By AJ Sobrilsky


Planning the work and working the plan by focusing on the 90% that's important and not the 10% that's interesting. 


Both as a coach and medical professional who sees a lot of climbing athletes of various climbing, training, and experience levels I’m regularly asked, "Is it worth training or should I just climb? What should I work on? Should I do strength training, hangboarding, and climb all on the same day? What are the most important skills or drills to do to improve my technique?"

And always, without a doubt, the climber wants to know why they keep hurting their fingers doing 7:3x6 in 7 different hold positions as it’s outlined in the Anderson brothers book.

Because YOU are not Mike, nor are you Mark.

Reflecting on my own personal history and growth as well as all the reading, learning, and discussions with professionals within climbing (and climbers), some key features of what successful individuals are doing stand out. For one, they show up, and put the work in even if it isn’t the most fun or they’ve had a long day at work. As one of our Climb Strong coaches, Ken, puts it: “they check the boxes”.

Second, they understand that there is no easy way or instant results. What they do and how they do it is rooted in specific practice, intention, and is process oriented. Third, above all else they prioritize the sport. They show up at the gym to get the work done, do so, and then go home to recover in order to be as ready as possible for the next gym session or or outdoor climbing day.

The following program outline/structure is something I feel will help answer, guide, and provide some direction for individuals who have some of the questions I discussed above and begin to help instill those key features for long term success. To some degree, I’m writing this to my early climbing self who was admittedly over-stoked on chasing grades, climbed as much as possible as often as possible no matter how my body felt, agonized over a few seconds between hangboard protocol specifics, and was convinced that the most expensive quickdraws were for sure the key to my next send.

I feel this program would serve as a great avenue into training for climbing for a budding eager climber or even an experienced climber looking to bridge a longer recovery/base block with some intention before ramping back up into a hyper-focused phase. It may also be just what you need if you were anything like me and relied heavily on stubbornness to bulldoze your way through climbs, grades, and seasons only to be left with another injury and clawing your way back to that same spot instead of getting better.

This program aims to focus on building a true climbing and training base rooted in skills, strength, and session intention to support the pursuits in this sport over the long haul. Here’s to the former me, and the future you.

To start the program, you’ll perform a global assessment to gain some baseline general physical and climbing specific measures that will allow you to track your long term development and potentially highlight areas to address or even not address based pending your findings. In addition, I suggest you do some video collecting of yourself climbing on specific grades/styles/terrain. I’m convinced this is one of the easiest things you can do to become a better climber. The assessment will be broken up into two days as follows:

Structure/Outline (details in table below)

  • 2 day physical assessment 
    • Day 1:
      • Max 20mm hang (duration at BW)
      • Max pull-ups (quantity)
      • L sit (duration)
      • Modified Grant hip flexion 
    • Day 2
      • 7:3 Repeaters test (at BW for time)
      • Max push-ups (quantity)
      • Potentially max campus slap 
      • Seated splits test
  • Video assessment of bouldering and roped climbing
    • Onsight level boulder
    • Onsight level route climb (on lead preferably)

Not sure where to begin?

We have training plans available for any level athlete!

