Training for Offwidths


All climbing styles require a high level of fitness, but climbing vertical wide cracks is closer to alpinism than sport climbing. It’s not unusual to take more than an hour to climb a single pitch of 5.11 offwidth in Indian Creek, and with 10 to 20 lbs. of gear, it feels even more strenuous. A solid foundation of fitness will mean more success and less injury. I recently wrote a two part (12 week) offwidth training program for Climbing Magazine: “Your Goal: Training for Hard Offwidths” based on my own training. Part 1 is in the May 2013 issue (Climbing 315) and Part 2 is the June/July 2013 issue (Climbing 316). There is also an online component which includes sample training programs and suggestions for the stabilization (core), stretching and plyos sessions:

Offwidth Training: Plyos
Offwidth Training: Stabilization (Core)
Offwidth Training: Stretching

I have more detailed versions of these sample training programs below and will be updating this section of my blog regularly with more suggestions as well as descriptions, photos, videos of the exercises and training specifically for inverted offwidths. Please feel free to contact me with questions regarding these programs and/or the exercises.

This article and training program couldn’t have been possible without a phenomenal team of trainers, coaches and Pilates Instructors involved in it’s creation. A tremendous thank you to PT, Leah P. Versteegen, MS, DPT, at Alpine Physical Therapy in Missoula, Montana who has rehabbed me through multiple major injuries, including dislocated ribs, ruptured discs and a torn ACL and designed and fine-tuned this training program with me over the past few years.  And a special thank you to  Samantha Schmidt, PT, CPI, CAMI/CAPT and Samantha Glaes also both with Alpine Physical Therapy who devised brilliant schemes to increase core strength for every offwidth technique I could throw at them from calf-locks to inverts. And finally thank you to Tim Brown — a triathlete and my trainer at The Peak Health and Wellness Center in Missoula, MT who devised many unique and creative ways to torture me for the sake of wide crack climbing including many of the plyometric exercises you see below.

Offwidth Training: Plyos

In Phases 1 and 2 of the 12 week program in Climbing Magazine aim for 30-minute plyometric sessions, then work up to two hour long sessions in Phases 3 and 4. Plyos are the most intense of the workout components and present the highest risk for over-training and injury, so start slowly and focus on proper form. After you have perfected your form in the earlier training phases, speed up the sessions and add additional reps. However, the emphasis should always be quality over quantity for all exercises. Expect some fatigue and muscle soreness after plyometric training, but if you are feeling excessively fatigued or sore drop back to one day a week or take an entire week off from plyos. Again, it is crucial to allow your body to recover in order to repair and strengthen tissue, as well as recover from energy loss. Without proper recovery time and good nutrition you will become weaker despite all your training efforts.
Use the workouts below to mix and match sets and exercises you want to try. Mix up the number of repetitions (e.g., 10, 12, 15 reps—or as many reps as you can do in 30 seconds to 1 minute) for the best effect between workout days. I usually try to complete 3 to 4 sets of 8 exercises in one hour. Generally, I perform the same number of repetitions (for example, 15) in one session and another session will try to do as many repetitions as possible while maintaining good form for each exercise for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Another technique is to start a session with 45 to 60 seconds of a high-intensity exercise (such as squat jumps), followed by one minute of a challenging exercise (box pushes), and then switch to exercises of 15 reps. This more closely resembles offwidth climbing and provides variety to the training routine. Towards Phase 4, I perform “bookend” sessions by starting with one minute of a high intensity exercise (box pushes or box jumps), then proceed with another six core-based exercises (such as ring rows, ring Y’s, ring I’s, ring T’s), and complete the set with another higher-intensity set (squat jumps) for 30 seconds to one minute. Rest for a maximum of a few minutes between sets. I have included sample workouts below:

Exercise / Equipment

  • Spiderman plank / Mat : Assume a standard push-up position. Begin exercise by bringing your left knee to your left elbow. Return to starting position and repeat with the right side.
  • Hanging windshield wipers (advanced) / Pull-up bar :  Hang from the pull-up bar  with the legs  straight, hips bent, torso leaned back and toes near the pull up bar. Slowly and under control move your feet from side to side along the pull up bar.  Your legs should remain straight as you twist your hips and abdominal muscle will twist  from side to side.
  • Inverted ring pull-ups / High rings and wall: Hang from rings attached to a pull-up bar. Flip upside-down and hook your toes over the pull-up bar. Perform pull-ups from this inverted position. This is more useful for inverts than vertical but also helps build heel/toe strength.
  • Russian twist with medicine ball / Medicine ball
  • Ring or TRX rows / Low rings or TRX
  • Ring Spiderman planks / Low rings
  • Single-leg hamstring bridges / Mat and Swiss ball
  • Offset push-ups on medicine ball / Medicine ball
  • Ring I’s (advanced: feet on Swiss ball) / Low rings
  • Ring Y’s (advanced: feet on Swiss ball) / Low rings
  • Ring T’s (advanced: feet on Swiss ball) / Low rings
  • Ring push-ups (advanced: feet on Swiss ball) / Low rings
  • Offset ring pull-ups / High rings
  • Towel body-weight row / Smith machine and two towels
  • Oblique abdominal curls / Medicine ball
  • Swiss ball roll-outs on foam roller / Swiss ball and foam roller
  • Forward jumps from standing / Floor
  • Battle ropes rope-pull from push-up position or seated position / Battle ropes
Battle Ropes
Battle Ropes push-up position
  • Squat jump / Floor
  • Medicine ball forward throws from knees  / Medicine Ball
  • Medicine ball throws overhead / Medicine Ball:  Throw medicine ball as high as possible, let it bounce, grab it and repeat.
  • Medicine ball oblique toss (right and left, from knees) / Medicine ball
  • Skater jumps (side to side) / Floor
  • Medicine ball rebound throw (throw at wall, let it bounce, grab it) / Medicine ball and wall
  • Battle ropes alternating wave / Battle rope
  • Single-leg squat jumps / 12″ box for back foot :  Perform singe leg squat jumps on front foot with one leg behind you on the box.

