Off The Wall: Training For Climbers
Supplement Your Regimen With These Exercises
Time on the wall is our favorite way to improve our climbing, but there are plenty of things we can do off the wall to improve our strength, flexibility, and recovery. We’re rounding up our favorite exercises, training methods, mobility drills, and more tips for getting in shape—and staying injury-free—for climbers.
Targeted Strength Training For Climbers
Strength training is a great way to build the muscles you use while you climb. By targeting your biceps, shoulders, lats, and other key muscles, you’ll improve your overall strength in these areas, which will help you become a stronger climber.
Pullups are by far one of the best exercises you can do to mimic the movements involved in climbing. While campusing (climbing with arms only) isn’t required on most climbs, pullups work several key muscle groups you use on most climbs.
Gearhead Tip: Not ready for a pullup, or want to do more reps than you can on your own? Attach an assistance band to the bar and stand in it to help lift some of your weight.
Once you’ve mastered the pullup, it’s time to get creative. Do a static hold at the top, or add in some knee raises. Switch it up with chin-ups. Work toward doing a pull-up with one arm, or add weight with dumbbells clipped to a harness. Static hangs are also a great way to warm up fingers and improve grip strength—work up to longer and longer hangs.
A hangboard or set of rock rings are invaluable for simulating holds found at the gym or on real rock—while allowing you to train from home. You’ll get the benefits of a pullup bar, plus train your hand and finger strength for different shapes of holds. If you can’t do pullups on some holds, practice static hangs instead to build your grip strength.
Your guns get all the glory when it comes to climbing, but what about legs? If you’ve ever experienced Elvis leg (uncontrollable shaking), you know that calves are another area that often succumbs to the pump. It can be harder to target this muscle group with your typical leg routine, so try weighted calf raises, or a jump rope routine.
Gearhead Tip: If Elvis leg hits you on the wall, try dropping the heel of the affected leg.
Antagonistic Training Is Key For Climbing
If you only train pulling muscles, you’re setting yourself up for muscle imbalances. Antagonist exercises focus on the muscles that oppose the ones you use directly in climbing.
Gearhead Tip: Agonist training focuses on muscles contracting for a movement, while antagonist training trains muscles involved, but not directly contracting.
The goal of antagonistic training is to develop a more well-balanced system of muscles. This will let you move more smoothly and help keep you injury-free. Since so much of climbing involves pulling, pushups are an easy way to balance out muscle groups. Drop to your knees if necessary to maintain your form, or if you’re feeling confident, vary your hand placements to target different muscle groups.
Some other good antagonist exercises for climbing include deadlifts, presses (bench, military, and Arnold style), bent-over rows, and generally any exercise that involves the opposite of pulling movements.
Core Exercises For Climbing
You may not think about it as much, but core strength is just as important as arm and leg strength—especially on overhung routes and problems. Remember, your core is more than just your abs; it includes your obliques and back muscles too.
Planks are a great way to work the entire core, and they’re not as boring as they seem. Elbow planks, extended arm planks, side planks—any position is fair game. Hold the plank for as long as you can, working up to longer and longer holds. Add in hip dips, shoulder taps, or mountain climbers for an extra challenge.
You can engage your abs and back by doing V-ups. Lay down on your back and bring your arms and legs into a V position, then slowly lower for an added burn—flip to your belly and do the same to work your back muscles. Of course, classic crunches never hurt—try extending or raising your legs to target different points on your abs.
You can also work your core while engaging those upper body climbing muscles. While hanging from your pullup bar or hangboard, bring your knees up toward your chest. Too easy? Extend your legs and lift your feet into a pike position. See how long you can hold it or how many reps you can do.
Climbing involves a unique range of motion not typically found in other sports, so by focusing on improving your mobility, you’ll improve your climbing overall. If the splits and touching your toes aren’t in your wheelhouse, fear not. Mobility is something you can work on. Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to improve mobility, because it combines stretching with movement, sort of like climbing.
Gearhead Take: Yoga can also help you with mental training, by increasing body awareness and honing breathing.
To engage your shoulders and back, straighten your arms close to your body, and move them up into the shape of an I, Y, and T. You can perform this move while standing up or lying on your stomach. You can also add weights or resistance bands, or just work through the range of motion. This is also a great way to warm up for a climb, too.
To open up your hips, work on moving from lunges to lizard pose, settling into pigeon pose.
For your shoulders, try some simple moves like arm rotations, external rotations, and internal rotations.
Resistance bands are also a great tool for working on active mobility, particularly for your rotator cuffs. Hold a band with your palms facing up and pull your forearms out and back in, keeping your upper arms close to your body.
If you climb hard and train hard, you need to focus just as much on your warm-up and recovery strategy. Always warm up before training or climbing, and when possible, focus your warmup on the muscle groups you’ll be working that day.
Dynamic stretching is a great way to get your muscles warm, but you’ll want to save any deep or passive stretches for after your workout. Make sure to stretch both directions of movement. For example, if you pull your fingers back to stretch your forearm, you’ll want to bend your palm toward your wrist for an opposing stretch.
Finally, don’t forget to schedule active and passive rest days off the wall. Use active days to cross-train with yoga, cycling, or a good hike—and passive days to rest your whole body. You can also use foam rollers, percussion massagers, and compression technology to improve circulation and recover faster.
We hope you have a solid climbing season!