Day 1
Max 20mm hang (duration, for time)Using a flat edge, ideally 20mm or as close to it as possible (if you can’t hang on a 20mm edge move to 25mm). Set up with a strict half crimp position. Engaged through the trunk and shoulders perform a hang for as long as possible (this is an assessment so don’t force this to create any issues). Record the length of time. 
Max pull ups (total number)Using an overhead bar. Hands comfortable distance apart, perform as many strict pull ups as you can (no kipping). These should be continuous. You are allowed to hang at the bottom but once you start do not put your feet down. Note the number fully completed.
L Sit/Straight leg hang (duration, for time)Hanging from a bar with slight bend in arms (or from elbows in straps if your gym has them). Perform a hanging straight leg raise (L sit) for as long as you can. Note the time to failure.
Modified Grant Hip Flexion Test (high foot test)Find an empty wall surface. Facing the wall, with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed straight ahead at the wall, and ~9-10inches away from the wall (space between big toe and wall). Place hands/palms flat on the wall with finger tips pointed straight up. Try to raise your left leg up the wall in front of you as high as possible while maintaining hand contact and balance. Note and measure the height from the ground to the highest point you were able to lift that leg up the wall. Repeat on the right.
Video Assessment (bouldering)
  • Onsight level boulder
  • Limit boulder
Day 2
7:3 Repeaters test (at bodyweight for time)On a 20mm edge (or whichever edge you used for the max hang test) in a 1/2 crimp position. Use 70% of your 20mm Max Hang Weight. Start hanging when you start the clock: hang for 7 sec, rest for 3sec: continually repeat this sequence for as long as possible (failure of grip or to hold for 7sec). The goal is to see how many/long this repeater sequence can be performed. Note the total time of the activity at failure (example - 110secs).
Max Push Ups (quantity)Finding a comfortable “to you” push up position (trunk engage, back not sagging) begin doing push ups (pace dependent on your desire). Perform as many as you can without breaking form. You may pause for a second or two at the bottom to breathe but do not stop for longer than that to recover. Note the number fully completed. 
Max Campus Reach/Slap For the campus slap test use the largest jug rung on a campus board if campusing is relatively new to you. If you have performed multiple campus board training cycles than you can start with a smaller rung size (20mm is recommended).

  • Hanging with 2 arms from the rung (if a new activity, I would recommend placing your feet on as well), pull up quick and fast, reaching with one arm up as high as you can. You do not need to latch onto any other rung, we want to see how high you can pull and reach. Video taping this from behind, or putting a chalk dot with a finger on the board when you reach up high is a good measuring method. You could also reach up and latch onto a rung, this will be directed specifically by your coach. Rest 1-2min and perform reaching with the other arm.

Note the distance or the rung size and number you were able to get to for each arm.

Seated Splits TestFind an empty piece of floor and wall. Start by sitting on the floor facing the wall, place feet up against the wall. Slowly as able slide your hips closer and closer to the wall. Spread your feet further and further apart as if moving closer and closer into the seated splits position. Over the course of a minute or two work towards your ending point. Once you’ve reached that point mark/remember where each foot is. Then measure that distance and record it.
Video Assessment (roped climbing)
  • Onsight level lead/top rope climb
  • Redpoint level lead/top rope climb

It's important to consider the results and findings from these assessment days but not dwell or make too much from them. Performing this assessment 2-3 times a year at the beginning or end of a cycle or training phase will help you better understand how you’re responding to various climbing activities, training stimulus, and potentially provide information into trends that will allow you to gauge when you may or may not be prepared for your climbing goals.

General Overview:


The structure the Foundations program will follow is “nonlinear”, meaning it will not take the typical approaches such as blocked or linear programming that we see in most other sports that are targeting one specific timeframe to peak (think training build for a marathon race). In the nonlinear approach we’ll essentially cycle session to session through three specific workouts. Each workout will have a focus on one of the three specific fitness qualities and stimului that are required for performance rock climbing. Nonlinear programming is beneficial for climbers for a variety of reasons:

  • The program is “less boring” than one where several sessions in a row are similar or the same
  • It allows flexibility in its scheduling as well as starting and stopping due to life, injury, or illness 
  • The program is easily adaptable to various schedule constraints (limited time or crowded facilities)
  • It allows for more variety in workout sequence and where/type of facility it's done in
  • The structure intuitively allows for longer relative rest periods for certain tissues and energy systems due to varied session to session loading

Ideally, we shoot to get three “training sessions” per week; one of each stimulus. These will last around 1-2 hours each, depending on your own time constraints and training capacity. We’ll aim to accomplish 10-12 sessions of each specific stimulus before moving into a performance phase or simply updating each session's structure. Assuming you get ~3 sessions per week this will likely take around 3 months. Let’s assume you only get 2 sessions in, that's OK, just let the program run its course and if you get those 10-12 sessions done around 4 months, great.