Sample 60-minute Stabilization workout with Plyos: Three Total Sets

Set 1: Plyos (30-60 seconds each)

  • Squat jumps
  • 12-15 lb. medicine ball:  throw overhead as high as possible, let it bounce and grab it.
  • 12-15 lb. medicine ball: throw at wall, let it bounce and grab it.
  • Skater jumps (side to side)
  • Battle Ropes (alternating waves)
  • Single leg squat jumps (one leg on bench behind you and perform squat jumps on front foot)

10 reps for the following:

  • Offset pull-ups on rings (each side)
  • Spiderman planks (each side)
  • Side ball curls on Swiss ball (each side)
  • Ring flies
  • Ring back extensions
  • Medicine ball passes (On back, pass ball between feet and hands.)

Set 2:  Repeat plyos as above, then sets of 12 for the following:

  • Offset pull-ups on rings (each side)
  • Spiderman planks (each side
  • Side ball curls (each side)
  • Ring flies
  • Ring back extensions
  • Battle-rope cross-overs (30 sec)
  • Medicine ball passes

Set 3: Repeat plyos, then the following:

  • Offset pull-ups on rings (10 each side)
  • Spider man planks (20 each side)
  • Oblique abdominal curls on medicine ball (20 each side)
  • Ring Flies (20)
  • Ring Back extensions (20)
  • Battle-rope cross-overs (30 sec)
  • Medicine ball passes (20)

Nutrition before plyos:  Eat a snack 1 hour before a plyos session that includes water and carbs to fuel your muscles. After the workout, do the same but add protein to help with recovery. Give your body ample time to recover after an intense plyos workout before you begin a new workout. Experiment with what food works best for you. I eat one half of a Clif Builder’s Bar one hour before plyos and drink the Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink during training. After hard sessions I will drink a protein shake: banana, Greek Yogurt and almond butter is my favorite. Greek yogurt has plenty of protein without adding a protein supplement.

Offwidth Training: Stabilization (Core) Exercises

Offwidths require strong abdominals, back, and hips. There are multiple options for stabilization/core training. Choose at least two to three core workouts per week throughout each cycle outlined in Climbing Magazine. If possible, take a small class 1 day/week with an instructor to monitor your form. Most of your stabilization (core) training will be covered by your plyometric sessions in Phase 3 and 4 as outlined above.

Ideas for non-plyometric core sessions include:

  • Pilates (Reformer, Cadillac, Mat etc.)
  • CoreAlign
  • Core group fitness classes

If you can’t get to a class or are short on time, choose one of these series:

Series 1

  • Abdominal roll-ups x 15
  • Planks, 3 x 1 min
  • Side plank with leg lift, 2 x 30 sec (each side)
  • Upper abdominal crunches x 100

Series 2

  • Ball plank, 3 x 1 min
  • Ball side crunch, 2 x 30 sec (each side)
  • Ball forward crunch x 100
  • Ball walk-out x 15

When you build a base core strength, up the ante by making your stabilization/core sessions longer. Here’s a 60-minute sample session (2 sets of 15 reps for each):

  • Planks with alternating arm circles
  • Rings: mid-back extensions (straight arms pulled back)
  • Ring push-ups
  • Ring Y’s
  • Ring T’s
  • Hamstring bridges with alternating single foot on medicine ball
  • Medicine ball forward toss (from knees)
  • Medicine ball side throws (both sides and from knees)
  • Towel alternating track runs in place (30-60 seconds)
  • Ring abdominal crunches (start in push-up position with feet in rings)
  • Single-leg step-ups onto box
  • Planks on elbows with rotation left and right

Other options: Ring flies, ring back extensions, ring rows, single-leg balances on Bosu Ball, side planks, TRX exercises etc.

