rock climbing courses

Strength training for Rock Climbing

Being stronger can not only help when pulling through on crux moves and bouldering, but extra strength can also help with your endurance. If you are not having to concentrate on pulling down hard you will be more relaxed so you can think about your technique. The stronger you are, the less your muscles will have to work on the easier moves. Training your strength will improve your endurance but training endurance will not improve strength. Strength training is vital if you are serious about improving your climbing.

The best form of training for climbing, is climbing

This is a statement that you will hear from time to time and is very true. Nearly all training principles are covered by just simply going climbing. By altering the type of climbing you do, you can have a session that will help you reach your goals.

Bouldering for strength

Bouldering is the best type is climbing for improving your strength. As bouldering generally consists of short problems, around 10 moves, you are working your PC energy system and therefore creating the stress on your muscles needed for muscular hypertrophy. Working short problems will also help build up a dense network of nerves within your muscles allowing you to contract all of the muscle and move quickly (this speed on contraction is called power).


The best type of boulder problems for increasing strength:-

  • are around 8 moves long
  • are on steep walls or overhangs (no steeper than 50 degrees)
  • are hard so that you should not be able to climb the problem first time
  • are those that normally take around 5 or more good attempts
  • require a rest 3 - 5 minutes between each attempt

Remember to warm up slowly before climbing hard problems.

Hypergravity bouldering

As you get stronger you will need to increase the intensity (stress) of your climbing sessions for continued improvement. This can be done by decreasing hold size, increasing the angle or increasing the spacing between the holds. Yet these methods can only take you so far. Another way of keeping the intensity high is by adding a small amount of weight while you climb. Try adding just 5kg of weight to your waist and you will notice how much harder this is. Try this for a couple of weeks and you should notice an improvement in strength.

Supplementary strength exercises

Although bouldering is great for climbing, there are a couple of problems that could reduce the effectiveness of your training. For effective strength training the muscles need to be overloaded and worked repeatedly at high intensity.. More often than not, the reason for falling off a problem is due to technical errors, not lack of strength. This can prevent you from ever reaching number of repetitions required and reducing the effectiveness of your training. The other limitation of bouldering is due to the wide variety of grip types used on a typical boulder problem. This means that you are unlikely to ever train the same grip position to failure, as each grip position uses slightly different muscles within the arm.

Supplementary training can help, but remember it will not help you improve technique, nor is it completely specific to climbing.

Fingerboard training

Fingerboard work outs are a quick and easy way to train the forearm flexor muscles. They allow you to work most grip types and each one can be trained to the required intensity with the correct number of repetitions.

There are many types of fingerboard routines - below are two of my favourites.


  • Warm up
  • Hang on the first handhold (sloper) for 6 seconds
  • Rest for 20 seconds
  • Reapet this 2 more times (three in total)
  • Rest for three minutes
  • Hang the second handhold (open handed) for 6 seconds
  • Rest for 20 seconds
  • Reapet this 2 more times (three in total)
  • Rest for three minutes
  • Follow this sequence for each hand hold
  • This is one set - aim for complete 2 to three sets
  • Warm down

  • Warm up
  • Hang on the first handhold for 10 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Hang on the hold for a further 10 times, each hang should be followed with a second rest
  • Rest 3 minutes
  • Choose a second hold and repeat the steps above
  • Do 10 hangs on a further 8 holds for a total of 100 hangs
  • Warm down

At the end of each hang you should be struggling to hold on. Try to work all grip positions (crimp, half crimp and open handed) but note that training open handed will increase your crimp strength but training crimps will not help with open hand strength. Crimps are also more damaging to tendons so be careful not to over do them.

After a period of training you might find that you can hang the holds for longer than 10 seconds. Making the muscle contract for this long is starting to train your anaerobic endurance. To keep the intensity high and produce muscular failure within the 10 seconds needed for strength training you can take a couple of approaches. Either add weight with a weight belt or make the hand holds smaller. If you are adding weight, start off with small increments (around 5kg to start off with) to reduce the risk of injury. The other option is to decrease the size of the hand holds or to do some one- handed hangs.

One-handed hangs

This is a great way to keep the intensity high enough to increase your strength. It can be very stressful on your muscles, tendons and ligaments, so make sure you warm up and cycle this sort of training every couple of weeks.

When starting this type of training you may find that you are not able to hold on to the hand holds with one hand. You can either use larger hand holds or use a pulley system to help you. Holding a rope looped around a pulley or krab with weight on the end to reduce the amount of weight you have to hold up. The more weight, the easier the hangs become.


Just like any strength training, aim for around an 8 second hang on each arm with repeated hangs. Try three sets of 5-10 reps.

This technique can also be used for one arm lock offs and one arm pull up training.


Campus Board Training

Campus training is a highly effective training method to develop strength and power. It is based on a kind of training called Plyometrics, this type of training will not only increase your contact strength (maximum load your arm muscles can cope with) but it will also improve your power (time that your muscles need to reach there maximum contact strength). Campus training is a very intense from of training as its puts a lot of stress on your joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscle fibres.

There are some good general rules when it comes to campus training.

  1. Make sure you are warmed up before campus training.
  2. You should be able to do 5 pull ups on a rung before you try this type of training.
  3. You will need at least 36 hours rest after campus training.
  4. Use an open hand grip type - this is less stressful on the fingers.
  5. Try and make the movement as controlled as possible.
  6. Stop before you get injured. If you are failing to complete exercises that you could do earlier, this is time for a break or even time to stop.
Introduction campus workouts

Accreditations

Association of Mountaineering Instructors Mountain Leader Training Association National Navigation Award Scheme British Mountaineering Council Environmentally friendly climbing courses
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