Power Training for Climbers
Updated: Jan 20
Briefly defined, “power” is force over time – meaning that a “high power” activity involves generating a great amount of force over a brief period of time. For example, in the world of weight lifting, a man squatting 500lbs in 1 second is generating a lot more power than an individual squatting 500lbs slowly for 5 seconds. Even though both lifters have demonstrated the same amount of strength (the 500lbs squat), one lifter has demonstrated significantly more speed (1 second vs. 5 seconds), and it is this combination of strength and speed that generates “high power.”
Any fast or dynamic movement has the potential to require high amounts of power. In the climbing world there are a variety of situations that require athletes to generate high power; climbing through a crux or completing a dyno move are two typical examples of climbers needing to create a high amount of force/power to complete their climb. These simple examples easily demonstrate how/why a climber might need to increase their power output; however, how to improve your power output can be a tricky or misunderstood concept.
Power Training Tips
Generally, these tips are best applied to intermediate and advanced climbers; new climbers (and in many cases advanced climbers) should focus mainly on improving their technique rather than worrying about their power output.
Let’s not forget that power is strength + speed, meaning that base strength is still a huge component of trying to generate high power. A commonly used analogy in the world of strength training (credited to Dan John and other strength coaches) is that a cup of water represents your fitness – the physical cup is your strength, while all the liquid inside the container is everything else. This means that before you can worry about filling your cup with water, you need to make sure you have the base fitness (strength) to start such an undertaking.
For climbers, strength often comes in the form of more bouldering and some time on your gym’s hangboard. These are great ways to build climbing specific strength (and generally a fun way, who doesn’t love a good boulder problem?), but many climbers can also benefit from partaking in basic strength training exercises in the weight room (squat, deadlift, military press, etc.).
Sometimes referred to as “jump training,” plyometrics are a simple and effective way for athletes of all kinds to build explosive power. There are many approaches to plyometric training, and we don’t have time to detail all of them here, but adopting a simple method to plyometric training is a great way to cross-train and build power.
Take this simple approach: find a box or table, now jump on top of it…that’s all there is to it. Just be careful not to hurt yourself, we recommend stepping off rather than bouncing off the box. Do your best to land gracefully during your box jumps. When you’re tired, move on to your next event/exercise. A similar tactic can be applied with clapping push-ups. An example plyometric workout could be done 1-2 times per week during a power phase of training and look something like this:
Box Jumps: 10x at 12-24in Squat Jumps: 10x at bodyweight Box Jumps: 10x at max height Plyo Lunges: 10x at bodyweight Box Jumps from seated: 10x at 12-24in
Campus boards are a staple in most climbing gyms, and for a good reason. They’re great for building power because you’re generating a lot of strength to cling to small holds, and you’re also moving quickly up and down a ladder. Campus boards were primarily designed to improve climbing power, and while we don’t have the time to detail campusing here, it’s likely that you should be spending more time on the campus board. Remember, you should never campus board while tired and always give yourself 36-48 hours of rest between campus board workouts. If your interested in learning about campusing, stay tuned for our intro to campus boarding or check online for lots of resources or here for one of our favorites.
Sprints or Sled Pushes
Let’s preface this by saying that you need to be immensely warmed up before attempting sprints or sled pushes of any kind. That being said, sprints and sled pushes are a fantastic way to cross-train and become a faster more powerful athlete. We’re a particularly big fan of performing weighted sled pushes which will build your leg strength, give you a considerable cardio workout, and (if you’re moving fast enough) force you to generate a lot of power. If your gym doesn’t have a sled that’s okay, you can still run traditional sprints as a great cross-training activity; for a whole body sprint variant, try “up-and-goes” where you begin your sprint with your body flat on the ground – this forces you to quickly hop up and run.
This next option might be a little difficult for some individuals, but traditional Olympic lifts (hang clean, power-cleans, and clean-and-jerks) are great ways to develop some explosive power. These lifts are designed to help you train your strength/power, and you might find that additional strength to be helpful if you’re attempting very dynamic movements – such as big dynos or bumps. That being said, you should receive proper coaching before trying to perform any of these exercises on your own.
Move to Improve
Training to improve your climbing power is sometimes simple (like jumping up onto a box), but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In principle, the concepts behind training for power are quite basic; but, like most things, implementing a consistent training plan is always the most challenging aspect of training. Always be aware of how you’re training, and be careful to seek out proper coaching to avoid injuring yourself or overtraining.
Above we’ve listed some great tips for intermediate and advanced climbers that are looking to improve their power output. Remember to first stick to the basics of building proper technique and developing your base strength, then begin to incorporate power-improving activities that are both climbing specific (campus boards) or other great cross-training options (sled pushes, Olympic lifts, plyometric training).