Offwidth Training: Stretching

Stretching is an important component of a complete conditioning program. Regardless of your starting flexibility level, as you gain muscle mass and strength it is crucial to promote and maintain mobility. Naturally the more mass a muscle has, the stiffer it becomes, so as you enter a strength and conditioning program,  stretching is necessary.  The more elasticity (or flexibility) a strong muscle has, the more power it can generate through a greater range of motion. Before training and/or climbing avoid static stretching which is detrimental to sports involving powerful movements. Dynamic stretching before training increases movement of the joints through a specific range of motion and helps to increase core temperature, blood flow and wake up the central nervous system. Recent research indicates that dynamic stretches also improve force production and explosive power.

My coach and PT, Leah Versteegen explains: “Whether your stretch is static or dynamic be sure to focus your movement to the desired joint(s) you are aiming to stretch.  Your body adheres to the laws of physics and will follow the path of least resistance when stretching. This means that if you are stiff at a particular joint then your body will naturally want to move somewhere else during a stretch, thus making the stretch useless in improving the desired joint flexibility.  For example, if you want to stretch your hips, be sure you core is solid to prevent your lumbar spine from moving too much during the stretch.”

Spend 5-10 minutes on a stationary bike, elliptical, light jogging or hiking to prepare your body for dynamic stretches. Perform a series of 15-20 repetitions of each dynamic stretch. Examples include: leg swings side to side (hip abductors and adductors) and front to back (hamstrings and hip flexors), walking knee tucks (glutes and low back), walking power kicks (hamstrings), walking lunges with and without a rotation (hip flexors/ spine with added rotation), sideways walking with squats (hips), full arm circles (deltoids, trapezius, shoulder capsule), arm swings across the front of your body and back (scapular muscles, pectorals) and side bends (obliques and quadratus lumborum).

After training and/or climbing perform a series of major muscle group static stretches for maintaining and increasing flexibility. Major muscle groups include calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, hip rotators and adductors, abdominals, paraspinals (muscles along the spine), pectoralis, lats, and traps.  Hold stretches for 20-30 seconds each. In addition to the major muscle groups an additional Thoracic spine and Pectoralis stretch series performed on a foam roller is beneficial to climbers who tend to have tight pectoral muscles and limited flexibility in the Thoracic spine. The foam roll can also be used for the dreaded IT Band which can cause serious low back pain, hip pain or knee pain if too stiff. Lay on your side on the foam roll with it perpendicular to your outer thigh. Roll up and down on the foam essentially using it like a rolling pin to loosen the IT Band.

Foam Roll Supine Thoracic Spine and Pectoralis series:

  • Thoracic Spine – Extensions x 15
  • Thoracic Spine – Reaching Over your Head x 15
  • Thoracic Spine – Opposite Arms Reaching x 15
  • Thoracic Spine and Pectoralis Stretch x 15

Foam roll supine shoulder series:

  • Snow Angels x 15
  • Goal Posts x 15
  • Overhead reach x 15

Other stretches:

  • Thoracic-spine roll-out on foam roller x 1 minute
  • IT band roll-outs on foam roller x 2 minutes
  • Standing side-bends, 2 x 30 seconds
  • Child’s pose, 3 x 20 seconds

Offwidth Training: Maintenance

During the climbing season it is beneficial to follow a maintenance training program outlined below:

STRENGTH 1-2x/week at 70% RM  (2-3   SETS of 15-20 Reps)
STABILIZATION   (CORE) – Plyos 1x/week
STABILIZATION   (CORE) without Plyos 1-2x/week
CARDIO See Below
STRETCH Every other day

Cardio:  How much cardio you do will depend on how much you are climbing. Cardio will complement your climbing days and approaches. Aim for 2 days/week moderate cardio (45-90 min, one of which can contain intervals) in addition to 3-4 days/climbing for a total of 5-6 days of cardio. Again, make sure you have one full rest day/week with only light stretching.

Note: When I am climbing hard offwidths with 45-60 minute approaches 4-5 days per week I only add one session of isolated core without plyos and stretch every other day.



  1. Good Stuff! When are we going to down those 4,000 calories and go out offwidthing? haha I hope to catch up with you guys next week I’ll be heading down on wednesday. Oh and that cam saved me! so I owe you big time:)

    1. Leah I can’t thank you enough for your tremendous help with the training article not to mention my own training. Oh I researched the climbing near you and there just happens to be a test-piece offwidth nearby!!! Wooohooo!!! Big hugs!!! Pamela

  2. I am so glad to have this training program, but is it going to make me just like Pamela Shanti Pack if I follow it to the letter? Is the “How to get the Heart of Lion” section going to be included later (as in meditation on the off-width and sending it? As in the Pamela Shanti Pack “super-power-pill”™, like that taken by Underdog?

    Much love.

    1. Katie I miss you!!! I do need to add a section about taking CoreAlign classes with the coolest and most entertaining woman in Missoula, MT of course!! And I hear you have become the MASTER! Lots of love to you Katie 🙂

  3. Whoa! Cool, What did you line the inside of your horizontal roof crack with. I can’t tell if it is just chalk or if you have something to add texture?

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