Most climbing gyms have a weight room. Let’s talk about how to best utilize yours.
Before we begin, a note: It’s important to do all weighted training before a climbing session. Weighted training is where injuries can occur if done fatigued. Always do workouts fresh or on your off days. If combined with a climbing day, climb tired, but be careful not to overdo it. Climbing tired also requires your body to rely on technique over brute strength.
01 Whole Body
Deadlifts are great for overall fitness, but why they’re great for climbers specifically is a long list!
First of all, grip strength. Doing a deadlift, you train your fingers, hands and forearms. Next is shoulder recruitment. An area often overlooked in climbing training is heavy focus on shoulders, yet that’s where a lot of injuries occur. Although not the main focus, your back and core are also activated during deadlifts. Next are your legs, commonly underrepresented during climbing workouts.
Strengthening your legs is crucial for lower-body engagement on the wall. Generally, climbing with straight arms and using your body as a twisting, pivoting lever makes moves easier.
The less you bend your arms, the more energy your upper body saves, but to keep your arms from overworking, you need to use your legs. Obviously your leg muscles are bigger, but the stronger your thighs and calves, the more they can propel your centers of mass upward, and then when you stick a hold, your hamstrings, inner thighs, calves, and glutes keep your lower body on the wall. Another point to having strong legs is for falling, and doubly so for bouldering, where every fall is a groundfall. Having a solid lower body foundation helps to handle the shock load of falling.
To do a proper deadlift, grab the bar with both your palms facing down, slightly wider than shoulder width apart (outside of your knees). Keeping your feet flat on the floor, back straight and butt out, hinge at your hips and stand. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible, almost dragging it up your shins as you lift. Actively and consciously squeeze your core as you move, and your glutes as you stand. Doing the same movement but in reverse, lower the bar back onto the ground in a controlled manner, keeping your back straight and head forward.
02 Pulling Muscles
Lat Machine: One-Arm Pull-Downs
One of my all-time favorite exercises! This exercise significantly increases one-arm specific pull strength. Change out the lat bar for a one-handed handle. In terms of reps, if I were to do a six-week training schedule, I’d start with high reps, low weight, so maybe eight to 12 reps with 20 to 25 pounds, and end up doing minimal reps (two to three) with almost max weight (around 80 pounds) at the end. For hypertrophy (aesthetics) you’d land somewhere in the middle.
For straight pulling power, several sets at low reps, high weight is ideal. It’s important to keep good form on these, as they put a lot of strain on elbows and shoulders. Grab the handle with an extended arm, without locking joints, and keep shoulder and elbow slightly engaged when you initially grab the handle and when you release back up. Sit up straight, engage core, keep arms out to side, and keep palm and wrist facing forward, as that mimics climbing movement the most accurately. Pull your arm down like you were doing a one-arm pull-up, making sure not to turn your wrist in so your palm would face you. Continue pulling through your shoulder as low as you can go, don’t let your fist stop near your chin, and try to pull it all the way down through to your chest. Your elbow can move behind the angle of your back to lengthen the pull.
On the return back up, keep the same slow, controlled pace, like doing a negative one-arm. Keeping wrist and palm facing out, reverse the movement back upward until almost fully extended. Keep a straight posture and sit up straight the entire time. Don’t rely on core or leaning back to make the motion, be sure it’s your arm and shoulder that do the pulling.
These are pretty self explanatory. It’s rock climbing: we do a lot of pull-ups! One of my favorite weighted pull-up workouts is a superset combo (back-to-back exercises with zero to minimal rest) paired with campusing. I do five to six sets of five pull-ups with 20 to 25 extra pounds of weight, remove weight, immediately head to campus board and do one set of “long move pull through” on each arm. Rest is four to six minutes. Whenever you do anything with added weight, the goal is to gain strength, therefore you want to start each set feeling almost fresh. It’s also very important not to overdo it with adding weight, and take care on lowering slowly and always in control. Pulling up quickly and controlled is ideal for power, but don’t come down quick and jerky and put strain on joints.
I never just lie on the floor and do crunches. I’ve found that core for climbing is almost all lower body, as engaging our lower core is what keeps our feet and lower extremities on the wall, especially on steep terrain. And you use your lower core to place your feet back on the wall if they cut loose.
When performing hanging L-ups, your arms can be bent or straight, but when they’re straight, they’re never locked at the joints. You always want to have a little bit of give and stay engaged. Start at a straight hang, and while keeping legs straight, raise feet and bring legs up to 90 degrees. If it’s impossible to do without bending knees, it’s better to go as high as
you can with your legs as straight as possible, as opposed to lifting to 90 with bent knees. Return legs down to straight position slowly. Do not swing. Swinging makes the workout significantly easier as momentum is relied on instead of engaging core. These can be performed at the end of a climbing session, and I usually do four sets of 20 with two-minute rests.
In addition to forward-hanging L-Ups, you can add obliques into the mix by pointing feet in either direction and twisting hips out slightly.