What about climbing outside? For the purpose of this specific program the training days and climbing days will remain separate or adjunct one another. This will make sure you’re getting quality exposure to a variety of climbing without having to consider too many details at the crag. If anything the goal should be to get as much exposure to a variety of climbing and rock types as possible. If the question is ever "should I train or climb outside?", the answer is always to prioritize climbing. Far too often, motivated climbers turn into “lifters/training athletes who climb” rather than “climbers who train or lift." If you’re a more seasoned climber with some training and climbing experience, then some structure or intention to your outdoors days would be worthwhile. In that case I’d recommend the following two intentions for your sessions, and in a similar fashion to the indoor training session to session you can simply rotate through these each subsequent day at the crag:

  • Volume day: emphasis on lower intensity climbs (probably shouldn’t be falling due to difficulty or fatigue), exposure to a variety of angles/hold types, and expanding/exploring your movement and climbing skill repertoire.
  • Second Tier day: these days should be substantially less volume than your volume days, focusing on harder or higher intensity climbs. Select climbs that take 2-3 tries to do, requiring you to work through sequences, refine beta, and try a handful of times to send. These days are about quality, not quantity.

Weekly and Day to Day Session Specifics:

One of the key components of this program will be to implement and follow through with a consistent warm up routine. For this, I recommend the “Efficient Warm Up”. This particular warm up has been developed to work through a variety of lower and upper body movements pertinent to climbing as well as working progressively through finger loading and ramping up full body tension. This warm up can be personalized as needed. Each exercise should be performed in rather immediate succession (it will almost feel like a mini workout in itself) and by the time you’re finished you should feel comfortable getting on onsight/flash level climbs. 

  • Efficient Warm Up (Efficient Warm Up #3 already built out in trainerize TK TK TK)

Large chunks of the sessions will be dedicated to developing skills and practicing foundational climbing movements. The skills and drills have been structured in a progressive series and ideally will follow the Efficient warm up. In the program it is structured to be progressive and build through the skills but if you find that one specific drill or technique is valuable for you and you’d like to continuing working on a specific skill set that is totally fine.

  • There will be 2-3 different drills/skills every 2 weeks. These will build on each other throughout the training block.
    • Series listed and progressions below

Drills Series: Ideally on spray wall or “easier” autobelay/TR - 5 mins per drill with 3-5mins rest, update  

