Whether you’re an avid climber or a newbie, rock climbing requires strength, good balance, and mental fortitude.
From your upper back to your toes, you use many muscles when you climb. It’s a great full-body workout!
Since you can’t be on the wall all day, you may wonder how to develop greater strength off the wall to improve your climbing performance.
This article suggests 10 exercises for climbers and a suitable training schedule, alongside helpful tips throughout.
“Climbing is the best training for climbing” is a popular adage in the climbing community. It holds true since climbing improves your coordination, balance, grip strength, and decision-making.
Nevertheless, you can still enhance your climbing performance while off the wall through a suitable workout program.
Climbing requires balance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and good cardiorespiratory fitness. A strong heart helps pump blood to your working muscles, while strong muscles pull up and hold your body weight (
Thus, make sure your workout program includes balance, strength, and cardio training.
In addition to climbing, training off the wall can improve your performance. Include balance, cardio, muscular endurance, and strength training in your routine.
Climbing is a full-body workout. You use the muscles of your upper body, core, and lower body to propel yourself upwards.
In particular, climbing uses your pulling muscles. These include your biceps, wrist flexors, and muscles of the back like the trapezius, rhomboid, and latissimus dorsi (
Though you may think that you should focus on these muscles, it’s equally important to train your antagonist muscles. These are opposite to your pulling muscles and include your chest, triceps, shoulders, and wrist extensors.
Training your antagonist muscles supports your climbing by stabilizing your muscles, improving muscular balance, allowing for better movement, and reducing the risk of injury (
Many climbers have strong biceps but weaker triceps. Incorporating exercises that strengthen the triceps will improve any muscular imbalances and enhance your climbing (
In addition to upper body muscles, climbing relies on your core muscles to keep you stabilized and your lower body like your glutes and calves to push your body up. Training these areas is also important for supporting your performance (
To ensure balanced strength, improve performance, and reduce injury risk, make sure you’re training your back, chest, shoulders, arms, core, and lower body.
Your training schedule will depend on how often you climb, the intensity of your workouts, and how many rest days you need.
For most people, 1–3 days of strength training in a week is a good and sustainable goal. On top of this, you’ll want to include a few days of cardio exercise, which can be at the end of your strength workouts or on separate days.
For example, your training schedule could look like this:
- Monday: climbing
- Tuesday: cardio, like swimming, cycling, rowing, or running
- Wednesday: strength training, like upper body, lower body, push, or pull day
- Thursday: rest day or active recovery, like a light walk or yoga
- Friday: climbing
- Saturday: strength training, like upper body, lower body, push, or pull day
- Sunday: cardio, like swimming, cycling, rowing, or running
Ultimately, your training regimen is unique to your schedule, goals, and preferences. The aim should be to include some variety in your training to allow for well-rounded fitness.
In addition to climbing, try to incorporate 1–3 days of strength training and a few days of cardio into your routine.
The following exercises target your agonist muscles used for climbing, like your back, biceps, and wrist flexors, as well as your antagonist muscles, like your chest, triceps, and shoulders. This helps ensure balanced strength.
In addition, lower body and core exercises are included to help you create full-body power when climbing.
Push-ups are a great antagonist exercise, meaning they target the pushing muscles not commonly used during climbing.
Muscles worked: chest, triceps, shoulders
- Start on all fours with your arms straight and wrists aligned with your shoulders.
- Straighten your legs by stepping your left and right feet back. You should be on your toes with your back straight, core tight, and hands shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower your body to the ground. Make sure your back and hips are aligned in a straight line. Your elbows may flare out slightly to the sides.
- Once your chest reaches the ground, press your hands into the floor to straighten your arms to return to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Try to go to failure, meaning you should perform as many reps as possible, for 1–3 sets.
Pull-ups are challenging, and are a great way to develop back, forearm, and grip strength.
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi, biceps, core, upper back
- Stand behind a horizontal bar and jump up to grab it with an overhand, or pronated, grip. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart. Allow yourself to hang from the bar with your feet crossed.
- Take a deep breath in and exhale as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows as you lift yourself up until your chin is just above the bar.
- Pause for a moment and inhale as you straighten your elbows to lower yourself.
- This is one rep. Continue with as many as you can.
If you cannot perform a pull-up, start with a dead hang. For this, you’ll simply hang from the bar for as long as you can instead of pulling yourself up. You may also try assisted pull-ups.
3. Wide grip lat pulldowns
As its name suggests, lat pulldowns target your latissimus dorsi. This is a large muscle in your back that helps adduct, medially rotate, and extend your arms at the shoulder joint. In other words, it helps you pull up your body when climbing.
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rotator cuff, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, biceps, and forearms
- Sit at a cable machine with a wide bar. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Pull the bar down toward your chest by bending your elbows. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades downwards toward each other, engaging your upper back and mid-back throughout the move. You may lean back slightly, but keep your back straight.
