Improve Upper Body Strength
Updated: Jan 20
Most climbers, especially novice climbers, will benefit more from improving their climbing skill rather than increasing their climbing strength. However, intermediate and advanced climbers might be at a point in their training that they feel their upper body and grip strength (or lack thereof) is holding them back. If you think you lack the upper body or grip strength to hold onto a tough hold (whether it be a crimp, sloper, or undercling), consider if fixing a flaw in your technique would make the process easier.
Below, we’ve listed a few simple exercises to start mixing into your climbing workouts.
Here are five exercises to improve your grip strength
1. Fingerboard Hangs
Fingerboards are like pull-up bars that introduce your fingers to a particular level of torture. If you don’t already have one, nearly every climbing gym has an area with a variety of hangboards for you to train with.
If you’re new to hangboards, you will notice they come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t be intimidated. Start slow with easy holds, and gradually hang from smaller boards as you warm up.
For more info on how to get started hangboarding, check out our introduction here!
Also known as climbing without feet.
You can campus on any overhanging wall in the gym, but most gyms have a set-up for campusing. In the same area where you’ll find hangboards, you’ll see sets of ladder-like holds. These are called a campus board. Climb to the top of the “ladder” without using your feet at all, and then climb back down again. Just repeat the process until you’re too tired to grip a pencil.
Campusing is a pretty advanced method of training but once you can, it can really improve your grip strength and up your climbing game. Like every other exercise, you can practice variations once you nail down the basics.
Stay tuned for Introduction to Campusing!
3. Tread Wall
If you want to practice your endurance, get on the tread wall. Tread walls are the climbing equivalent of treadmills, and the level of intensity is somewhat adjustable to match your climbing ability. Many advanced climbers use the tread wall in conjunction with other conditioning exercises, and they’re also popular among other professional athletes for conditioning circuits.
If you’re new to the tread wall, try the following challenge: using only big holds, see if you can climb for four minutes without stopping. Each week, check back in and see if you can go longer or at a faster pace. The beauty of a treadwall is a) you don’t need a belayer, and b) it’s as tall as you want it to be.
An oldie but a goodie, the pull-up is a classic exercise that works your hands, arms, shoulder, back and core muscles.
If you’re new to pull-ups, you might struggle to complete a single repetition. That’s okay! Use bands to reduce the weight until you’re capable of doing an un-aided pull-up.
There are many variations of pull-ups with which you can experiment. No matter how you do your pull-ups, occasionally try out other variations to mix-up your workouts. Depending on your skill set, challenge yourself by adding on weight, eliminating an arm, using a band for one arm, or even using different grips on a hangboard.
Planks aren’t usually what people think of when talking about upper body strength. However, having a strong core will significantly increase your stability on the climbing wall, and makes things like pull-ups and hangboards significantly easier.
If you’re new to planks, here are some tips: with your elbows on the floor and your back in one straight line (don’t stick your butt up or let it sag!). Try holding this position for 60 seconds. Rest for 2 minutes and try again. As you become stronger, try keeping your planks for longer.
For more advanced plankers, try a TRX Plank: Set up the TRX bands to hang down low (about 12 inches from the ground). Loop your ankles through the straps and hold your plank with your legs elevated. This forces you to maintain balance and reduce sway by engaging your core and obliques. Another variation is to do a saw. Hold a TRX plank and, using your elbows, push yourself back and forward in a controlled manner.
Climbing Workouts = A Better Climber
Climbing in one of the 20 new bouldering gyms sprinkled over the U.S.? Or practicing with top rope climbing in another gym? These climbing workouts will improve overall mental and physical performance, so sprinkle them into your gym session if you haven’t already.
Warming up and proper training is essential to preventing injuries, improving skills, and ultimately sending your projects.
As years go by -and they will -increase your warm-up time. Stretching out and getting a pre-climb burn in