T Nation

Training for Bouldering


Howdy. Over the past 3 or 4 months I have started climbing, and in particular bouldering. I greatly enjoy this sport and have really got into it so I now want to focus my training upon improving my ability in it. Consquently I need to sort out a good training program.

I read with great interest the interview with Coach Davies as well as all the threads he has posted in and would value any input whatsoever he may have. Of couse anyone is welcome to post any ideas or suggestions they may have.

By the way, I do all of my training at my gym since in addition to a weight room and all the normal stuff it also has a rock climbing wall and campus board. At the moment I am training about 5 times a week (Sunday - Thursday, usually 6pm - 8pm doing a mix of climbing traning and weight training) for a couple of hours, as well as coming in on Saturday with my girlfriend to do some climbing with her (this is usually for a couple of hours also).

Thanks for your help.


Well, I don't know if I can offer anything other than say you've hit on one of my favorite pastimes. There is very little elements in functional training that isn't applicable in this sport. What hasn't even been touched upon - and trust me I really want to write about this to the T-Mag reader - is levels of concentration and how it GPP / Functional work will enhance this dramatically. Give me some details on what type of work you are doing in your training. I would be pleased to help.

In faith,
Coach Davies


Right for bouldering and climbing in general you need strong backmuscles and have strength endurance in them also, You must have a fantastic grip and a strong core, Flexability is another issue.

For you wieght training you should train three days a week in movements that promote strength over athsetics such as the deadlift, cleans, rows, squats, military press's, bench, wieghted chins, dips, curls, you should try out some of pavels idea's or polquins one to six principle. You should be able to do a alot of chinups not just 10-12 a good goal would be 25 to achieve this use pavel's ladder technique, this has greatly improved the amount of chins that i can do. For grip check out the functional strength forum as there is alot of grip stuff in there also do plate pinches for time and try and beat your time everytime you do them . Core training should be crunches, jandas, jacknives, power breathing, side bends, hyperextensions etc.

Hope all that helps, Happy training and productive workouts.


Thanks you both Coach Davies and FFB for responding it is much appreciated.
Coach Davies you asked for some details on what I am currently doing so here goes. I typically train for 2 hours at a time - after warming up (which is a 10 min run to the gym and then the range of motion drills from Charleys Staley's article on warming up). I start off each session spending 20 minutes on the wall doing various problems and with minimum time on the ground (less than 15 seconds usually). After than I usually go to the campus board and work on either my dynos (dynamic pulls), pull throughs on finger strength for another 20 odd minutes. Then its back to the wall for 20 minutes to do some more difficult problems to work on my technique. I allow myself a longer rest between the more difficult problems.
At this point an hour is about up and I then head over to the weights. Most recently I have been working on keeping my rep speed high for my exercises. I tend to favour lower reps (1-5)for training, although when I throw in some accessory movements I sometimes use high reps (up to 15). The main movements I am doing are pretty much in line with FFBs reccomendations, such as Chin Ups and Pull Ups, Military Press, Deadlifts, Cleans and one I just started doing and really like - Zercher Deadlifts.

I do this 5 times a week, although the workouts differ as I work on different parts of my climbing (such as dynos on tricky finger holds) and different types of movements in the weight room.
The help I am after is how I can improve the strucuture of my weight training, campusing and climbing to fit in together, given that I am training 5 days a week.
Lastly, FFB I am using Pavels ladder and I think it works pretty well, I haven't tested myself yet, but Pull Ups feel pretty easy after using it. Also, I have read some of Pavels stuff and like what he has to say about things such as keeping your body tight and his breathing techniques. This alone has been a great help in my training.


i forget where i read it (probaly this website) but "the best climbers have lats of flying squirrel, forearms like popeye, and legs of a starved chicken"...wuth that being said if i was u i would train my upper body a least twice as often as my lower and base my lower body workouts on deadlifts


Irontank - from memory that quote is from the interview Pavel Tsatsouline did with Testosterone. In regards to doing upper body workouts twice as often as lower, thats what I am doing at the moment. I also favour deadlifts and their variations over squats, although I do some squat type movements as well. I think the squat type movements are useful, because sometimes when climbing I find that I have to put my leg up high and do something akin to a 1 legged squat - which isn't that easy when you've only got a small space for the side of your foot to rest on.