  1. Series 1
    1. “Sticky Feet”: The goal of this drill is to focus on intentional footwork. While climbing, briefly pause before each foot placement. Focus on where you want to place your toe, eye it down, and place your foot. Pressing down, avoiding any extra tapping/patting. Regardless of where your foot actually ends up, DO NOT adjust. Weight that foot and repeat on the other side
    2. Soft Hands: On an easy problem, open hands and feet. Make your way up the wall paying attention to how much squeeze or grip is required to sustain your position on the wall. The goal is to get in touch with how much pressure or how intense you are holding on. Sometimes it is not as much as you think, and thus helping us avoid overgripping while climbing. The goal should be able to hold on with as little force/tension as possible. This may also demand that you find good trunk and hip position (play with different positions) to find the most optimal in order to relieve pressure from fingers/hands.
    3. High feet, low feet: This drill really helps us work on the “box” which we climb in, and increase the effective size of this box. Using high feet will focus on high stepping and rocking over, while low feet will help with tension. Keeping hands specific to the route but open feet, work from high feet/foot positions, then repeat with focus on low feet/foot positions. This will help challenge body positions and increase your ability in various positions.
  2. Series 2
    1. Square and Pivot Climbing: We can think of square climbing as if you are keeping your chest and hips facing the wall the entire time. Knees may splay outward to bring hips closer or underneath your body. While pivot climbing or hip to wall climbing allows for a more dynamic and efficient movement pattern that will help extend your reach and keep your center of mass close to the wall. The pivot/hip to wall climbing also force you to flag with the opposite leg to not barn door off the wall. 
    2. Straight Arm Climbing: Using relatively easy terrain, think decent holds and bigger feet. Keeping your elbow straight throughout, move up or across the wall. This will require you generate some push through your feet and hip and likely make it feel like you are twisting your hips side to side into the wall to extend up.  Perform a handful of moves or a few short boulder problems. Videotaping this and watching will help ensure you are truly keeping your elbows straight and help you see how your movement patterns change.
    3. Rooting: Starting on slightly overhanging terrain, think big/good hand holds and medium to small feet. Finding a good stance, making the feet as big as possible (even if they are small make them as best possible) you’ll find a stable position and drive through your feet/toes to a hand hold focusing on pushing through your feet - almost as if you were trying squish something or push that hold off the wall. Once you make contact with the hand hold, pause for a second to ensure you’re making that driving force through your foot. Then relax, move feet to set up for another bigger move with the other arm, root in and move. Repeat.
  3. Series 3
    1. Big hands small feet: This drill is exactly how it sounds. Using “big to you” hand holds, and the smallest/worst feet possible focus on precision placement and weight shifting and creating tension on the less than optimal foot holds. If your foot slips, stop, reflect, modify accordingly to use it appropriately.
    2. One foot on, One foot flagging “The Button”: Push your left big toe hard into the wall, as if you are pushing a button on the wall, and notice the extra tension it creates in your hips and glutes. Try moving the right hand from this position. Go Large - find a crouched passive flagging position and make a huge move with the right hand, finishing on straightened legs. Notice how the left leg either pivots outwards or drags up the wall as you extend through the move. Next - place the “button” in a position that allows you to keep the left toe pressing it all the way through the hand move; just where you would ideally have a foothold. This will mean beginning a big move with a bent flagging leg
    3. One touch: Save energy by grabbing the holds correctly each time.Adjusting your hands no matter how minute adds up over time and is a huge waste of energy. Spend some time figuring out exactly where to grab the holds. Once you have this dialed, climb the boulder 2 more times with complete hand accuracy. Be deliberate in your movement. If you happen to grab a hold in the wrong spot just keep going. Our minds seek comfort and will want you to adjust. Don't. Just keep moving!
  4. Series 4
    1. Two feet On: Both feet must remain on holds for the duration of every hand move
    2. Hip and hand: For the duration of every hand move, the same hip must be against the wall as the moving hand
    3. Straight arm bendy body: For the duration of every hand move, the other arm which is holding on must remain straight. Begin on easy vertical to slightly overhanging terrain with many big holds
  5. Series 5:
    1. “The Big 3” (All 3 from Series 4 done at once): Combine HIP AND HAND with TWO FEET ON and STRAIGHT ARM, BENDY BODY to provide a stern test of creative and efficient footwork: for the duration of every hand move the same hip must be against the wall as the moving hand, both feet must remain on holds and the other arm which is holding on must be straight
    2. The Can-Can: For the duration of every hand move, only one foot can be on a hold
    3. Dynamic Rooting: This drill is meant to help you focus on tension and control when climbing, while developing an awareness of your body by focusing on what is actually happening. Arms: Try this drill by itself on a couple of different boulders - as reaching with one hand toward a hold, focus on the hand still in contact with the wall. Drive with that ‘rooted’ hand all the way through the move. *If your body sags, it probably means that your focus shifted to the leading hand.Legs: Try this drill with just legs for a couple of boulders: focus on driving with legs (pushing/pulling, speed) focus on awareness to legs the entire drill.Combo: Put these together for several boulders. Focus on tension and control. focus on arms and legs that are still in contact with the wall and driving with these contact points through each movement.
  6. Series 6:
    1. The Button + The Can-Can: Apply THE BUTTON to every flag move during the CAN-CAN exercise: For the duration of every hand move, only one foot can be on a hold
    2. The Can-Can + Hip-Hand: Combine the CAN-CAN with HIP AND HAND exercise: for the duration of every hand move the same hip must be against the wall as the moving hand, and only one foot can be on a hold.
    3. The Inside Outside Can-Can: For the duration of every hand move, the same hip must be against the wall as the moving hand and the same foot as the moving hand must be flagging. For example, the left hand moves with a left foot flag. 


(The above drills/skills were taken from a variety of coaches and books. Thanks to the following for the ideas: John Kettle, Phil Ferrara, Kris Hampton, Nate Drolet, Climb Strong Coaching crew)

Climbing Sessions:

  • Strength Day
    • Onsight/Flash days, focus on reading routes and executing the read sequence
      • Medium volume, medium intensity
        • Set time limit or try limit - for this I’d recommend 60mins total following the warm up and drill series. Ideally, an attempt every 4-5mins.


