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


How to Build Strength in Rock Climbers – Part 1

Most people have known me as Strength and Conditioning Coach primarily for Team Sports (Rugby Union and American Football), however, my passion has always been Rock Climbing since as long as I remember. So at present I have switched my focus to build strength in Climbers.

Even with Rock climbing in the Olympics it is still hard to get climbers in the gym to strengthen their bodies. I think it’s too easy to confuse a hard workout with effective training. In most cases that I have encountered athletes have little understanding of techniques and adding strength exercises to poor technique is simply a way of reinforcing that poor technique.

Looking at other sports can be a useful tool when it comes to knowing how to train climbers. the problem is many Athletes look at the wrong sports for comparison. Climbing is nothing like triathlon or distance running; it’s more like gymnastics. One of the most important lessons we can take from elite performers in sports like rock climbing is that there are no top-level athletes that just use their sport as conditioning for that sport. In this regard, rock climbers that don’t do supplemental strength training are about behind elite-level athletes in similar sports. This is evidenced by the fact that the best climbers of today can still perform at a world class level in multiple disciplines.

The proposed format for Olympic sport climbing will require participants to compete in all three disciplines – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering, this means that as part of training power and explosive movement exercises must be included.

Understanding that a maximum level of strength and power cannot be maintained even by doing the most intense climbing does not contradict the principle of specificity but highlights it. The reason strength training must be done outside the climbing wall is because climbing’s multi-faceted nature doesn’t allow for sufficient focus on strength alone. When high levels of the sport are reached, training must become “partitioned” in order for the climber to advance. The hardest moves on rock simply cannot be correctly executed without sufficient ability to generate force.

The mechanism by which supplemental strength training helps climbers should be understood. The basic idea is that for any given move, a stronger climber will use a smaller percentage of his maximum strength. Thus he’ll be better able to climb with technical correctness and will be more resistant to fatigue. Elite-level climbers rely heavily on the ATP-PC (anaerobic alactic) energy system, the energy that is present and most-readily available for muscular work.  This energy system is the system by which the body fuels 10 to 20 seconds of intense exercise by using stored ATP, the high-energy molecule that fuels muscles, and then through phosphocreatine, which is quickly converted to ATP to further fuel muscle contractions.

This system is best developed by increasing strength and power. Elite level climbers don’t rely as heavily on glycolytic (anaerobic lactic) metabolism, which allows for quicker recovery at rest stances and better day-long endurance.

How much supplemental strength training is appropriate? Depending on the time of year, Climber should do between 2 and 4 short strength sessions per week. During a preparatory or off-season period, building strength is a priority. This is also called Periodization:

This is defined as the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period. Conditioning programs can use periodization to break up the training program into the off-season, preseason, in season, and the postseason. Periodization divides the year-round condition program into phases of training which focus on different goals.

Many athletes train strength during the Autumn-winter only to see decreases in strength as they move into a peaking or performance phase. a plan must be in place on maintaining some level of strength and power training throughout the year.

Training that increases muscle size and strength can be useful but building maximum strength for minimum size is the most important training goal. By careful planning, this is straightforward. By avoiding hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), we create an increase in relative strength, making for a more efficient climber.

Another way of looking at it is that absolute Strength is the maximum possible force a muscle could generate. Maximal Strength is the maximum force that can be initiated in athletic movements, usually 70-90% of absolute strength. Finally, the Strength Deficit is the difference between the two. Strength training is the method of reducing this deficit.

In part two of this article, I will cover the specifics of planning and implementing strength training in a climbing program


Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition: Greg Haff, N Travis Triplett

National Strength & Conditioning Association (U S )

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

Training for the New Alpinism:  Steve House and Scott Johnston




Exercises that will make you a better Rock Climber – Bulgarian Split Squat

Purpose: Another exercise that came from the East and is now embedded in our society, highly underrated including in Climbing. Almost every sport in the world requires that you drive off one leg at a time, so if you haven’t got some one-legged work in your training plan, then you’re missing something.

