By Steve Bechtel

Once upon a time, there were no climbing gyms. There were good climbers, among them my friend Todd Skinner, who did a fair amount of hard training off the rock. During the late 1980s, Todd and some friends developed a freestanding “box” of slats with several different sizes of wooden edges attached to them. Later called the “Skinner Box,” this was a primary tool these climbers used to develop finger and back strength.

Although a device like this is no longer necessary (a steep cave in a climbing gym serves the same purpose), the training program that they wrote nearly 30 years ago is still valid, and REALLY hard, today.

From Todd’s Notes:

This is a workout that we developed after talking to trainers and sport physiologists, and is our winter program. It is used at a time when performance is less important than strength and power gains. You MUST adjust it or rest completely if you are experiencing any chronic joint pain. Always warm-up extensively prior to workout. Discipline, whether it means working out when you’d rather not or resting when you’d rather work out is, as always, the crux. Ease into the full workload if you haven’t been training regularly for at least 6 months.

TUES: Do many difficult routes or boulder very hard. At the end of the day, do laps on a route that is pumping, but does not isolate any fingers (top rope). As soon as you hit the top, lower off and start again. Repeat until failure. Rest while your partner goes into meltdown and repeat.

Back at the gym, start with 200 seconds of “power hangs” on a 3/4″ edge. These consist of 20 seconds hanging without thumbs followed by 20 seconds rest for 10 sets. Hang with slightly bent elbows to avoid tendon damage.

Next we do 10 trips on a ladder, either static or “Bachar,” to train for 1-arm lock-offs, etc. Be very, very careful to stay in perfect control. If you can’t do all sets well, use your feet for the remainder. Monitor your elbows and shoulders carefully.

This is followed by 200 more seconds of power hangs.

Next go into the box, grab the top hold, and swing your feet up to the other end of the box. Keep your back arched and pull your chest up to the top hold, simulating a pull on a horizontal roof. Repeat 8-12 times. If failure doesn’t come within this time frame, add a weight vest. Stagger out and rest while your partner gets in. When he’s done, get in and change your hand position 180 degrees to an undercling. Do the same 8-12 reps. You’ll do each of these positions 3 times for a total of 6 sets.

You can be doing dips between each of these sets.

Next comes the endurance part of the workout. Get a barbell and do heavy wrist rolls until your forearms are blown. Crawl immediately into the box and hang on the 3/4″ edge without thumbs until failure. I mean complete failure! Crawl out and get another pump with the barbell, and crawl back in and hang again. Repeat for 5 sets of each. You’ve got to love the pain!!!!

WED: Lots of miles climbing on moderate (5.11-5.12+) ground.

THUR: Repeat of Tues.


SAT: Climb on hard routes but not to destruction.

SUN: Perform on hardest routes. Peak day of the week. Work out that night.


Best of Luck!

Todd Skinner

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