My dad used to be a serious rock climber, and he had a couple of devices that might be of interest to you. One was called a "Max Pull" I believe - it was a sadistic pull-up device that was essentially two ~8" pieces of 2.5" PVC piping covered with sandpaper mounted above a door way. He would do all kinds of crazy pullup routines off them (I remember one: he would do 10 pullups, then hang motionless with his arms bent at a 90 degree angle for a minute, and then do 10 more pullups. That countd as one set.). The sport- specific aspect of them was that, due to the diameter of the PVC piping, you'd get a tremendous hand and forearm workout in addition to the back work that the pullups offered. The other devices he had were called "Rock Rings" - basically two ergnomically sculpted chunks of rock that hung independently from the ceiling via rope and carabiners. You can probably get them at a good rock climbing/outdoor specialty store. I don't imagine they're too expensive.


Zev - Thanks for the input. That first device, the "Max Pull" sounds pretty cool. I think I might have a dig around and see if I can fashion something like that for myself. I work as a Analyst for a large building materials distributor and get a discount on building materials so I should be able to get the raw materials pretty cheap.
Also the routine you mentioned sounds good. I'll give it a whirl tonight, but maybe use a ledge in place of the piping for now.


have u tried poloquin's extended gymnast's routine yet... the second i able to perform 12 chin-ups in prefect form i will be givin it a whirl (currently using pavel ladders to work my way up...i am sure u have already but did u check out The Top 7 Upper-Back Exercises and the Modified Gymnast's Back Routine yet?


Within the weight room, you mentioned a number of exercises and that you only utilized heavy weight/low rep. I would have you perform more non-conforming object movements and lifts that work on the your gripping power. If you go through particular sets and reps, I will be pleased to discuss more. And again, what flexibility and abdominal training do you work on?
In faith,
Coach Davies


I came up with some more great exercises for you, how about one arm deadlifts using the olympice bar not dumbells hell off a workout also as coach davis suggested do high rep but still heavy wieght movements aswell or you can do as i do and every time you workout alternate between extremely heavy 95-100% max and light high rep at around 50-60 % max hell of a workout also try a finger board basically screw different thickness's off wood all over a wall and do pullups and hangs off of those another fav of mine is to do rope pullups and climbing a rope swivelling round at t he top adn lowering yourself down head first make sure you have the strength for this though!!!! at first begin with just climbing a rope with no foot knots as fast as possible as many times as possible and try to improve on this then once proficent try two ropes one in each hand and climbing that way currently working on that just now. This months issue of outdoor magazine has a great article about building tendon strength definately check that out.Ermmm what else, oh yes try to get into bodywieght exrcises on your days in between or even in the mornings but never train to failure, much better gains, hand-stand pushups would greatly benefit you i believe as would increased grip strength for that do plate pinches, squeezing balls, wrist roller work, rope chinups, one finger deads, etc.
that was just some thoughts. get back to you later. happy trianing and productive workouts to yah.


A forewarning, this a large post.

Once again I would just like to say thanks to everyone for responding and providing me with a whole bunch of good ideas and reminding me about some things I had forgotten about (the modified gymnasts routine for example). All of these things will greatly help me in sorting out a training program.

Coach Davies asked about what exercises/sets/reps I am using so I thought I would write down what I am thinking of doing and then maybe I could get some feedback about how it could be improved. However I do have a couple of things to address first.

Firstly, Flexibility. Unfortunately I really don’t know much at all about this area. So if anyone can point me in the right direction, or has got any good ideas I would much appreciate it. Presently I am only doing 10 minutes worth of range of motion drills before I begin training. I would like to do more work in this area however in my new program.

Secondly, abdominal training. I use a variety of things when it comes to abs. For lower reps I prefer to do movements such as the Hanging Circumduction, One Arm Deadlifts, Hanging Pikes and Full Contact Twists. When I am doing higher reps, basically just seeing how many reps I can do (in total or for a particular time) I rely on bodyweight movements such as Sit-Ups, Sit-Ups with a Twist, Reverse Trunk Twists and Russian Twists. I sometimes do the bodyweight movements in a circuit fashion. I train my abs at least twice a week.

Thirdly, non-conforming object movements. Unfortunately my gym doesn’t have any of these, however I do have a 25 litre keg at home (I did a workout with it just the other week) and I am sure I can dig up or get a hold of some other objects.