The Bulgarian split squat is the answer: not only is it slightly easier to learn and master than the full-on back squat, but it’s also more universally-doable for people with oddly-shaped femurs and arguably more injury proof. In the back squat, for instance, the lower back comes heavily into play, limiting the weight you’re able to lift. In the Bulgarian squat, it’s all about your glutes, quads and hamstrings.

Targets: As well as testing your balance to the max – which will improve core strength – the elevated split squat is a powerhouse of a leg workout, with your quads, calves and hamstrings all set to benefit. The glutes are also heavily involved in the exercise, so it works for anyone keen on perfecting their posterior.

Technique: Grab a chair or another person to hold your back leg and squat. Only go as low as you’re comfortable with, try keep your knee behind your toes, and if you still need help, raise your heels again.

Using a bench placed behind you, extend one leg backward and place the top of the foot so it’s resting on the flat surface (rest on just toes to make it slightly harder). With a dumbbell in each hand, lunge forward until your front knee reaches 90°, being careful that it doesn’t extend past your toes. Lunge with front leg farther away from the bench (rear leg will be straighter) to increase the difficulty.

Broken down in 4 easy steps:

  1. Find yourself a step, bench or any other contraption that you can rest a foot on, it needs to be about knee height.
  2. Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench. Your leading leg should be half a metre or so in front of bench.
  3. Lower until your front thigh is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Don’t let your front knee travel beyond your toes.
  4. Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position, again keeping your movements measured.


Exercises that will make you a better Rock Climber – How to Do a Shoulder Press


Shoulder press is a base building exercise for climbing as it involves a lot of pulling, our biceps and lats (latissimus dorsi) tend to overpower antagonist or pushing muscles, such as the extensor muscles in the forearms, triceps, and pectorals. Developing the antagonistic muscles helps correct imbalances and develops all-around strength.

Purpose: To Strengthen upper body for Rock Climbing.

Targets: Shoulder presses build strength and stability in the deltoids, and work the pectorals and triceps. In addition, it will work on Abs (Core and Legs)

Abs: Your core muscles stabilize your body while your shoulders and arms press the weight overhead. They keep you from collapsing under the bar. This strengthens your abdominal muscles, oblique and lower back. Stronger abs are more muscular.

Legs: Your legs balance your body while your shoulders and arms press. This works your hips, thighs, calves and ankles. They stay straight. But they have to do isometric work.


Do three sets of 15–20 repetitions, resting 30–60 seconds between sets. Stand with your back straight Raise your arms so that your shoulders are even and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Palms should face forward (outwards) and triceps are parallel to the floor. In a controlled motion, press the weight upward until the arm is locked

Setup. Stand with the bar on your front shoulders. Narrow grip, straight wrists, vertical forearms. Lock your knees and hips.

Lift Your Chest. Raise your chest towards the ceiling by arching your upper-back. Try to touch your chin with your upper-chest.

Press. Take a big breath, hold it and press the bar in a vertical line. Don’t press it in front or behind your head. Press it over your head.

Move Forward. Stay close to the bar while you press the weight up. Shift your torso forward once the bar has passed your forehead.

Lockout.Hold the bar over your shoulders and mid-foot for proper balance. Lock your elbows. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling.

Return the bar to your shoulders after each rep. Exhale, raise your chest and set your forearms vertical. Take a big breath and press your next rep. Don’t bend your legs. This takes work away from your shoulder muscles by using your stronger leg muscles. Keep your hips and knees locked from start to finish. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy. Lower it so your shoulders do most of the work when you Press.

Exercises that will make you a better Rock Climber – How to Do a Squat Thrust


Many climbers concentrate on the upper body or trunk but forget how to use the legs, this exercise will strengthen the lower limbs.

Purpose Squat Thrust is a form of callisthenic exercise that combines both squat and plank, two of the most effective body-weight workouts, this exercise will work on your truck, legs and feet

Target: Extra leg strength when climbing an indoor Wall or Outdoor.


