and down the .7 without touching the ground. It ended up being a great ARC workout – I was able to keep myself at that “almost too pumped” state for a good long while.

    Mike – There’s a new traverse problem that goes around the top-out pillar in the back of the gym that I’ve had a lot of fun with. That’s another good one to run laps on b/c it basically makes a circle and you can hop on/off at any point. And you must have read my mind, b/c I have a playground workout-related post coming up in just a few days lol!

    Leilani – Jealous your gym is open 24 hrs! I’d love to be able to get in early mornings but ours doesn’t open until 12.


  6. Angela

    I too have carved out a night with a girlfriend after putting our 3 year old and 10 month twins to bed. We come with a planned out workout and the gym has cleared up so we can get in a great workout in a short amount of time. My hubby boulders at lunch. If I come with just the twins during the day, it’s mostly autobelay for me. We still try to get the whole family out every once in awhile so our 3 year old can climb and play around. Us parents are usually able to get in *some* climbing too while we take turns watching him and have the twins in a stroller. I miss actually climbing with my husband, but I know that day will come again.
    I love the workout #1 you posted. I like how you can score yourself to mark progress and it really maximizes time. I will be trying that one soon! Thanks for the article!


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN