Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions (3): Cross-Training Is Good Training for Climbing (Part 1)

Should you be cross-training to improve your climbing? (Image courtesy of vectorolie at

Does cross-training help improve your climbing? (Image courtesy of vectorolie at











“The idea that practicing skills that are used in one sport will somehow improve the specific skills required for another is not at all supported by science. …if you want to improve your skills in a specific sport, you need to practice the skills required for that sport—period.” (from “Body by Science: A Research Based Program for Strength Training, Body building, and Complete Fitness in 12 Minutes a Week,” by Doug McGuff, M.D., and John Little)

“Cross-training does not work, except to sell shoes. The benefits of any particular exercise rarely transfer very far into another mode of exercise. It is also possible that the cross-training will actually interfere with the primary skill (a very specific pattern of joint and muscle coordination being worked on). …however, there may be something to be gained by lifting weights.” (from “A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers,” by Mel Robin)

The two books quoted above almost couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in their beliefs and philosophies surrounding the ideal methods by which to cultivate lifelong whole-body health. For example, the former eschews all stretching as useless while promoting heavy weight training as a key to peak fitness, while the latter lauds the development of slow-twitch muscle fibers and a yoga practice as a superior way to achieve health and longevity.

Without pitting these two books against one another in a philosophical face-off (which I have no desire to do, since I have a more middle-ground viewpoint than either book, and I found great value in the wisdom and approaches presented by both on the whole), I did find it quite interesting that they intersected in a brief moment of agreement on the topic of – of all things – cross-training. (It’s also interesting that the yoga book gives a grudging nod there toward weight training, even for yoga practitioners…hmmm).

But first, before delving into this topic any more deeply, I should provide a definition of the terms under discussion – in other words, what exactly is – and isn’t – considered cross-training, for the purposes of this and the next couple of entries?

According to the Oxford Dictionaries definition, cross training is: “Training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance, especially in a main sport.”

For anyone serious about efficiently and effectively dedicating their training efforts to improving their climbing (or in another specific sport), this would be the proper definition, for sure.

Note that for people who do not have a sport or physical activity of choice that they’re working to excel at, though, that another definition exists (one that I won’t go into great detail in, but that’s worth sharing for clarification’s sake): “to engage in various sports or exercises especially for well-rounded health and muscular development,” as defined by Merriam-Webster.

Myth: Cross-training is an effective, efficient and recommended way to enhance sport-specific performance in climbing (or any given sport).

Reality: Cross-training is not a smart or recommended way to efficiently or effectively train to improve at climbing (or any given sport).

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions (3): Cross-Training Is Good Training for Climbing (Part 2)

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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