How to Train Climbing Movements Without a Climbing Wall

A lot of the climbing movement training that I do takes place in indoor climbing gyms. This is because I have access to a couple of really great facilities and the “sport” of climbing was a big part of my life before I started focusing on natural movement. I still have a foot in that world, so to speak.

But if you don’t live near a climbing wall, don’t worry.

True climbing fitness is the ability to negotiate a variety of structures and terrains. Here are six simple things you can do to train without a climbing gym.

1. Set up a pull-up bar at home

Pull-up bars that fit onto a doorway (no screws needed) are easy to find and relatively cheap. Having a bar in your home makes it a cinch to get a quick hanging workout in during the day. Adding a few simple tools like Metolius Rock Rings or power balls allows you to vary the type of grip you are using. You could even make your own training tools out of short sections of a thick branch to mimic the natural variation you would find when climbing a tree.

2. Make the most of your local playground

Monkey bars, swing sets, jungle gyms – these are perfect places to train your climbing fitness. It’s almost like they were designed for climbing! You sometimes have to think outside the box a bit, but playgrounds have a huge amount of potential for your movement practice. Here are some challenges for you to try:

  • Can you go across the monkey bars forwards?
  • Can you go across sideways? (make sure to do both directions!)
  • Can you go across backwards?
  • Can you climb up the fireman’s pole?
  • Can you get from one side of the playground to the other without touching the ground? (the floor is lava!)

Top tip: go early in the morning for the best chance of having the place to yourself.

3. Find a gym with a rig

As the appreciation for natural movement grows, it is more and more common to see rigs in “conventional” gyms. The size and complexity (i.e. the fun!) of these structures vary, but there is usually space to hang, swing and practice climbing related movements.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that no one else in the gym is doing this stuff. Be proud that you are ahead of the wave. Climb on!

4. Climb a tree

Natural movement fitness is ultimately a response to the fact that modern humans are lacking a lot of the capabilities that we evolved to have. What better way to reclaim them than climbing a tree?

There is also a proven psychological benefit to spending time under the canopy of trees. In Japan, “forest bathing” orĀ shinrin-yoku is a medically recognized treatment for stress. Of course, please try not to damage the tree, or yourself, in the process!

5. Do more ground movements

In the world of natural movement, ground movements or ground-work refers to movements done at ground-level and includes:

  • Crawling on your hands and knees
  • Bear crawling
  • Crab walking
  • Getting up and down off the ground in different ways
  • Belly or “combat” crawling

I know what you are thinking: what does moving along the ground have to do with climbing – surely climbing means moving up?! However, these movements will help to improve your core strength, shoulder stability, hip mobility and all-around efficient movement patterns. All of these things are an integral part of being wild and strong.

6. Go climbing outdoors

If you are interested in learning to climb outdoors, I say go for it! Find an instructor, sign up for a climbing course, or ask more experienced friends to teach you.

But climbing outside doesn’t just mean climbing on cliffs. Climbing-related movements can be done on a much smaller scale.

  • Rock-hopping.
  • Balancing on stepping stones.
  • Manteling onto a small boulder (think of the movement you use to get out of a swimming pool)

If you are willing to think outside the box, you can climb anywhere.


The information on this site should not be used in place of proper climbing instruction and common sense. Climbing is a potentially dangerous activity which can result in injury or death. Anyone choosing to act on the information on this site should be aware of the risks and accept responsibility for their actions.

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