T Nation

Rock Climbing Specific

As a climber, my workouts focus on developing strength in the “pull” exercises for the upper body, and maintaining enough srength in the push exercises to avoid tendonitis. Any excess mass in the “push” department of the upper body is unwanted, for the simple reason that I’ll have more that i have to lift up a rock face.

Most of the routines / discussions here that I’ve found deal with gaining mass… but that’s not what I’m after. I have a few specific goals:

  • to be as strong and as light as possible
  • to avoid overtraining injuries
  • to have as much explosive power as possible

Can you folks point me in the right direction, keywords to search for, fellow climbers who think they have a good all around routine?


I’m looking to supplement my climbing gym training routine (campus board, hang board, HIT strips) with weight routines as well. Over the years of climbing Ive succumbed to a number of tendonitis related setbacks from overtraining my forearms and fingers (which is what Hoerst’s workouts are mainly for).

To restate a little more accurately, The climbing specific workouts I know, and use. It’s the overall strength / weight ratio i’m looking to improve.

This i guess is a diet question as well as a “how to lift for strength not size” question. I’m not opposed to gaining weight, as long as my fingers can handle the weight. As long as my pull up max increases, the extra weight in my lats wouldn’t be a detriment.

Any wrestlers out there? How do you increase your strength and stay in the same weight class? what types of exercises do you concentrate on?

Strength without signifigant size gains. Tim Commerford, the bassist for Rage Against the Machine, was in a Mens Fitness article about how to improve strength without getting too bulky but still looking good. A lot of Men’s Fitness and Muscle Magazine stuff is crap but this article seemed pretty legitimate to me.

Deadlifts, grip work, and jumping exercises made up the bulk of the article. Deadlifts…is there anything they can’t do? If you want to get strong but not big you should do them. If you want to get big you should do them.

Pull-ups are the obvious answer for a climber. Weighted Pull-ups too. I honestly feel that Dumbbell Rows, Bent-Over Rows, and Machine rows could get you huge without doing much for your climbing. Fat-man pull-ups with your feet elevated, however, is a great way to target the midback if you bring your chest to the bar and really hits the muscles in your midback that you wish you had when you’ve got both hands in a long crack and you need to pull your hands apart and push against the rock in order to stay there.

You might want to invest in some sort of hand-health stuff sold over at EliteFTS.com.
But you’ve probably already bought that stuff from somewhere else.

I’d stay away from the leg press, hack squat machine, and leg extension. How often do you need quad power when climbing? Just have enough quad strength to stay in balance. Front-Squatting half your deadlift max seems appropriate.

Getting stronger in pull-ups, bodyweight rows (fat-man pull-ups), and deadlifts will improve your relative strength but there will be some optimum balance that you will need to find between strength and size for your body. You might put 20 pounds on if your deadlift goes up 50 pounds. Then if it goes up another 50 you might only put on 7 pounds. It’ll seem like you’ve bulked up too much when you put on those initial 10 or 20 pounds, but 6 months or a year later you might feel like you didn’t put on nearly enough weight for how much your deadlift or pull-up #s went up.

In order to stay balanced with deadlifts you should do some front squats. In order to stay in balance with pull-ups you should do some low-incline dumbbell bench press and some sort of external rotator exercise like dumbbell power cleans (the name is deceiving. It’s hardly a power clean. Just YouTube it).

Well one thing that helps avoid forearm tendonitis is working your extensors as much as you do your flexors. All the clinging grip work works the forearm flexors and tends to make them overtight as well as stretching the extensors too far. This leads to tendon pain and inflammation. Large doses of omega 3 fatty acids, and training your extensors will help. Omega 3 fats are way anti-inflammatory. Also, work on training finger extension (I think that’s the right term)–instead of crimp work and pinching strength try and train your fingers to spread/extend as far AWAY from each other as possible. You’ll need to add resistance of some kind–rubber bands, or something, not sure.

Basically, balance is necessary not only with push exercises but also the forearm/finger extension functions.

As far as other stuff, get stronger at chins in terms of low rep high weight stuff. Work on chin endurance, which you probably already have a lot of. Work strict form bent over rows, dumbell rows. Work whole body lifts such as squat and deadlift for helping your body fire as a unit (another plus is core strength from the whole body lifts). It’s really more a combination of lower volume but more intensity when trying to gain strength. You might really benefit from increased hamstring/hip strength in weightlifting for pulling from heel-hooks and such when climbing–deadlift variations are great for hammie/hip strength.

Stick to an athletic/powerlifting/olympic lifting kind of routine. Focus on compound movements over isolation stuff, b/c they give you the greatest boost to power and strength. Stay away from machines because they are fixed-plane-of-motion and you climb in 3 dimensions. You need the stabilizer work. If you keep strict form and resist the temptation to “ego-lift” you’ll stay safe. www.exrx.net is a great site for form videos, as are many of the articles here. Work heavy within strict form.

I’d suggest variety in your reps from week to week, while staying in the low rep end. Pick a main exercise for each session, go lower reps or heavier on it than your others. Rotate that main exercise every couple weeks.

Keep calories around maintenance levels (you’ll need a daily nutrition log and weekly weigh-ins to get your numbers right). Maintenance level calories will help you recover, but won’t give you too much in the way of material to hypertrophy with. I’d actually recommend sitting about 200 calories above maintenance to help you add strength. At that rate muscle gain will be very slow anyway, and if you’re training with strength parameters rather than hypertrophy parameters you shouldn’t grow much.

Take a week-long break from the really heavy, low rep work every few weeks to avoid CNS burnout and tendon stress as well. Do prehab or really endurance focused sets with exercises you have not used in the last month or so… It’ll help you stay healthy and fresh and ready for the next round.

Sorry for the novel. Hope this helps.

Along the same line as the grip health and elbow health, don’t forget to train external rotation to balance out the shoulders.

FightingScott, Aragorn, graphicsman, thanks for all your input. This is exactly what I was looking for along the lines of exercises to do. I’ll check out the websites you guys mentioned, because i agree, when going heavy, form is key not to get all bruce lee’d.

I’ve got a pretty intense balance / active stretching routing going on right now, really trying to open the hips up, but i definitely need to bring some more targeted weight work into the picture. I just wish we had 36h days and 10 day weeks…

Keep your reps per set low and also be sure to keep your overall volume low. Something like 6-8 sets of three. Keep the calories down around where you are now.