Does Running Benefit Climbing? Comments on the Age-Old Debate

Googling “running for climbing training” pulls up a host of articles and Mountain Project forums debating whether running helps or hurts one’s climbing. Many of my climbing partners found climbing in college after running cross country in high school, as did I, and still have an appreciation for exploring trails on foot. But,

how does running affect our climbing?

I briefly weighed in on this topic this summer, in a post about “The Dangers of Trail Running,” but here is my more complete answer to the question:

Flashback to my high school running days when I couldn’t have pulled myself up an indoor 5.9 if a pint of Ben and Jerry’s depended on it.
Flashback to my high school running days when I couldn’t have pulled myself up an indoor 5.9 if a pint of Ben and Jerry’s depended on it.

Running or climbing: make the distinction in your training

First, I should admit that I still enjoy running, though I’m no longer training for specific races. On beautiful fall days when I only have an hour break between classes, a jog through University of New Hampshire’s college woods or the community trails by my house gives me a much-needed study break. However, I don’t consider my 30 minutes of cardio “climbing training.”

It’s more meditative, a mental break that’s different from that which I find while climbing. Thoughts slip, uninhibited, through my mind while I run, where everything but the next crimp and controlling my fear of falling is blocked out while I’m on a rope. However, I’m not worried about how fast or long I run for, and if I don’t run for a few days, or weeks, it’s okay.

In an article with Trail Runner Magazine, Alex Honnold talks about how he too enjoys running as a faster means of exploring the trails around Yosemite and cross-training when he’s unable to climb. He doesn’t think that running helps his climbing and doesn’t bother to get up early to get his miles in when he’s focused on particular routes in the Valley, but, for him, it’s a fun activity for rest or easier climbing days.

 

Benefits of running for your climbing

I find running helpful for keeping my base cardio level up for multi-pitch days and hauling 20-pound backpacks up approaches. If you’re too tired after the approach to give your all on a climb, then walking all the way there isn’t worth it. However, I don’t use going for a run as an excuse not to train for climbing—I have many other excuses such as homework and elbow tendonitis for that one. I also don’t run like I’m training for a marathon, as that would deplete my energy and ability to recover for climbing.

 

Related: How to Recover Faster While You Sleep

 

For me, running between 30 and 40 minutes four to five days a week, if I’m doing no other cardio training, is the perfect balance of getting in a mental break and staying fit for approaches without tiring myself out too much to climb. Granted, I do have a four-year base of running cross country and track in high school, so, for me, running 15-20 miles a week is relatively easy and energizing.

Light cross-training, such as going for a 30-minute jog, has been shown to improve your recovery on climbing off days, but make sure you take at least one full rest day each week to let your muscles recuperate—rest days are when your body repairs itself, allowing you to building strength from your workouts.

 

Related: A Rest Day Workout for Climbers Who Hate Rest Days

 

If you don’t consider yourself a runner but want to test out training for approaches, then I’d suggest beginning with 8-10 mile weeks and proceeding from there based on how you feel.

 

Why or why not to run

Overall, I don’t believe running helps my climbing, especially when the approach is short. However, it does help my overall mental health and is a great activity to get out some of my extra energy and relieve stress when I don’t have enough time to hit the gym or climb outside.

I can also say with confidence that running isn’t what holds me back from climbing harder routes; it’s my mental game and lack of arm strength and perfect technique. So, if your life is better with a little running, then there’s no reason to stop.

Most of us don’t climb professionally, so, as lifestyle climbers, we shouldn’t spend every second of our day making choices based solely on whether or not something will help us send our projects. Climbing is a healthy, enjoyable part of our lives, not the only part. But, on the flip side, if you hate running, there’s really no reason, as far as your climbing is concerned, to start.


This article was originally published on Liz Haas’ website, coffeetapeclimb.com, which holds a collection of essays, how-tos, humor pieces, doodles, photos, and not-so-random YouTube videos about climbing.

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  • John W. Matney

    I came to climbing late (age 60) after decades of being a competitive runner. If I was training for a race and putting in 5-6 days of 1-5 hour runs, then that would have some effect on climbing, but, since I’m a beginner and only doing 10b’s and c’s at the indoor gym and 5.8 and 9’s outdoors, it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve got a short attention span, so I really don’t want to climb 7 days a week. I want to ride my mountain bike and do some trail runs too and if that means it will take longer to progress as a climber, then I can live with that because I climb because I like it.