  1. Stand with your feet shoulder with apart and your arms hanging by your sides.
  1. Push you hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body as deep as you can into a squat position. Place your palms on the floor to prepare for the next plank/pushup position.
  2. Kick your legs backward, so that you’re now in a push up position.
  3. Quickly bring your legs back to the squat position and get back up to the standing position. Repeat all steps as quickly as quickly as you can for 30 to 60 seconds. Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions each increased to 3 sets 8 reps

Exercise Variables

  • This can be done as Squat Thrust/Mountain Climbers.
  • Repetitions: 10-15 reps or 30-60 seconds.
  • Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercises That Will Make You a Better Rock Climber – Week 6 Heel Raises

Bonus Week

Heel/CalfRaises, discussion on lower body.

Purpose: Ankles and calf muscles

Targets: Extra reach and footwork

It’s an often-overlooked part of a rock climber’s body but your lower leg strength can make a big difference to your climbing.

Footwork accounts for half your points of contact on a climbing wall, forming a solid frame for your arms to grab the holds above. Strong legs are needed for taking your weight on tiptoes, pushing into pockets and giving you those vital extra inches of reach for tough problems. Your calves will be burning almost as much as your arms after a good climb so to help you build strength and endurance heel raises are a great idea.


Heel raises are easy. Stand next to a wall with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Place your hands on the wall to steady yourself and then, keeping your legs straight, raise your heels off the ground. Hold this position for 5 seconds before slowly returning your heels to the ground, aiming to do about 10 reps.

When you feel confident with your balance, move away from the wall and just use your core muscles and feet to balance you. This gives you an extra core workout, improves your balance and develops your leg strength more fully.

Exercises That Will Make You a Better Rock Climber – Week 5 Press Ups

We are on to week 5 and will discuss the humble press up, I have never across someone who has never attempted to do them.  from a young age we attempt to do the press up and usually perfectly, somewhere along the way when growing up we forget how to do it.

Here I write how to do them properly as adults and how they work well for a Rock Climber.

Purpose: Shoulders, chest, forearms and core

Targets: Mantling

When you’re climbing, most people think about pulling themselves up the wall, but being able to push yourself up it is important too.

In rock climbing, pushing yourself up on your arms is known as mantling. This useful skill can help you to scramble onto ledges and top out a route. A well-timed mantle can also support almost any other move and can be used to give you extra reach or to tackle sections of bare wall, allowing you to get your feet into position for a move much higher up.

Mantling requires strong chest, shoulder and triceps muscles, parts of your body that are all developed by the classic press-up.

Technique: Most people have tried a press-up at some point in their life but few people have done them well.

First off, lie down in the classic press-up position, face down on the floor with your hands level with your shoulders, then push yourself up off the floor keeping your head in line with your body and your back and legs straight. Many people will let their heads drop or will push their bum off the floor before the rest of the body, but if you aren’t in a straight position you’re not getting the full benefit of this exercise.

While you’re doing your press-ups, keep your stomach muscles tight and make sure your shoulders stay level. It’s a common mistake to let your shoulders creep up towards your ears as you go down which can add extra strain to your triceps.

Hands are another area that can cause problems as many people move their hands forwards, level with their head rather than their shoulders. This again means you’re not working out the full range of muscles as well as you could, which defeats the point of the exercise. You also want to watch how you balance your weight on your hands. Pressing down through the heel of your hand can cause injuries to your wrist over time so try to push with the outside of your hand which is much stronger and more stable.

Finally, take your time. Make sure that you go fully up and down to within an inch of the ground. It’s common to see people doing lots of quick, short press-ups but they’re skipping the real workout. You also want to take your time dropping back down. Controlling your speed here will give your muscles an extra workout and develop your body control too.


Exercises That Will Make You a Better Rock Climber – Week 4 Bar Hangs

This week we are on to the Bar Hangs, easiest exercises of them all in my opinion.