Now on to my training plan. Since most of the discussion has been around the weight room, or at least lifting, I’ll just detail what I am thinking of doing for that component of my plan. Just to provide an outline of the whole program though, I’ll be training 5 days a week (in addition to my Saturday climb for fun), and I’ll lift in the gym on three of those days for approximately 1 hour. This then means that I’ll spend 2 days a week working exclusively on training my climbing on the wall/campus board/fingerboard, and about an hour on the days when I lift weights. I have 2 questions here though. 1) Should I lift weights before or after I have done my climbing training? 2) On the days when I do not lift in the gym should I spend some of that time lifting non-conforming objects at home?

Additionally, I am thinking of doing some bodyweight exercises (as per FFB’s recommendation) and GPP first thing in the morning when I get up. This would only be for half an hour (or maybe longer), but would include things such as push ups, finger tip pull ups, burpees and the like. I was thinking of doing what Coach Davies mentioned in another post about GPP and doing 30 seconds of each movement and then going straight to the next.

And finally my planned routine. I was thinking of doing 3 different full body workouts each day I lift during the week. Within each workout I would make my first movement a pull up or a variation on a pull up. My 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc movements would all also be pull up variations, or grip work or abdominal movements. For my 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc movements I would do other functional movements, but ones such as standing press, overhead squat, zercher deadlift, clean and bench press. My reasoning for doing this is that I would be fresher for each of my movements if I did a totally different movement in between similar movements.

Now my set and rep scheme would also follow a similar pattern. For one workout my 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc movements I would use low reps, in the range of 1-6 (and on occasion make use of things such as Poliquin’s 1-6 technique and wave loading), and utilise longer rests. For my 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc movements I would use higher reps, around the 15 rep mark, and use a shorter rest period. For these movements I would make use of the modified gymnasts routine, or try to get 50 reps with my 15RM in as shorter time as possible. For the next workout I would then swap the reps over so I was doing higher reps for my 1st, 3rd, etc movements and lower reps for my 2nd, 4th, etc movements.

Now this is something that I just thought up since reading all the posts in this thread. Feel free to be as critical as you like or suggest something entirely different – like doing a pull workout, a push workout etc. If you would like me to post anymore details or go into greater detail on anything (lifting or climbing) please let know. Thanks once again.


Please did I hear you climb and you dont do work on your flexibility/range of motion all that much? Major problem - theres a saying to strong you must be soft and supple. Let me see if I can post some stretch photos and I would highly suggest Pavel's stretch program. But lets get you started on that first step. Once you improve this area your ascent's will change dramatically. I will go through the other points you made and get back to you. Any questions please ask.

In faith,

Coach Davies


Coach Davies - Thanks for the response. I do realise that flexibility is important to climbing. Previously I have trained more for aesthetics, but since I have made the decision to really focus on my climbing I want to put together a good training program that includes flexibility, climbing training, weights, etc with single goal of improving my climbing.
In regards to stretching photos, I would greatly appreciate that. Also Ian King has an article available at T-Mag that details a general stretching routine, maybe I should go through that each day – starting today. I have also heard good things about Pavel's program. However, I don't want to spend any money at the moment since I am saving up to travel the world next year. Which is one of the reasons why I want to improve my climbing, since I plan on doing a lot of climbing overseas.

And in regards to asking you more questions, well I've got a bunch, but I don't want to overwhelm you. You've been a great help so far and I don't want to push my luck by asking you too much and appearing ungrateful. You also said, that you would get back to me about some of the comments I made in an earlier post, so I will wait until you post that before I inundate you with more questions. However I will say that most my questions are about how much time I should generally spend working on (and how it should all fit together) flexibility, power development, GPP, functional strength, actual climbing, etc.
Once again, thanks very much for taking the time to help me and everyone in this forum.


Zane-hopefully this is the last time I will ever need to stress this on the forum. Dont worry about asking questions - I am a coach, straight-up and simple. I don't mix words and try and make things seem more complicated than they are. So if I can help you - count on I will do whatever it takes - nothing stops this old coach.

Now with regards to your training, you've got to start working on the flexibility training. I will work on the photo thing and if you are able I would wholeheartedly endorse Pavel's book. In addition, I think you need to be exclusively functional in your training. I like it that you have given consideration to "Complexes". I think you should consider limiting the amount of exercises to no more than 5. I would further suggest you typically use dumbells, non-conforming objects (as well as kettle-bells is possible) and Olympic movments. Your warmup should include rope work and varied GPP. Get back to me with your thoughts.

