Climbing training and shoe choice: What to do?

Jan 14, 2019 | By Matt Lloyd,

Climbing training and shoe choice: What to do? 3 options to solve your training delemas.

At Mountain Strong, we incorporate weightlifting and climbing into our workouts in many different ways. We couple ( fitness parlance for “pair” ) climbing with heavy weightlifting to elicit a more profound response from the endocrine system to stimulate muscle growth and adaptation ( more on that here ). Sometimes we program climbing in our workouts purely for volume, grabbing the most comfortable possible holds and covering ground quickly with no regard to technique. Other times we climb for difficulty, pulling on the smallest holds on the steepest walls where climbing technique is essential. In addition, we often bled weightlifting with climbing, moving from a climbing task to a weightlifting movement quickly and repeatedly.


If you have ever worn a tight climbing shoes during a workout you see where I’m going with this; problems can arise with how slowly climbing shoes can be taken on and off and how uncomfortable they are to wear ( especially when you’re not climbing).

Here is an example of my favorite climbing workout

30 rounds for time
1 deadlift at 75% 1rm
1 hard boulder problem

In this workout, you need to shift gears from difficult, technical climbing to serious try-hard deadlifting 30 times in less than an hour. The goal here is to be climbing and lifting in the “uncomfortable” range, always pushing yourself but never hitting failure completely.

The problem arises when you consider your footwear choice. Swapping climbing shoes to weightlifting shoes between the boulder problems and the deadlifts is a challenge. Which brings me to the purpose of this post, what to do?

Here are my favorite options:

Options 1:  Have a training specific pair of climbing shoes that are just for the gym. They are loose enough to lift weights in but allow you to climb near your limit. The Evolv Defy and the Scarpa X force are my favorite option. These shoes are flat and comfortable with a Velcro entry system for easy on and easy off access. They are also low cost ( around $75.00 ) as they are marketed as a “beginner shoe.” As for the performance? Everyone knows an out of shape person who rides a totally unneeded 10,000 dollar carbon-fiber road bike, my point is when you are training you don’t need the highest performance shoe, learn to climb in loose shoes without support and a downturn and when you put on the fancy-fancy you will laugh in the face of gravity.

The Evolv Defy: it’s a cheap climbing shoe that’s super easy on and off. Before you get snobby and roll your eyes about a beginner shoe for your “hardcore” training consider, I have personally climbed 5.13 in these bad boys so don’t blame your shoes if you fall. Its all about body tension!

Here are some links to buy a pair:


Option 2:  Lift barefoot. Crazy I know! Climb in your mega-tight performance shoes and then take them off for your lifting. If you must climb in your performance shoes or don’t want to buy another pair, learn to lift barefoot. The good news is lifting barefoot is not only not a bad thing is can be helpful. Here is a blog post on lifting barefoot.

Option 3: Lift and climb in approach shoes. These are my go-to option when the climbing is easy, and you are “super setting” ( doing two movements of a workout back to back without a rest ) your workout with running or jumping. Here are a few of my favorite pairs to try specifically for training in the gym:

For the light and fast option, I recommend the Evolv Cruiser. These shoes climb well but be warned they are not the best for use in the mountains as the durability there.

If you intend to use them outside as well, get the Scarpa Gecko Lite. They are still lite but offer more cushion for long approaches yet still climb amazingly well- these shoes are favorites among route-setters at your local climbing gym.

If you’re in the market for some climbing equipment head over to the Wilderness Exchange, they are a local mountain shop made up of legit climbers and skiers…. with an owner who can hang with just about anyone, so you know your buying the right equipment. They also have some smoking deals so your wallet can feel good about shopping local.

The Author

Related Articles:

Kettlebells to Become Fitter in the Mountains

Kettlebells to Become Fitter in the Mountains

We don’t move gracefully 24/7. We trip, we climb stairs, we carry kids and fur kids, groceries and gym bags. You might be a mountain athlete too, or aspire to hike, climb and hit the slopes more. How can you train efficently to improve coordination, endurance...

read more


In training as in life, there are many buzzwords that are frequently overused and often misunderstood. One such popular buzzword is the neuroendocrine system, or NE for short. It’s used and misunderstood for good reason. Not only is it a powerful natural system that...

read more

Work of the Day (WOD)
Daily Email

Monthly Training
Original 30-Day Programs

Custom Training
One-on-One Personal Coach