’s no secret that climbing is a physically demanding sport. Whether you’re climbing indoors or out in nature, climbing demands a high level of total body fitness. From bouldering to sport and trad climbing and everything in between, success in each climbing discipline requires a high level of strength and endurance that is not easily achieved through climbing alone. While climbers aren’t your typical gym rats, the most accomplished climbers use a variety of training methodologies to accomplish their climbing goals. If you’re looking to take your climbing to the next level or want to build foundational fitness to begin your climbing journey, continue reading below for Climbing Fitness 101: How to Train for Climbing.
Building Strength through Climbing Fitness
Climbing obviously recruits the muscles in your back, forearms, and fingers, but it also takes explosive power, balance, and an incredible amount of muscular endurance. A good climbing regime should center around grip strength and climbing movements but involve total body functional exercises to build balanced strength and prevent injury.
Endurance allows you to climb for longer on a range of grades. Endurance is critical for all climbing disciplines, but it is especially important for sport and trad climbing and anyone considering multipitch climbing. To build endurance, climb often but also supplement your climbing with cardio endurance training like swimming, running, or cycling. Beyond cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance is also critical for climbers. Slowly increase the volume of your climbs each training session and train before or after your climbing session to improve your overall endurance.
Injury prevention is all about flexibility, mobility, and listening to your body. To prevent climbing injuries, warm up adequately before each climb. Your warm-up should utilize your whole body with dynamic movements that increase your heart rate and engage critical climbing muscles. Dynamic stretching has proven to be more effective than static stretching at preventing injuries when done before an activity. In addition to basic dynamic stretches like walking lunges, torso twists, and leg swings, include climbing specific warms-up
like dead hangs in your pre-climb routine. Beyond warming up, maintaining mobility and flexibility in your joints is critical for preventing injuries. Static stretching and yoga will help you improve flexibility and prevent injuries.
Climbing Fitness for Beginner Climbers
Like many outdoor endeavors, the best training for climbing is the act itself. Wherever you are, find a climbing gym and spend time on the wall to improve your climbing fitness. If you struggle to climb at higher grades, incorporate bodyweight exercises into your workout routine, like pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats. If bodyweight exercises are challenging, try friendlier variations, like substituting pull-ups for inverted rows.
For Intermediate Climbers
As your climbing progresses, so should your climbing fitness routine. Once you begin to move up the ladder in climbing grades, elevate your training with climbing-specific exercises. Utilize climbing training tools such as hang boards to increase grip strength and build practical endurance for all types of climbing. Climbers should focus on becoming as efficient as possible in maneuvering their own body weight. While 90% of climbing requires a pulling motion, utilizing muscles in the back, biceps, forearms, and fingers, climbers should train to be equally proficient in pushing motions and lower body exercises to maintain muscular balance. Add pull-ups, rows, and timed dead hangs both on a straight bar and on a hang board to your climbing fitness routine to see your climbing improve. As you train, continue to climb as much as possible and work on various styles of routes, ranging from gentle slab routes to overhanging. Build rotational strength and stability by implementing core training to your routine. Start with timed planks and hanging leg raises, and build up to hanging L sit holds.
For Advanced Climbers
Advanced climbers should continue to increase their climbing volume as they progress. As an advanced climber, you should be proficient in standard climbing-related bodyweight movements like pull-ups, dead hangs, and push-ups. To take your climbing to new heights, add weight to standard bodyweight movements. Next time you hang board or do a set of pull-ups, clip a heavy kettlebell or weight plate to a harness and perform the exercises with the added weight. As you build strength, increase the number of reps and the weight. Be sure to add weight in small increments to avoid injuries.
Climbing, like any skill, takes time to develop. The best training for climbing is climbing, but supplementing your climbing with weight training, body weight workouts, cardio, and mobility work will help you improve rapidly. If you’re interested in starting your climbing journey, head to Gearhouse for outdoor gear, trip planning, and community climbing events.