In faith,
Coach Davies


Glad to hear that you are incorporating stretching iain kings routine would be a good start but pavels book would really help you.
As far as fitting it all together i would like to take a shot at that, so here goes!!

strength training three days per week
bodywieght and GPP everymorning
ladders for chinups at night everyday
grip work everyday evenly spaced every two to three hours do couple of sets set of 1-15 and some intense grip work after weights
stretching everyday for at least 20 mins
bouldering 2-3 times a week to really get the hang of it

make sure that with this amount of volume that you are not using a cutting diet but are feeding your body healthy clean foods as you will get in great shape by doing just that, and don't be a carbaphobe they help with these kind of workouts if you space them evenly throughout the day with protein and some fat. Fish oil will also help you i fully recomend those.

Any more ? please ask as one of us will be happy to respond i have been with this mag since day one welll issue one and it has given me sooo much that i am only happy to start giving something back :slight_smile:

happy training and productive workouts to yah!


From what everyone has told me and what I have heard from other boulderers and climbers I am going to really work on my flexibility. Particularly since I have neglected it in the past. My girlfriend works at Borders and can take books home to read, so I might see what I can find there.

Coach Davies - I have seen a few different types of complexes before, but never tried any - I would like to though. Do you use a complex as the only thing done in a lifting session or do you use it in addition to other movements? Also how often and for how long do you suggest I spend in the weight room each week? And lastly could you give me some idea about how to basically structure these workouts? Also, I'm looking forward to your article that will be appearing in T-Mag. I hope it is availble this week.

FFB - I've been using Pavel's ladders at least every few days for a few weeks now and I have to say they are great. I usually do them early in my workout (done on the campus board with a narrow/thumbless/pronated grip), and because I am not going to failure they serve as a pretty good warm up. Your suggestions sound good and sound a lot like what I was planning. I do have at least one question though, why do you suggest stretching after training as opposed to before? My diet is in good shape with lots of protein and fresh veges/fruit. Lastly, I've been reading T-Mag since November 1999, although I wish I had found it earlier because I don't know anything else thats even close to it on the net.


Zane i advocate stretching before during and after training (sorry if that was not clear) but your most intense stretching i believe and practice should be done after training as before hand from personel and other noted experiments that i have conducted with my gym mates it has shown a decreased performance in our weight training for some reason as to which i haven't worked out the reason for yet.

I cycle my training partners and my own intensity usually going ten weeks balls to the wall and 1 week active recovery and then 6 weeks at a lower rate of intensity. When going balls to the wall i like to warm up usually on the heavy bag for a couple of 2 min rounds and some skipping then after a couple of mins i do some light stretching and then i warm up on the movements that i am going to do in the workout. Between sets of exercises i do some light strectching also but only the muscle worked and its opposite (eg . quad/ham, bicep tricep) on all the basic lifts cleans bench squat dead etc i hang from a chinup bar immediately after the set is completed then i do some conventional stretching and then rest for a min before resuming the next set. After my cool down which is usually body wieght squats crunches and pushups followed by a brisk walk i do my intense stretching for at least 15 mins. After incorporating all that my flexibility is drastically improved, i have no more nigiling injuries, performance is boosted and i hardly ever experience bad DOMS even though i train extremely hard .
Any more ? just ask i'm glad to help :slight_smile:


FFB - Thanks for clearing up the stretching issue. Since I have overlooked this area in the past I want to make sure that I get it right. When I did 30 minutes of stretching last night I definitely noticed that my climbing has improved my flexibility, however I think I should work on swapping over the cause and effect so that my flexibility helps improve my climbing. I am quite flexible at the moment, but I know I could benefit from increased flexbility in my hamstrings and around my hips. Also, I'm looking forward to your thread on making cheap objects for training. It should be very useful.

Coach Davies - I just wanted to clarify something I said in my last post. When I was talking about complexes I was referring to using them for weight training. Somehow I jumped to this conclusion when I read your last post. So I guess you can disregard the 1st question I asked - about using complexes as the sole thing done in a workout - because obviously you use complexes for GPP, a complex of stretches, etc.


Zane - I would suggest you structure your weight routines three times per week after your climbing. Keep the lifts simple, starting with multiple joint lifts such as Snatches and move to functional ones using non-conforming objects. GPP should be done on a daily basis to not only enhance your work threshold but your concentration level during difficult training.

Hope to hear from,

In faith,
Coach Davies