Trad and Big Wall Free Climbing

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual is now available order yours here!

The legendary Lotus Flower Tower in Canada's Northwest Territories. A very rare sunny day.

Canada’s legendary Lotus Flower Tower on a very rare sunny day. ©Mike Anderson

Traditional climbing skills provide access to some of the most spectacular and inspiring features on the planet. From soaring shields of flawless Sierra granite to gravity-defying towers of Wingate sandstone, the ability to perform on gear-protected terrain opens the door to a magnificent world of limitless adventure. There are technical climbing skills and physical-fitness requirements unique to trad climbing that can make a significant difference on the sharp end. Furthermore, besides its intrinsic value, trad climbing can also reveal gaps in a climber’s capabilities, and thus provide an excellent means to improve general climbing weaknesses.

The Unique Requirements of Traditional Climbing

Due to the differences between sport and trad climbs, a slightly modified training approach should be used. While traditional routes can take nearly any form, here we’re focusing primarily on the most archetypical trad routes: granite and sandstone gear-protected climbs that are not very steep. These routes often differ from sport climbs in the following ways:

• Length
• Duration
• Angle
• Climbing Pace
• Hold type and size
• Duty cycle
• Frequency and Quality of Rests
• Protection
• Predominance of Onsight Style
• Climbing Shoes
• Environmental Conditions

This cliff should be on every climber's tick list :)

This cliff should be on every climber’s tick list 🙂 ©Mike Anderson

Training adjustments can be made to better prepare for these attributes commonly encountered on trad climbs. The Rock Climber’s Training Manual will help you tailor your training approach to maximize your odds of success when trad climbing near your limit.

Learn more in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Topics on Trad and Big-Wall Free Climbing include:

Training exercise adjustments for trad climbing
• Adjusting your training schedule to maximize trad climbing performance
• Physical training for big-wall free climbing
• Advice on big-wall free climbing ascent style
Logistical planning for big-wall free climbing
• Developing the best attitudes for big-wall free climbing success
Expert tips on climbing your big wall project Articles related to Trand and Big Wall Free Climbing:

Flashback Series Ep 3: The First Free Ascent of the Lowe Route in Zion, UT

In December 2004, I (Mike) made the First Free Ascent (FFA) of the historic North Face of Angels Landing (aka Lowe Route). This amazing feature (the N Face of Angel’s Landing) was the premier climbing feature in one of America’s most beautiful National Parks, and yet it had never been free climbed. The route went free at 5.13, Grade V. Here is the story I wrote shortly after the ascent. It first appeared in a forum thread on on Zion Climbing History in April 2005. The photos are all courtesy of Mr. Andrew Burr who worked very hard to take these amazing shots! Read more…

If you have any questions or comments on Trad and Big Wall Free Climbing, please post them on the RCTM Forum.  We will try to respond as soon as possible.


2 thoughts on “Trad and Big Wall Free Climbing

  1. Do you suggest any additional modifications to the training program for folks focusing on alpine rock climbing? I like that your book has the separate training schedule for trad / big wall, but alpine climbs demand a slightly different type of strength (for what it’s worth, I climb primarily in the WA cascades). I also read Training for New Alpinism, but found it to be too heavily focused on ice and mixed climbing… which is what led me to the Rock Prodigy book.


    • Kyle,

      Good question. There is some discussion this topic on our forum. In short, alpine rock climbing is all about speed and efficiency. That means minimizing approach/retreat time with good aerobic fitness, climbing quickly and confidently, and minimizing “stoppage time” (like belay transitions. From a training perspective, I would recommend adding highly specific aerobic training, such as uphill running or steep hiking with a pack, and maximizing Outdoor Mileage. Depending on the rock difficulty of your goals, it may also make sense to emphasize Base Fitness over Strength/Power. If you’d like a more in-depth discussion, please visit the forum!

      Good luck,


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