As most climbers know, true strength is not about the size of your muscles. We’ve all seen the guys and girls at the gym with six packs and bulging biceps. But put them on a wall and they can barely heave themselves off the ground for more than a few seconds. Rock climbing strength and fitness is all about being dynamic, flexible and proportioned throughout the whole body.
However, that’s not to say that gyms and gym exercises are not useful for developing core rock climbing strength and fitness. During the winter months, when the weather prohibits outdoor climbing and you’re bored of the same old routes on the indoor wall, building core strength and endurance in the gym will pay dividends on the face next season.
So, here are some gym exercises and workouts that will help you to become a better climber. And ultimately, isn’t that why we all do it?
Stretch and strengthen
On the whole, climbers know better than most the importance of stretching before an activity. But there’s a difference between a warm up stretch and a comprehensive stretching routine in its own right. This can help to build core strength and improve flexibility. Frog poses, spinal twists, pigeon pose, seated forward bends and countless other yoga and pilates moves can improve performance. The key is repetition. So hit the mats and get stretching.
Body weight exercises
Practicing pull-ups is an obvious way to build arm and core strength and it does lead to improvement. However, there’s a big difference between a pull-up and actual climbing strength. Avoid become obsessed with this exercise. You often hear about climbers who can do pull-ups all day in the gym but can’t transfer the skill. These should form only a small part of your gym routine.
Vary the pull-ups by facing your palm the other way which helps to build hand strength also try fingertip push-ups plus, there is more information on these exercises at Live Strong. Try some prone-Y exercises, which involve lifting your body (and excess weight when advanced) from a stretched position with your arms out front. There are also lots of ball exercises that utilise body weight to build strength too.
The two weight training activities that correlate most closely with climbing are one arm lock-outs and grip strength. As a result, exercises like the cable-lat pull downs are good practice, as are weighted pull ups. Lifting weights with pinch holds can build finger and forearm strength. Wrist curls using a dumbbell resting on your leg is also good for lower arm strength. Dead lifting using a strong grip technique also targets most of your major climbing muscle groups.
Although improving cardio vascular performance won’t necessarily directly improve your climbing, it does aid overall fitness which will certainly help. However, there are some cardio machines you’ll find in the gym that do target key climbing muscle groups. Jacobs Ladder is essentially an angled treadmill with ladder grips for continual climbing exercises. Not only will this get your heart beating fast, it’s also working your arm and legs in preparation for the face.
Of course, a lot of the workouts mentioned can be done at home. Stretching exercises require only a small amount of space and free weights can easily be stored – although this does not apply to larger weights and cardio machines. Of course the best way to improve rock climbing strength and fitness is by climbing, so in the winter either hit the indoor wall or perhaps book a rock climbing holiday to catch some winter climbing in the sun.