  • Power Day
    • Limit bouldering
      • Low volume, high intensity
        • Set time limit - 45-60min max after warm up and drill series. Resting at least 4-5mins between efforts.
          • Pro tip: video tape these efforts and review them to refine beta and technique. This is also a great time to brush the holds and perform mobility exercises.


  • Endurance Day
    • Progressive Vscore total, and/or number of roped pitches build
      • High volume, low intensity
        • Track total Vscore - add up the Vscores of all the problems climbed in a 60min chunk. These should be performed relatively continuously with small amounts of rest. The key here is to avoid too hard of efforts that will require significant rest. I’d shoot for boulder problems 3-4 grades below your flash level. So if you can typically flash V5… this workout should be done in the V1-3 range. 
        • Roped pitches build - each session we’d like to see the number of roped pitches increased until you are hitting 5-8 total pitches (~60min chunk). These climbs should be ~3-4 grades below your typical onsight level. So if you typically onsight 11a, these should be in the 10a/b realm.  
    • Switch after 8 sessions to more Strength Endurance stimulus for last 4wks
      • Boulders “On-The-Minute” - in this session you’ll do just as the workout describes; climb a boulder problem every minute. It will look like this:
        • Start running clock and at 0:01 climb boulder, drop down and rest remainder of the time
        • At 1:00 repeat boulder, drop down and rest until end of minute
        • At 2:00 repeat boulder, drop down and rest remainder of minute
        • Shoot to perform 10 total climbs ~10min of total work. 
        • Then rest 10min, repeat a second 10min “On-The-Minute” block.
        • Rest 10min, repeat a third 10min “On-The-Minute” block.
        • Go home and recover.


We know that strength training has a lot of benefits for life, health, and sport performance. While the focus on this program is building a foundation of climbing practice rooted in intentional activities, if the athlete has the time, access, and capacity to complete an “adjunct” or “optional” lifting session it would be worthwhile to consider one. If so, the suggested “Integrated Strength” build allows the athlete to focus on key movement patterns, get some time on their fingers, and address essential mobility areas.  

  • Optional lifting day (Integrated): if the athlete has time and facilities to do so, however all climbing demands should be prioritized. 
  1. Series 1
    1. Vertical Press x8+8
    2. 4 finger ½ crimp x 6sec
    3. Hip or thoracic mobility x60sec
  • 3 rounds
  1. Series 2
    1. Deadlift x5
    2. 4 finger open hand x 6sec
    3. Hip or thoracic mobility x60sec
  • 3 rounds
  1. Series 3
    1. Horizontal press 
    2. 3 finger drag/pocket x6sec
    3. Hip or thoracic mobility x60sec
  • 3 rounds

Example Calendar:

MondayTuesday WednesdayThursFridaySaturdaySunday
Week 0Assessment Day 1Assessment Day 2Climb Outside - 2nd TierClimb Outside - Volume
Week 1: Series 1 DrillsStrength

Optional lift

PowerEnduranceClimb Outside - 2nd TierClimb Outside - Volume
Week 2:Strength

Optional lift 

PowerEnduranceClimb Outside - 2nd Tier
Week 3:

Series 2 Drills

StrengthPowerEnduranceClimb Outside - VolumeOptional lift
Week 4:StrengthPowerOptional liftEnduranceClimb Outside 2nd Tier
Week 5:

Series 3 Drills


Optional lift

PowerClimb Outside - VolumeClimb Outside - 2nd Tier
Week 6:EnduranceStrength 

Optional lift



Deeper Dive Into The Daily/Weekly Structure (Week 1 from above):

Week 1Efficient Warm up

Skills+Drills Series 1

Strength Day Climbing Session

Optional Integrated Lifting

Efficient Warm up

Skills+Drills Series 1

Power Day Climbing Session

Efficient Warm up

Skills+Drills Series 1

Endurance Day Climbing Session

Climbing Outside - 2nd Tier effortsClimbing Outside - Volume focused

Troubleshooting tips:

  • You get sick or have a busy “life week”
      • Don’t sweat it, stuff happens. That’s part of the beauty of this program is that you can jump right back in/on the pattern as you’re able. 
  • You’re feeling like one or two of the sessions is difficult to recover from and it's impacting your ability to get the next session in or climb outside the way you want.
      • You likely need to take an extra day to recover after that specific session. Depending on your level and history you may only be able to get 2 specific sessions in a week and 1 or 2 days outside each week. DO NOT sacrifice a day outside for a better training day inside. 
  • The weather didn’t cooperate or your partner bailed and you couldn't get outside
      • No worries, get to the gym and try and replicate the same day that you were planning outside. Just think: “what's the goal for the day” and then do your best to mirror that in the context/environment you have available.
  • You feel like the drills are too easy
      • Good. That specific set/series might not be your biggest weakness but are still worthwhile spending small chunks of time on. If you haven’t ever watched a professional baseball player, golfer, or basketball player warm up, take some time to do so. You’ll find that these “professional level all-stars'' in their respective sports ALWAYS practice the basics: hitting balls off a batting tee, taking easy ground balls, practicing 1 foot putts and easy chip shots (hundreds of times each day), and performing rounds of basic lay ups and free throws. All of these “drills/skills” these athletes have done millions of times in their careers already but they still get it done. Remember, the best do the basics better than anyone else. 
  • You’ve got a week long climbing trip coming up
      • Awesome, get after it. Enjoy the time outside, your friends, and don’t forget to try hard. Maybe take the day or two off prior to the trip. While you’re on the trip try and maintain those outside focus/intention. I’d recommend a 2 day on 1 day off climbing schedule. When you get back, take stock in how you’re feeling. It may require a slow week to transition back into regular training, that's fine it's normal. Just get back at it as you’re able and don’t sweat it.
  • Your friends are giving you a hard time for being focused and “training” 
    • Don’t feed into it too much. Keep playing the long game and like mentioned above it won’t be long before they’re asking you what you’re doing, where you got it, and playing catch up as you push past them. If they’re more receptive, explain to them what got you interested in what you’re trying to do and invite them to try it for a bit. If they continue to lay it on, just smile and nod your head.

What should you do if the program feels too hard, or easy?  

  • The beauty of the program is that it should be scalable for a climber at just about any level. That being said, part of being a smart and responsible athlete with training and performance is understanding that you’re not going to win or set a PR everyday. For a variety of reasons (sleep, work, time of day, poor hydration/nutrition) you’ll need to slightly adjust, modify, or redefine your own perception of intensity session to session or week to week. That’s fine, because above all else consistency over the long haul will trump any one or two super good intense workouts. Play the long game and the outcomes, sends, and experiences will speak for themselves. In those moments you do feel like you’re struggling or having difficulties in a session that prior to felt better, take a step back and “auto-regulate” the demands based on how you’re feeling in the moment. Simply put, just adjust for the day. If you typically onsight all the V3’s in the gym but today V3 feels particularly hard compared to prior sessions, scale down and do V2’s. Or, on the flip side if you’re feeling amazing simply step it up one notch and see how it feels. Similar to weights, if your prior weight is feeling tremendously hard today for the given sets/reps just make a small adjustment down and get the work in; chances are next time you’ll be right back where you want to be or even further. Keep good notes/details on those days that feel great or awful and see if you can pick up trends that lead to those feelings. Above all listen to your body, it knows the answer and remember consistency pays the bills.


AJ is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist who currently lives and works in Bozeman, MT. With a comprehensive background in biomechanics, sports performance, and exercise physiology, he is able to provide a unique perspective and comprehensive coaching and training packages for climbing athletes.

As a Wisconsin native who made his way to Flagstaff, AZ to pursue altitude training as a competitive runner, he soon shifted away from running to pursue the never-ending climbing opportunities in the southwest and around the country.

Living and climbing in the desert southwest allowed AJ to understand and experience what it means to have a year-round climbing season and learn the kinds of programming required to perform at a high level consistently. In contrast, Montana has provided a seasonal climbing trend and the distinct training months/seasons that can be programmed for planned road trips or extended periods of desired peak climbing performance during an athlete’s local “climbing season”.

AJ fully believes in the Climb Strong philosophy – supporting and guiding climbing athletes by providing simple, effective, and individualized programming.

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