Purpose: Grip and core strength

Targets: Hanging on to holds

It goes without saying that having good grip strength is vital for climbing. Being able to hang onto even the tiniest of climbing holds makes all routes easier and opens new ways to tackle old problems. Trusting your hands also gives you the time and space to figure out your next move which helps you to climb more intelligently and efficiently, making better use of your other muscles.

The simplest way to improve grip strength is, obviously, just to grip something. An easy way to do this at home is just to pick up something reasonably heavy with one hand. Try grabbing a full baked bean can by pinching along the lip of the can and holding it for 10 seconds. As your strength increases progress onto bigger or more awkwardly shaped objects, making sure not to drop any on your toes!

Another great way to build grip strength is with a bar hang. This super simple exercise will build your endurance and give you an arm and core workout at the same time.

Technique: Before you start it’s important to note that over training grip strength can cause strain and injury which can hamper your climbing. For this reason, make sure that you take things slowly when you begin training and if you’re in any doubt or discomfort just take a break for a couple of days and come back when your hands and arms feel up to it.

For a bar hang you usually use something like a pull up bar, but any horizontal bar or ledge that can take your weight will do. Ideally pick a spot that is above head height so that you can hang from it and straighten your legs without them touching the floor.

The bar hang is about as complicated as its name suggest. Simply grab the bar, extend your arms fully and lift your feet off the floor. The important thing here is to keep your body as straight and as still as possible. When you first start bar hanging, you might find that your body swings a bit as you start the exercise. Learning to reduce your swinging by tightening your stomach and legs will improve your core strength and make it easier to hang on the bar.

For your first couple of attempts hold the bar hang for at least 10 seconds, progressing to longer periods as your strength grows. You can also try changing grip to overhand or underhand for variation or search out a ledge instead if you’re finding the bar too easy.


Exercises That Will Make You a Better Rock Climber – Week 3 Mountain Climber

Hello everyone,

In week 3 we are talking the Mountain Climber

Purpose: Develops the ability to quickly move the legs to power out of the front leaning rest position

Targets: great combination of leg and core exercise which also helps build flexibility for those tight and awkward positions you can find yourself in on the wall.

Longer duration of this exercise can also work as a great warm up or short aerobic workout.

Technique: Push upward with the feet and quickly change the positions of the legs.

Return to the starting position.

Repeat the movements in count 1.

Return to the starting position.


The hands are directly below the shoulders with the fingers spread (middle fingers pointing straight ahead) with the elbows straight, not locked.

To prevent the trunk from sagging, contract and hold the abdominals throughout the exercise. Do not raise the hips and buttocks when moving throughout the exercise.

Align the head with the spine and direct the eyes to a point about two feet in front of the body.

Throughout the exercise, remain on the balls of the feet.

Move the legs straight forward and backward, not at angles.


Exercises That Will Make You a Better Rock Climber – Week 2 The Plank

Following last weeks initial Blog on exercises that will make you a better climber we now follow on to the Plank a good exercise for Core Strength and balance on a wall or Rock formation

The Plank

Purpose: Core strength

Targets: Balance, positioning and movement on the wall

Your arms are important while rock climbing but without a strong core you’ll find it difficult to tackle anything but the easiest routes.

Core muscles are used almost constantly while you’re climbing and are especially useful when you’re taking on overhangs with precarious climbing holds or routes that require good balance. Strong core muscles compliment nearly every other body movement, making it easier for muscles in other parts of the body to do their job too.

When it comes to core workouts most people go straight for the sit up. This is an ok starting point for your core and abdominal work outs but there are lots of other exercises that develop your core more efficiently, among these alternatives is the punishing move known as a plank.

Technique: Not to be confused with planking, a plank is an isometric exercise which strengthens your shoulders, abdominal muscles and back.

To perform a plank, get down in the press up position but rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Level your body so that it forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders and tighten you stomach, pulling your belly button back towards your spine. Once you feel stable, hold this position for 20 seconds, then repeat the exercise 3-5 times.