Training with Straps

Training system is great for routes, even better for bouldering
Kyle Brown finds the finest of compression moves on the classic Millipede (V5) at Horse Pens 40, Steele, Alabama. Photo Jim Thornburg

While climbers may acknowledge the value of non- climbing exercises such as pumping iron and grinding away on the treadmill, the benefits of these activities have always been indirect. Until now, that is. The development of suspension systems—essentially a glorified, versatile variant of gymnastic rings—has opened the door to a new and exciting world of supportive strength training.

The suspension system uses your body weight for resistance, and virtually all the exercises develop stability and core strength that are specific to the requirements of climbing. Suspension training has become standard practice among elite sport climbers such as Magnus Mitbo and Adam Ondra and boulderers such as Daniel Woods and Alex Puccio.

While the benefits for sport climbing are also clear and tangible, suspension training really comes into its own when applied to bouldering. As you crank up the resistance and drop the reps, suspension exercises can develop crushing strength in the upper body for compression and press moves as well as the leg strength for dynamic heel hooks.


The Exercises

For all the exercises given, the straps need to be approximately shoulder-width apart. The height of the straps from the floor determines the resistance and difficulty of the exercise.

Always make smooth movements with strictly controlled form. A guideline for training strength is to keep the reps below eight and go to failure on all sets. However, people who are new to suspension training should start off with a phase of higher-rep sets (15-20) aimed at conditioning and strength- base development.

There are many schools of thought on the optimum way to structure sets for strength training, but the time-honored pyramid still works well. For example, start with a set of seven to eight, then increase the resistance, do a set of five to six, increase again and do a set of three to four, and finally, hit peak intensity with a set of one to two. Don’t do all the ex- ercises given for chest, shoul- der and triceps in the same workout or you will over-train; instead pick two or three per session. Elites might do a total of 10-12 sets for these muscles spread across three exercises, while intermediates would do six to eight sets spread across two exercises. Rest two to three minutes between sets.


Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



(chest, shoulders, triceps, core)

Do as for a standard push-up but place your feet in the straps. Alternatively, put your feet on the floor and your hands in the straps.



Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



( chest, shoulders, core )

Assume a plank/push-up position with your hands in the straps. Bring your arms out to the sides to form a “T” position, then return to the starting position and repeat. Try holding the lower position slightly longer each time you train.


Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



( shoulders, triceps, core )

Start standing behind the straps. Hold onto them with palms down, lean in and take them out in front of you. Now curl your arms back so that your hands touch the top of your head. Return to the starting position, engaging the triceps.


Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



( shoulders, triceps, core )

Start in a seated position, facing away from the straps, with legs out straight. Hold onto the straps with your hands by your sides, then push up so that your arms are straight, taking the counter- load on your heels. Return to the starting position.


Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



( shoulders, core )

Start standing behind the straps. Hold onto them with palms down, lean in and take them out in front of you, hold for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Try holding the low position longer each time you train.


Photo Kamil Jutkiewicz



( legs )

Start lying on your back with your feet in the straps. Push your legs up out in front of you so your body is at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. Curl your legs up, bringing your heels as close to your backside as possible, tensing your glutes and maintaining stable posture. Hold for a few seconds and return to the starting position.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice 233

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  • Neil Gresham is a professional climbing coach in the U.K. He writes the Training department for Rock and Ice, and has climbed 8c+, 5.14a X trad, WI 7, and loves deep-water soloing.

    • Show Comments

    • WoodchuckATC

      I first saw these or a similar device at the RRGCC ‘Rocktoberfest’ about 6 or so years ago, being demonstrated as a total ‘airborne’ floating plank position. Sponsor held a contest to see who could do most’ floating plank’ sort of pushups. Legs spread a bit for balance in the slings helped. If you were a gymnast who worked on rings, holding the front support was easier. I was age 62 that year, and managed to do 58 floating push ups on that device before complete body collapse, flopped down on the mats less than a foot below me. Awesome fun for sure. Made a similar set up at home with my old still rings and some slings.

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