How to Build Strength in Rock Climbers – Part 2

Following last week’s article, we discussed how do you train strength? You need to train with compound movements (multi-joint: that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time) through a full range-of-motion. You need to work at very high loads. also, you need to train strength alongside developing the skills for rock climbing.

Any program requires a level of specificity, this is adaptation of the body or change in physical fitness is specific to the type of training undertaken, in this case relevant to rock climbing

For novice climbers developing a high level of non-specific work capacity may be appropriate for novices who are unfit and in need of general conditioning and get to a basic level of fitness.

In terms of specificity, the exercises must be like what a climber might experience on the rock. This is called motor specificity. You want to use exercise durations, muscle actions, and loads that lead toward our end goal of strength. This is called metabolic specificity. Exercises can be either motor specific, metabolic specific, or both. The more of both you do, the better.

To develop appropriate strength for climbing you want to use complex, multi-joint movements at loads high enough that the body will adapt by getting stronger rather than getting bigger. Remember that there is a huge misconception that heavy training leads to bulk. Not so. It is high-volume, medium-load training that is most effective for building size (i.e. 4 – 6 sets of 12 reps).


Adaptation  Sets Repetitions Rest between sets
Power 1-3 3-5 3 MINUTES
Functional Hypertrophy 3-4 6-8 3-5 MINUTES
Non-Functional Hypertrophy 3-4 8-12 1-3 MINUTES
Strength Endurance 2-4 12-20 30 Seconds – 1 MINUTE

Train associated muscles that contribute to climbing performance such as:

Pull/Lock-off Muscles (Pull ups or similar)

Pushing Muscles



Upper Arms

Training primarily with free weights will give you the functional, trekking-specific strength that will help you in most climbing walls and rocks. When starting any strength conditioning program, complete two full-body strength workouts a week for 30-45 minutes each, focusing on compound exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, dips, pull-ups, rows, dead lifts, bench presses, push ups, and overhead presses or Military Press.

Sample program:

Front Squat                        1.5x BW  1.0x BW
Dead Lift                             2.0x BW  1.5x BW
Bench Press                        1.5x BW 1.0x BW
Push Press                          1.15 BW  0.75 BW

Group 1:

–        Bench Press: Your typical weight bench and bar
–        Incline Bench: Bench Press on an inclined bench
–        Decline Bench: Bench press on a declined bench
–        Fly’s: Sitting chest fly’s on a Nautilus type machine
–        Dips: Triceps dips either on a machine or dips bar. Weight assistance is ok.
–        Triceps Extensions: Sitting extension over your head with dumbbells
–        Triceps Pull-Downs: Standing triceps extensions pulling from face level to waist level.
–        Ab Crunches: Using a machine or sit-up bench at incline
–        Leg Raises/Crunches: Lift your legs either bent or straight legged to waist level.
–        Calf-Raises: Using a machine of some sort or squat rack.

Group 2:
      –        Pull-Ups: Using a machine or pull-up bar. Weight assistance is ok.
–        Lat Pull-Downs: Seated pull-downs with wide bar.
–        One Arm Pull-Downs: Seated pull-downs with narrow bar or one-hand grip attachment.
–        Dumbbell Curls: The most basic weight lift invented.
–        Bar Curls: Using a flat or bent bar.
–        Shrugs: Standing with dumbbells, typical shoulder shrug.
–        Shoulder Raises: Standing with dumbbells, raising arms outward to shoulder level.
–        Machine Rows. Sitting and pulling towards chest.
–        Inclined Sit Ups: Sit-ups on a bench at incline for added resistance.
–        Squats: Using free weight or a machine.

      –        Quad and Hamstring Curls
–        Lunges: Start with regular lunges and add weight as strength increases.
–        Grip Machine: Can be helpful for ice and rock climbing.


  • Treadmill at incline
  • Cross trainer starting Level 5


Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition: Greg Haff, N Travis Triplett National Strength & Conditioning Association (US)

The Strength and Conditioning Bible: How to Train Like an Athlete Nick Grantham

Training for the New Alpinism:  Steve House and Scott Johnston