- Slowly straighten your elbows to return to the starting position.
- Complete 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
4. Lying triceps extension
Triceps extensions, also known as skull crushers, are a great isolation exercise to strengthen the triceps. The triceps are the antagonist, or opposing, muscles to your biceps.
Muscles worked: triceps
- Lie flat on a bench with your feet on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, gently resting on your chest.
- Push the dumbbells up above your chest by straightening your arms. Your palms should be facing together and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders should be aligned. This is the starting position.
- Slowly bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells towards your face and ears. Then, return to the starting position by slowly straightening your arms.
- Complete 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
5. Resistance band pull-apart
This move is great for strengthening your shoulders.
Muscles worked: rotator cuff muscles, forearms, lateral deltoids
- Stand with your arms extended in front of you, holding a resistance band taut and parallel to the floor. Hold the resistance band with a supinated, or underhand, grip.
- While keeping your arms straight, pull the band towards your chest by moving your arms to the side and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your spine in a neutral position.
- Slowly return to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Perform 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
6. Front dumbbell raises
This isolation exercise is ideal for working your deltoids, which are part of your shoulder. This move improves shoulder flexion, which is important both for climbing and for daily functions that involve moving your arm into an overhead position
Muscles worked: anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, serratus anterior, the upper part of the pectoralis major
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs, using an overhand grip. Lean slightly forward and engage your core.
- Keeping your arms almost straight with a slight bend in the elbow, slowly lift the dumbbells until your arms are parallel with the floor.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Perform 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.
Choose a lighter dumbbell, like 5 pounds (2.3 kg) to prevent compromising your form and limit excessive strain on your shoulders. If you struggle, go even lighter. You can always increase the weight later as you become stronger.
7. Single-arm dumbbell rows
Single-arm dumbbell rows are great for strengthening the back muscles. They’re also useful for correcting muscle imbalances since they target each side individually.
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi, teres minor, teres major, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius
- Rest your right knee, shin, and hand on top of a workout bench for support. Keep your left leg straight, with your left foot flat on the floor. Keep your torso straight and core engaged.
- Pick up a dumbbell with your left hand.
- Slowly pull the dumbbell up, aiming your elbow toward the sky while keeping it close to your body. Squeeze your upper back as you bend your elbow. Avoid letting your elbow flare out to the side.
- Then, slowly lower the dumbbell by straightening your arm to return to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Complete 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps on each side.
8. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings are great for building explosive power and strength while getting your heart rate up. They also strengthen your grip, which is important for climbing.
Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings, calves, trapezius, rhomboids, erector spinae, core
- Select a kettlebell that you can safely swing with proper form. For most people, this will be between 10–18 pounds (4.5–8 kg). Start on the lower end — you can always increase the weight later as needed.
- To begin, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a kettlebell with both hands, palms facing in and arms straight down.
- Inhale and push your hips back in a hinge movement. Slightly bend your knees to bring the kettlebell between your legs. Keep your back straight and engage your core.
- Exhale and squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward to lift your body into a standing position. Allow your arms to raise the kettlebell as far as it will naturally go. Usually, this is around shoulder height or parallel to the ground.
- Inhale and lower the kettlebell between your legs by pushing your hips back and slightly bending your knees. This is one rep.
- Perform 10–20 reps of 2–3 sets or for a set period of time. For instance, perform as many as you can in 2 minutes.
9. Straight-arm plank
Straight-arm planks are a challenging full-body workout. They’re great for developing muscular endurance, which is the ability of your muscles to withstand exercise for longer.
Muscles worked: rectus abdominis, obliques, transversus abdominis, upper body including your trapezius, lats, rhomboids, deltoids, and arms, and lower body including your glutes, quads, and hamstrings
- Start in tabletop position with hands stacked under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Step your right foot straight back and then your left foot, so that your feet are hip-width apart and your core is engaged.
- Hold this position for as long as you can maintain proper form.
10. Monkey Bars
This will take you back to your childhood while also doing wonders for your upper body, forearm, and grip strength.
Muscles worked: core, forearms, trapezius
- Stand at the start of the monkey bars with your hands wrapped around the first bar in an overhand grip.
- Step off the platform so your legs are hanging and your upper body holds you up.
- Grab the next bar in front of you with one hand followed by the other one. Continue this for as far as you can go.
To support your climbing performance, include full-body muscular strength and endurance training in your workout routine.
Climbing is a sport that requires good cardio, strength, and muscular endurance.
To improve your climbing performance, incorporate both strength training and cardio exercise into your routine. This will help you propel up the wall easier and for longer.
In particular, climbing requires good back, shoulder, arm, and grip strength. Be sure to include these in your workout programming.
With time, you’ll be able to climb higher than you’ve ever climbed before.